Pub culture in Ireland

Temple Bar (Credits: Wikimedia commons)

Traditionally, in small rural communities, the church, the pub and the local football club were the three main social outlets for people. In fact, they used to go to the pub after Mass or after a football or rugby match. The pub is where the village meet also because Irish people rarely drank at home until recent years. The social aspect of drinking is stronger here than everywhere else.

The Irish pubs are noisy but welcoming and have always played a very important social role in Ireland. The name is the abbreviation of public house and this makes well the idea of the atmosphere and the role of the pub.

In the cold countries of northern Europe or in the United States and Canada, pubs have been shaped by cold temperatures — sometimes the pub is warmer and more welcoming than home— they played an important role of refuge and safe places for travelers. Often in fact the pub also has rooms for the night, in this case in the sign there will also be the word “inn”.

In ancient times, Irish publicans, the pub’s owners, were required by the law to have ‘a never-dry cauldron, a dwelling on a public road and a welcome to every face’ — as the law said.

But the history of the pub’s birth is much more ancient: we have to go back to the arrival of the Roman Empire. After the Romans created road network, began to be born the first taverns where travelers could find refreshment.

During the 19th century there was a huge crisis after a reduction in the consumption of alcool caused by the temperance movement in Ireland. Hosts and owners of pubs were obliged to diversify their business so they also started to sell alcohol. The pub started to be also a ‘Spirit grocery‘. Is this the reason why Irish Pubs have huge shelves and a wide range of drinks.

This is one of the main differences between Irish and British pubs. Another one is that Irish Pubs take their name from the owner such as Murphy’s or O’Connor’s. This was a legal requirement from 1872 and soon became the symbol of the irish pub.

There are 6,984 pubs in the whole of Ireland. Compare that to Ireland in 1904 when there were approximately 13,000 pubs. Strangely, this means that Dublin has only 10.75% of the countries pubs, despite having 27.11% of the population.

According to a bbc article Since the early 1990s there were 7,000 Irish Pubs around the planet. The articles reports the existence of O’Reilly’s in Bangkok, Thailand; O’Malley’s in Shanghai, China; Finnegan’s in Baku, Azerbaijan; and also Grand Khaan Irish Pub in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. 

There are some unwritten rules about behaviour in pubs, a sort of etichette. One of the most famous rules also reported by tourist guides is the one of the round system: when you go to the pub with friends, everyone offers a round to the others.

I went around Dublin to talk to people who work in pubs to learn something more about the Irish pub culture seen from the other side of the bar. For example, I went to The Royal Oak, defined by the journal.ie as ‘a country pub in the city’. The Royal Oak is in fact an old traditional pub that serves beers in Kilmainham for 180 years and I talked with one of the waitress of the pub to know something more about Irish pub culture and pub’s etichette.

Yes, I suppose they have it. I am actually a foreigners: I’ from the States, I’d been here since 5 years and started working here 9 months ago. A lot of foreigners come to the pub and they are not used to the “are you ok?” question of bartenders. That means “how can I help you?” and a lot of Americans answer “Yeah I’m good” and then they order. I was the same at the beginning. — she said