The family-run public house remains an integral part
of Irelands social fabric.
God be with the days when decent hours, decent darts and
decent prices were the order of the day in the licenced
premises dotted around Dublin city. God be with the day
when most of them were family-run businesses run by salt-of-the
earth type people who were racy of the soil which put a
spring in their step as chislers.
Times have changed in Ireland over the last 20 years - big
time. Things have changed, changed utterly in the licenced
game in particular. The local is as conspicuous
as a pub by the same name while a home from home
hostelry is a catch all phrase from a marketing handbook
The bigger, urban areas of Ireland have lost a lot of the
informality, homeliness and familiarity of yesteryear and
the pubs located therein have suffered as a consequence
in their bids to be all things to all men (and women). Rural
Ireland though still retains that sense of camarderie and
conviviality so redolent of the licenced business trade
back in Gods oul time.
Rural Ireland is not dead and gone and with OLeary
in the grave. Even non-drinkers should be thankful that
thats the case too because thats where the heart
of Ireland lies . . and thats where the the pub business
- so beloved of men, masters, musicans and malcontents -
still thrives even in spite of the ravages of commercialisation,
superpubs and the modern phemomenon of off-licences.
The family-run public house remains though an integral part
of Irelands social fabric and despite the changing
times, the number of pubs spread across the length and breadth
of the country remains, for the most part, unaltered.
Rural Ireland has chosen to hold on to its pubs and while
the nature of the ownership of our favourite inns and hostelries
has changed somewhat with more and more pubs being leased
by eager wanabees, by and large Irelands pub business
has retained its trademark intimacy and welcoming ambience
as well as its reputation for providing a veritable home
from home for young and old alike.
The well-documented so-called proliferation of public houses
in the village of Kilnaleck in Co. Cavan, for instance,
isnt quite so unique as some have made out.
Forty years ago, the cosy Cavan town boasted fourteen pubs.
That number declined to a low of nine in the interim but
in the last 20 years, eleven pubs have for the most part.
provided the best of service to aficionados of fine wines
Currently Kilnaleck plays host to nine pubs with one pub
cum hardware store closing some years back and two
other pubs being merged into one pretty large premises.
As with the changing face of the pub industry elsewhere,
the pub game in Kilnaleck has seen a greater concentration
of stand-alone pubs with little in the way of auxillary
businesses operating from the same premises. Specialisation
seems to be the name of the pub game in Kilnaleck and other
towns of a similar size in deepest Ireland.
For example Oldcastle in Co. Meath, just ten miles up the
road from Kilnaleck and with a opulation of about 500 is
currently home to 11 pubs (there used to be 14 back in the
sixties) with little or no change in the ownership of those
pubs over the last 20 years and no change at all in their
Leaving aside the obligatory Paddywhackery which places
like Kilnaleck have been victim of by elements within the
media over the years, the pub culture in rural Ireland is
almost like the drumlins of Cavan themselves - unchanging,
part of the landscape and undeniable racy of Ireland Inc.
Kilnaleck has retained its quota of pubs - however disproportinate
- despite the healthy competition for drinkers that exists
in the locale. Like many another rural area of Ireland,
county Cavan is well endowed with small towns with big numbers
Up the road some three miles from Kilnaleck, the sleepy
hamlet of Mountnugent has three pubs all to itself; three
miles the other direction, Crosskeys also boasts three while
five miles removed from Kilnaleck, the town of Ballinagh
has eight hostelries and in nearby Finea in Co. Westmeath,
those partial to alcholic and non-alchoholic beverages alike
have seven pubs to proffer their custom.
Competition is the lifeblood of any trade and the pub trade
in rural Ireland is as buoyant now as it was 40 years ago
when the proverbial grocery/hardware shop adjoined almost
every single pub in the town/village.
Competition these days is arguably much more rife now between
pub owners in neighbouring towns/villages because of greater
means of transport and much higher levels of disposable
income among the general populace. For this reason, it is
not expected that the number of pubs in Kilnaleck will ever
increase again to its former high of 14.
Pubs in rural Ireland can still bank on a core of loyal
customers though. In Kilnaleck, for instance, some customers
dont venture to any other pub other than the one with
no television because they prefer the stimulation of conversation
as the appertif to their favourite tipple rather than another
instalment of a banal soap.
Publicans in rural Ireland - as opposed to superpub owners
in Irelands large urban areas - will, of course, continue
to give us all a touch of the beal bocht and
the polemicist among them will continue to rant and rave
about the inherent harshness of his trade. Theres
a grain of truth in such negatives though. Publicans in
rural Ireland may still have the ear of the locals but they
dont have the purse of the Sultan.
The Fair Day has long since gone and the publicans of rural
Ireland have never quite recovered from the loss of such
a benefactor. Even the rare Fleadh Ceoil or St. Patricks
Day Parade hasnt quite replenished the well in that
respect. And, to compound matters, the introduction of the
Euro, has tarred publicans the country over as being opportunistic
money-grabbers and tricksters!
Kilnaleck no longer has the Fair Day to bankroll its commercial
centre. Where once the local creamery formed the hub of
financial dealings there, it too has gone the way of the
dodo. Another blow to the tills. Interestingly, once upon
a time most of the shares in Kilnaleck Co-Op Agricultural
and Dairy Society Limited were held by the towns publicans!
For all their travails, publicans, well-heeled and poor
alike, remain pillars of rural society in Ireland - a shoulder
to cry on, a source of long-lost information, a fulcrum
around which local gossip can hang its overcoat and the
springboard for local anti-establishment civil rights movements
of every shape and hue.
Of course, publicans in rural Ireland and the countrys
largest sporting organisation, the Gaelic Athletic Association,
go together like a referee and his whistle. Where there
is a GAA club, youre likely to find at least one publican
with his hand on the minutes or the jerseys.
Rural publicans have survived and even thrived not only
as a result of their own ingenuity and business acumen.
Publicans in rural parts of Ireland are as thick as thieves
when it comes down to the nitty gritty of making sure that
Joe and Josephine Soaps tipple is well embellished
with lumps of ice. No publican in rural Ireland has been
known to go without ice for longer than it takes to tip
either down, up or across to his next nearest Vintners Federation
of Ireland member.
Rural pubs came through a lean spell in the late seventies
and early nineties partly because of this innate sense of
loyalty to one another and the successful co-existence of
the many publicans in the outer reaches of Irelands
rural heartland has helped in part to rejuvenate a lot of
Irelands villages and towns.
People in small towns and villages have traditionally leant
on their local pub for solace and comfort in times of hardship.
Some people may have decided to drink all the way to Skid
Row in the process of searching for a feeling of togetherness
and community but publicans have refused to be accountable
for anything other than the products and services they provide
. .and rightly so.
Irelands small pubs in Irelands small towns
and villages have provided a social service for donkeys
years. As the long-lost and much loved tradition of people
visiting their neighbours for a ceili, the local
pub has instinctively moved into fill the subsequent void.
Still, there is reliable information to suggest that the
older folk arent quite as inclined these times to
venture forth to their local. The recently modern drink-driving
regulations have had a major effect in that regard.
The custom and practice of consuming alcohol during the
day in rural pubs has largely died away. The decline in
the number of owner-occupier pubs has meant that very often
a relative stranger is in situ behind the counter and relative
strangers arent exactly renowned for their capacity
to rhyme off the seed, breed and generation of the locals
as a local might wish. As they say in the vernacular, he
doesnt really know the lie of the land.
The pub game is not everyones cup of tea but the taste
of what it offers to visitors and locals alike across Ireland
has proven to be a winning formula for many, many years.
Rural Ireland and the pub culture go together like bacon
and cabbage. And theres no sign of any diminution
in the love affair either.