Ireland: Closing time on the nation’s pub culture

The Railway Bar, Bundoran, Co. Donegal.
The Railway Bar, Bundoran, Co. Donegal.
The Irish Times (Dublin)

With one closing every two day, the pub, once Ireland’s number-one attraction, is suffering a steep decline. But it’s not just a deep and long recession that’s to blame, but also cultural change, reports the Irish Times. excerpts.

The Irish pub, says the Lonely Planet travel guide, is the country’s number-one attraction. Yet it is also doomed, according to leading food writer John McKenna. Health campaigners have its products in their cross-hairs, but the truth is that many of us are increasingly indifferent to its long-standing charms.

It isn’t all that long since the pub held a society in thrall. Birthday, Communion and funeral ceremonies would eventually make their way to its darkened interiors. Family members would be despatched to drag reluctant drinkers out of their locals. Early risers joined all-nighters for a pint on the way to work. People boasted about being locked into small, dank rooms for the night with a set of beer taps.

Now pubs are closing at a rate of one every two days – more than 1,100 since 2005. Their decline has frequently been cited as yet another example of rural decay, but pubs in all areas, and of all types, are calling time.

Only last week, some of Dublin’s trendiest watering-holes – the Odeon, Pod and Crawdaddy on Harcourt Street – closed their doors, as did the downstairs venue at the Lower Deck in Portobello. North of the Liffey, the traditional “12 apostles” pub crawl from DCU to the city centre is now reduced to 10 after a brace of bars on the route – the Red Windmill and the Botanic House – failed to reopen after Christmas.

The capital’s publicans are now begging for business. “Dublin Does Fridays,” runs the promotional slogan on their latest campaign, with more than a touch of desperation in its call for Dubliners to “prove we’re the most sociable city in the world”. Cut-price promotions and other enticements are the norm, and pub quizzes and comedy nights multiply to pad out the week.

Many of the remaining pubs are shut for half the week.

Chains such as Thomas Read and Capital Bars have been hit hard. Though some of their venues are still trading or have been sold, Capital Bars had a receiver appointed in 2009, and Thomas Read went into voluntary liquidation the same year.

“The biggest publicans in the country today are the receivers,” comments barrister and licensing law expert Constance Cassidy.

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