Describe the typical Irish pub drinker- he’s a fibber, a chancer, a plámás - brimming with the confidence and charm that has made the Irish people famous all over the world. He always has a story to tell and finds a friend in the next person to walk through the pub door.
Sadly, however, he is a dying breed. Much like an animal of the wild; without a watering hole it cannot survive. The nation’s socialites have become stay-at-home beer machines whose only form of conversation with a stranger is to ask for a light.
Ireland has seen a rapid decline in the pub industry over the last decade. While there are a few contributing factors, most publicans will agree on where it all began; March 29, 2004 – the smoking ban, or in other words- D-Day.
Suddenly a person couldn’t enjoy a fag in the comfort of his local; he had to stand at the doorstep. Let’s be honest: few people are courageous or even foolish enough to brave the bitter Irish weather outside their local.
Rather than be subjected to rain and wind, the drinking classes did something odd; they discovered their living rooms. Rooms that before this were used only when the wife wanted to watch Corrie, but it was either that or the bitter cold.
It wasn’t long before people couldn’t see past home drinking. They could smoke indoors, they could have friends over, and they didn’t need a cab anywhere. They could have all the drink they wanted at half the price, there was no last call but most importantly there was no one to tell them what to do.
Here is the time to tell you that I grew up in a pub and my opinion is somewhat biased, so I’ll have you ask the Revenue Commissioner. His statistical report shows 11% of Irish pubs closed within the first four years of the smoking ban. Similar trends occurred in England, Scotland and Wales following there introduction of the ban.
Immediately supermarkets saw a window and took their chances. Alcohol became their most valuable product; they could sell it for nothing just to draw the punters for a packet of ham and a sliced pan.
March 29, 2004 must also have been the date precious metals skyrocketed. Suddenly the Irish and their iron stomachs were drinking from cans, before this tin wasn’t something you drank from, no, no. It was something you blew through, it made music and was accompanied by a banjo and accordion.
Other shrewd businessmen saw the window and up popped a stream of off-licences; it was the perfect idea for this new Irish drinker- a take away pub. Sure they had been around before but they were through the door of your local that you never used; they were dark and dingy.
These new ones, however, were glossy and streamlined, they had names like CarryOut and Fine Wines, and they had colourful logos. They did specials on your favourite beverage and you could buy the most unpronounceable of foreign brews.
I know what you’re thinking: “All well and good, publicans robbed us for years!”. But were they really the bad guy? When I was growing up - and let’s be honest we all partook in a bit of ditch drinking- things were much different.
The only place we could buy alcohol was in a newsagents who only had two types of drink- wine and cider. It was €2.65 a can. There were never any specials. You just got what you asked for. All in all, it was expensive for a 15 year-old, with no job, to pay a mate’s brother to buy you five cans of cider at €2.65.
But things have changed. Nowadays, beer is cheaper than water, and apples are more expensive than the cider they make. A teenager can now buy a naggin of vodka for less than a fiver and the government seems oblivious to it all. Instead of preventing this behaviour they reduced the duties on off-licences so they can be more competitive at the border! Am I the only one that sees the danger with this form of drinking?
An ocean of ink has been spent on column inches telling tales of alcohol abuse costing students their lives, people being assaulted at house parties or people who begin taking drugs because in the privacy of your own home there’s really no one to look after you.
For lots of people, the barman is just the “ignorant b*****d who wouldn’t serve me last week”. Few people stop to think, “Jaysus I was legless, thank God he didn’t serve me, Lord knows what I might've done”.
And there it is – the revelation. The barman isn’t the bad guy. The barman wouldn’t let you drink a litre of vodka- you could be sick. The barman wouldn’t let you do drugs- I bet you wouldn’t do it if you were sober.
If anyone is the bad guy, it’s the government. No, not for booting out the smoker, but for not recognising the repercussions, the chain of events which it set in motion. They have continued to raise rates on publicans, taxed them for their juke boxes and televisions. They’ve forced the price of a pint so high it scares away any business. Meanwhile it’s become easier and cheaper for person pick up an entire box of beer and a litre of vodka, facilitating casual, unmonitored alcohol abuse.
Forget the thousands upon thousands of people who lost the jobs and their livelihoods amid the industry’s decline. Forget even the human cost of this new form of alcohol abuse. The decline is costing us something else- our culture. Ceol, craic agus caint at the bar is dying and sadly being replaced by your mate's kitchen.