A good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub...
(Acclaimed Irish author James Joyce)
The pub has been the mainstay of Irish social life through the ages. No village, town or city is complete without its pub – where locals and travelers gather to share enjoyment, social interaction and relaxation. Pubs evolved from the local grocery shops, where beer was sold as one of life’s staples, and from the country cottages, where villagers foregathered and travellers obtained some respite from the road.
The word Pub harks back to the traditional `public house’, or a place that did not require a membership to enter (unlike private houses). So while the rich had memberships to other establishments and private clubs, pubs were frequented by the hard working lower classes.
Today, Ireland has well over 10,000 pubs. In fact, such is their popularity, that Irish Pubs have now ceased to be the sole property of the Irish – from Dubai to Delhi, Phuket to Panama, the friendly sign of an Irish Pub is bound to greet your eyes.
Irish Pubs – Then and Now
Throughout Ireland’s checkered and often violent history, pubs have played a central role. For instance, during the oppressive British rule in the 19th century, Irish pubs were deemed illegal. Given the aggressive, independent spirit of the Irish, pubs obviously flourished instead! So at this time, Irish Pubs became places where rebellions were planned, where dissidents could safely criticize the establishment and where many a political debate took place. As the years went by, Irish Pubs opened up to women (in rural Ireland, women could not go to pubs), they began serving food (pub grub) and even began to offer rooms to stay. In remote communities, they often served as churches or post office too.
While a lot has changed since then, the easy conversations that one is able to strike up in Irish Pubs remain legendary. The Irish call this peculiar quality craic, loosely translated from Celtic to mean good conversation amongst equals. Craic, Guinness (Irish stout) and good live music are the hallmarks of Irish pubs today.
Many believe that the traditional Irish Pub is now almost extinct. Eighty per cent of the bars and public houses in the UK and Ireland are today owned by the big brewery chains. They are no longer cozy, warm family-run places one could have a drink and a convivial smoke in – instead they are crowded commercial establishments where stereotyped Irish culture, quite like the Guinness, is on tap.
Did You Know?
- Pubs in history often doubled as the undertaker’s offices – in the absence of refrigeration the cool wine cellars were the best places to keep corpses in!
- Most likely, the oldest pub in the world is in Ireland. The Guinness Book of Records confirms that Sean's Bar in Athlone, Co. Westmeath, built in the year 900, is the oldest pub in Ireland and UK, and is probably the oldest pub in the world. The Brazen Head in Dublin has long claimed to be Ireland's oldest pub, but it is in fact 700 years junior to its Athlone counterpart.
- The Irish even invented whiskey, according to legend. Apparently, Irish monks in the 6th century saw the apparatus used for distilling perfume in the Middle East, and used it to produce, what is poetically known in Gaelic as Uisce Beatha, water of life, which we now know as whiskey.
- Irish whiskey differs from Scotch whisky in that Irish is normally distilled three times (whereas Scotch is double-distilled).
- Traditionally, Irish Pubs did not just sell ale and beer – they also sold essential food and hardware.
Hallmarks of Irish Pubs
There are pubs, and then there are Irish Pubs. What makes them so unique? Part of their charm lies in their warm and friendly ambience. The convivial conversation, humor and advice of a true Irish bartender, many people believe, goes a long way in creating this. To recreate this in modern Irish pubs all over the world, pub owners follow a simple rule: Know a customer's name by his second visit and his drink by the third.
Another notable feature of Irish Pubs is folksy Irish music. Many well known bands began their careers in Irish pubs – The Corrs, U2, Sinead O’Connor to name some. In fact there is a popular Musical Pub Crawl in Dublin, which takes tourists to pubs where now-famous bands once played. For more details, visit Discover Dublin
Irish Pubs also seem warmer and friendlier after one has drunk one’s fill of authentic Irish beverages -- Guinness beer, Jamieson whiskey (best had in winter with hot water, a dash of honey and a slice of lime studded with five cloves) or some warm Irish coffee. These drinks are undeniably at the heart of the concept of the Irish Pub.
Irish drinking songs are great foot-stomping, toe-tapping and often rambunctious songs that most Irish people seem to know. As the evening progresses and the tankards of ale or beer ebb, these drinking songs are often sung with great gusto in pubs. Some funny, some bawdy and some lovelorn, these drinking songs are a fun and intrinsic part of the traditions and culture of Ireland.
To listen to Irish drinking songs (although it is really nowhere as good as listening to them in an Irish pub) got to Grab A Guinness! Great Irish Drinking Songs
Irish Pub Grub
Most Irish pubs serve typically Irish food, many throughout the day. Pub menus consist, typically, of potato soup with soda bread, steaks, pork and if close to the coast, then seafood. Popular Irish dishes available in pubs include Coddle (a stew with bacon, sausages, potatoes and onions) and Colcannon (creamed potatoes and cabbage). In fact, many Irish dishes, especially stews and chowders, are now flavoured with Irish whiskey or Guinness beer, and are delicious.
For a review of pub grub in Dublin’s numerous pubs, go to Pub Grub
More on Irish Pubs
What can I do to help
For a list of Dublin’s pubs, go to DISCOVER DUBLIN