Drinking in Ireland

DebarasDrinking in Ireland, ah, drinking in Ireland. Irish have the reputation of being a nation of good drinkers, we have seen it in many movies and it is a stereotype. The question is: is that true? Yes. Categorically yes. Yes, they are good drinkers. Social life in Ireland, especially rural Ireland, has traditionally been organised around two institutions: the church and the pub. If you go to any place in Ireland with more than two houses and you don’t see at least one church and at least one pub, well, you are not in Ireland.

Since Ireland is still a very rural country compared to other European countries, with a high population of people living in quite isolated areas, the only way they have to interact with other people is going to the pub on Saturdays and to mass on Sundays. As I said before, Irish people are very sociable and they love to talk: about the weather, about the new neighbour, about the new priest, about the government, about Ronan O’Gara, or about their cattle.  And the pub is a welcoming neuralgic meeting point where all kind of different people can gather.

The Pub in Ireland is an institution. There are loads of pubs, and all kind of pubs. Old school, modern, small, big, with live music, without, with TVs and sports, with a piano, with a cosy fireplace, with snooker and darts, with young people, with old people, or with old and young people altogether. I really like old school pubs, with old men drinking their stout at a very slow pace as if time didn’t go by, like characters of  old movies like The Quiet Man or Ryan’s Daughter. A good thing about Irish pubs is the amount of live music for free that you can see. In Dublin you have live music every day in various pubs, and for free. And in the weekend, in every corner of the island, no matter if it’s a city, town or village, you’ll have a good choice of live music, traditional or rock/pop.

However, (there is always some ‘howevers’), alcohol in Ireland is veeeeery expensive, and not only in pubs. An example: a bottle of red wine Sangre de Toro or white Vina Sol, which in Spain are around 4 € in a supermarket, in Ireland cost around 12-13 €, if you are lucky reduced to 9. A 50 cl can of beer in a supermarket won’t cost less than 2 €. And a pint of lager in a pub in Dublin won’t be less than 5 € up to 6 € or more depending on the pub. Stouts like Guinness or Beamish are slightly cheaper, but with the new budget alcohol raise, it’s difficult to pay less than 5 €. Dublin is more expensive than the rest of the country though, so just by travelling out of the city you may be able to find these same pints for up to 1 € less. In short, alcohol is expensive, but if you are not a marathonian alcoholic and just want to have a couple of drinks every now and then and enjoy some good live music, you don’t need to spend more money than you would be spending in Spain. And let’s not forget that a pint equals to 568 ml, which is more than half a litter.

Afterwork drinks are quite popular in Ireland the same way as in other countries like England. It is common that any Thursday or Friday you find suited men and dressed up women having a pint once they finish work at their bank, office, hospital or school. Actually, drinking, and even getting drunk with workmates, is part of the Irish culture as long as you behave to certain extent (‘certain extent’ varies depending on the job, company, group or people). I’ve been realising throughout my 10 years living in Ireland and coming as a visitor that it’s more socially accepted drinking than not drinking. ‘That lad doesn’t drink? Mmmm, something’s wrong with your man’. Exagerating a bit, ‘never trust someone who doesn’t drink’. I love this motto. Did I ever tell you I love Irish people?

Another thing that strikes tourists a bit is the poor variety of beers in a regular pub. People have the image of Ireland as a country of beer. However, this is not Belgium nor Czech Republic. If you go to any pub around the corner, the top lager will be Heineken, maybe Carlsberg, and you’ll have Guinness as stout, maybe Beamish, and Murphy’s too if you are in Cork. You could have Smithwicks ale and a couple more German or Belgian lagers too, but generally speaking, you won’t find an Irish lager. People thus mainly drink, at least in Dublin, Heineken (famous Irish lager from Holland) and Guinness. According to Gerry O’Hara, famous pub owner in Bandon, Co. Cork, the only 100 % Irish beer in his pub, O’Hara’s, was Beamish. All the products would be Irish, including the water. On the other hand, the only Irish thing in Guinness would be the water.  All the rest would be imported from their plants in Africa and other locations. Interesting, right? (Thank you, Gerry, for your knowledge! Greetings to the people of Bandon).

There’s much science about the brewing, especially the stout brewing. Guinness invests a lot of money in training pubs and bar tenders on how to brew Guinness properly. You may think that all Guinness taste the same everywhere, but the taste depends not only on how it is brewed but also on the distance between the taps and the barrels and other factors. So it really hurts me, not to say that it pisses me off, when you go to a pub in Dublin where they will charge you 5 or more euros for a Guinness and they pour it as it was Coca-Cola. No. No and no. Guinness, Beamish or Murphy’s are not Coca-Cola. They are not Heineken nor Carlsberg either. What a normal bar tender will do, or a normal bar tender that has ever drunk a stout will do, is to pour first less than half of the pint and leave it rest. After a few minutes s/he will pour the rest. Don’t get impatient if you are kept waiting for your dear beer. You MUST wait to have a proper stout. And a good stout feels good. Oh yes, it feels good. Especially on a cold rainy day next to the fireplace in your local pub.

So if you like drinking, Ireland is a good place to be. Nobody will look at you with mistrust because you like to drink. You will be fully integrated when you embrace the drinking tradition, the proper nodding gestures as a way of greeting, the ‘How’s it goin’?’ or ‘What’s the craic?’, a ‘Good man yourself’ in the right moment, a ‘Fair play to you’ with a proper diction. That, a few freckles, and an acquired love for GAA and rugby, will make you the perfect newborn Irish person.

This is a list of some of my favourite pubs I have been in Ireland:

Dublin:

Whelan’s: a must in Dublin. Concerts every single day, some for free, some with cover charge. Young and consolidated bands gigs. Any Irish band who is becoming known must have played there.

Against the Grain: just across the street of Whelan’s. Crafted local and international beers. You won’t find Heineken, Carlsberg nor Guinness. A good choice of less known beers.

Bernard Shaw: in Candem St. a more modern kind of pub. It’s a Berlin-wise bar with a two stories bus in the beergarden where you can have a choice of pizzas baked there. There’s a pool and in the summer a ping pong table.

The Lower Deck: in Portobello Harbour, just next door of my previous apartment. This pub is in Dublin but reminds me of a country pub. Owned by Liam, a man from Tipperary, it’s decorated with hurling stuff. They made my Sundays more enjoyable when I heard a loud karaoke from my bed.

International Bar: I like this place off Grafton St. because it’s an interesting mixture of authentic Irish pub with locals and some tourists. Live jazz or blues music almost every day.

O’Donoghues: In Baggot St. I just went a few days ago to this pub. A classic with the reputation of having one of the best Guinness in town. It has an air of authentic old school pub .

Slattery’s: My second home when I worked in Google. Just five minutes away, many Googlers and young professionals gather there for an afterwork pint or to watch rugby in the weekends. Just 5 minutes away from Aviva Stadium, so on match days it’s packed of locals or foreigners having a pre or post match beer.

Smyth’s of Ranelagh: In the rugby ghetto too, where the beautiful people of beautiful Ranelagh go. It’s a nice pub and it’s good to go since it’s mainly Irish young people instead of a more international atmosphere of the center.

McSorley’s: After Smyth’s, the beautiful people of beautiful Ranelagh go to McSorley’s for another pint and a dance. Interesting too.

Cork:

The Roundy: I like this pub because it made me feel a bit like at home, in Barcelona. It has a small terrace where you can sit while watching passers-bye in Cork center.

The Crane Lane: Great venue for free concerts, it is quite big and either you can sit and have a quite pint or enjoy one of their good concerts.

Bandon, West Cork:

O’Hara’s: The Gateaway of West Cork, an institution in Bandon.  Apparently a quiet and regular pub, Gerry O’Hara is a well of wisdom. He seems reserved at first, but he will introduce you to the locals and the not so locals, like the weekly foreign au pair gathering that he holds in his pub. With two tables of snooker and one of pool, don’t expect him to serve you after the sacred last call, but he might drive you home if he thinks you shouldn’t take the car.

Clonakilty:

Debarra’s: This is my favourite pub in Ireland. I’ll never stop saying it. Second home for many years for Noel Redding, bass player of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, it holds live music almost every day of the week in 2,000 inhabitants Clonakilty. Trad music and rock concerts, destination of Limerick hen parties on Fridays and Saturdays, a perfect place for a Catalanman in West Cork.

Scannell’s; Another good pub in Clonakilty, especially in the summer, as it has a great outdoors beergarden where barbecues are organised.