In Ireland, the pub is more than a place to buy alcohol, so much more. Even as the country has evolved and re-spawned in its modern form, the pub remains right at the centre of communities across the length and breath of the island. Internationally, modern Ireland is recognised as a beacon for change. We took our spot at the top table of modern life when we voted to legalise gay marriage back in 2015. A sign of changing times in Ireland, of new beginnings. Our movement into the 21st century has accelerated in recent years but that does not mean we've allowed old traditions to die, quite the opposite in fact. We've been going to the pub since the 10th century and will continue to do so for as long as an Irish man draws breath. We don't just go for the alcohol (although that is an enormous bonus), we go to meet each other and share all the many talents God bestowed upon us. Mainly musical, and a distinct ability to converse at great speeds.
Our pubs act as music venues, job centres, funeral homes, restaurants and grocery shops. An Irish pub truly can do it all. Inside its four walls, anything from a part time bike repair shop to the sight of a lamb being bottle fed at the bar can be found. I've seen it with my own eyes! Its in our pubs where the finest minds and greatest talents in Irish history found the space to express themselves and truly understand their qualities. Luke Kelly and the Dubliners formed their iconic band over a barrel of Guinness washed down with a multitude of Irish whiskey. James Joyce penned his most iconic work whilst sitting at a bar. Michael Collins set out a revolutionary vision of Independence for his country. All done whilst sitting in a pub. One of Ireland's greatest institutions, the Gaelic Athletic Association(GAA) was also formed in a pub. So, do those examples help to explain the importance of the pub in Irish culture? There can be no doubt, the story of Ireland cannot be told without realising the fact that most of our greatest moments happened... in the pub.
All the great Irish pubs carry similar, if not identical traits. Their decor is often quiet and unassuming. Everything is positioned in a style that allows focus to remain on the most important facet; the people who enter. One of Ireland's most famous sons, William Butler Yeats, once wrote of Irish pubs, " there are no strangers here, only friends you haven't met yet" and his quote perfectly describes how the atmosphere should feel when you enter a pub in Ireland. To the Irish, its a meeting place for all, a place where your bank balance or qualifications don't matter. A place where your words carry more weight than your wallet, a playing field of perfect balance. When it comes to creating that atmosphere, Ireland wrote the book.
Our history is one of emigration. Many generations of Irish men and women have left our shores in search of a better life for their family. We've faced so many hardships though our history, famine and civil war to mention but a few. Those hardships scattered many of us to the four corners of the earth, and still do to this day. The experts will tell you that there are nearly 80 million Irish people living outside of Ireland and only six within Ireland. With figures like that, its little wonder that our influence across the world continues to grow and evolve. The Irish pub is no longer limited to Ireland. In fact, there are now over 8000 Irish pubs, worldwide, from Thailand to Iraq, Boston to Bangladesh. You can find an Irish pub anywhere, if you search for long enough. Our culture is steeped in hospitality and friendship and its our pubs that represent those values on the international stage. I'm sure that one or two of those Irish bars in far flung places don't quite match up to my description. But don't blame me if your served a bad pint of Guinness on your next trip to Bangkok! As my Father would say, you'll find a bad egg if you eat enough of them.
To finish our journey, I hope this article helped you understand about, and renewed your belief in, the Irish pub. The pub is a place where stories grow legs and legends are born. A place where the true essence of what it means to be Irish can be found whilst sitting around a wooden table with a few of your nearest and dearest. It's those moments that carry more importance than you might realise. I'm not saying that we've perfected the pub, but were pretty close. We continue to grow and develop as a nation, but somethings will never change...
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Slán go fóil