Ireland Travel and Culture

Travel in Ireland: Is Ireland Really a Land of Drunks?

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It's no secret that the Irish have a long-standing reputation for drinking. On the surface that reputation may seem well deserved. One of our most famous exports is Guinness - a dark stout brewed in Dublin and enjoying a worldwide reputation for excellence. Any visitor to Ireland is amazed with the amount of pubs even the smallest towns in Ireland can boast. For example, Athboy in County Meath is just a mile-long town but has ten pubs crammed into that one mile. And no matter where you go in the world, you'll find an Irish pub - usually called Molly O'Brien's or Murphy's or some such unmistakable Irish-sounding name.

There is no doubt that the Irish enjoy a great pub culture and we are the first to admit that we love our pubs. Why? The answer is immediately obvious to anyone who visits Ireland. Visitors are guaranteed a warm welcome and soon discover that there is more to the local pub than just getting drunk - in fact many will never get around to doing that. Conversation is never lacking and anyone who strikes up a chat with the person sitting beside them is almost always guaranteed a response - three hours later you are still talking, probably until last call. Now that's the surprising thing for most visitors - Irish pubs close at about 12 midnight with last calls at 11.30pm! So much for drinking the night away. No late night opening like in the USA or all-night bars like in the rest of Europe.

On my trip home to Ireland for the New Year last year, I decided to observe closely the actions of my brother in the pub, as compared to his American counterpart in a bar. He is a Guinness man, as any self-respecting Irishman is, so he is first prepared to wait patiently for that initial pint - a full 8 minutes when it is poured correctly. I have often seen American customers in a bar become irritated if they had to wait two minutes for their beer. My brother then proceeds to slowly savor the contents of his glass - Guinness is not a beer to be consumed quickly, it is to be sipped and savored. American beers are best drunk as quickly as possible before they begin to get warm - a room temperature Bud just isn't very nice!

The Irish pub is a friendly place and you'll find that the main reason that people frequent these houses is for a more social purpose and the drinking comes but second. So my brother makes his way around the room, talking to everyone he knows - and that's a lot of people, I can tell you. In fact he is so busy talking that he often forgets to drink and the one pint of Guinness can be in his hand for some time - I'd say he would consume one pint of Guinness to every two beers the American is drinking.

I choose my brother because he is pretty typical of the average pub-going Irish person - he likes his Guinness but the pub is more than just the drink. It is a social place, a meeting place and an integral part of his weekly routine. If he was just interested in drinking only, he would have beer in his fridge, like most Americans - but he does not. In fact very few households in Ireland will keep alcohol in their homes.

On a trip to Ireland, my American husband was amusingly surprised at how little Irish people actually drank, as compared to his American friends, despite their reputation. On his picnics, he brings beer; on our picnics in Ireland, we bring tea. At a baseball game he drinks beer; at an Irish football game, we drink tea or orange soda. When he goes to a bar, he is not home until the small hours of the morning; when we go to the pub in Ireland, we're home at 12:30am.

So much for our great reputation. It doesn't seem like the Irish are living up to it. Perhaps we have shipped it off to the USA instead. However, a reputation, once gained is seldom shaken off. But the Irish are never offended by it. With their distinctive good humor they simply smile knowingly and raise a glass of Guinness to your health.
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