The decline of the Irish pub

Irish pubs are famous worldwide — not for the drinking but for the craic (conversation) and inclusion (talking with strangers as well as old friends).

To carry out these conversations, you need a few people, attention, and some social lubrication (booze).

These requirements are under strain, endangering the future of a glorious element of Irish culture — an element that the world needs a lot more of these days.

In terms of people, there are now more choices of how to spend one’s time, which is already under strain from commuting, over-working (union hours were good for pubs) and binging on all-you-can eat content from services like Netflix. So there are fewer people in pubs.

In terms of attention, look to mobile phones, their needy algorithms, and the people’s FOMO-fueled obsession with messages from other addicts. It only takes one “let me just check this” for a craicing joyride to crash into a crack-addled stupor. Smart phones render us dumb.

In terms of booze, the issue is not getting drunk* but fear of drinking too much before the inevitable drive home. I am no fan of drunk driving, but the need for cars in the Irish countryside (and many cities), means that people lay off rather early, in caution, rather than shouting another round.

Car culture has numerous negative effects, from killing children playing in the street, to scaring pedestrians and bikers from getting around. Cars take streets for parking and roads take money from budgets best used elsewhere. Car culture leads to less exercise and more sprawl. People get fat and unhealthy as they sit in two-tons of metal, going to a “good paying job” in commutes that take time from their day and years off their lives.**

As more pubs close, due to a lack of custom, the space between them increases, requiring more driving, which means less drinking, and the vicious cycle turns. Walking to the pub is a luxury in the countryside and even getting harder in cities.

Fewer pub nights means less craic, weaker community, and more loneliness. That sucks.

My one-handed conclusion is that people need to leave their phones at home, walk over to the pub (or carpool with a designated driver), and tall With more strangers rather then warring on “social” media.

*Bowe’s in Dublin has a sign above the bar that reads “Bowe’s bar is dedicated to those merry souls who make drinking a pleasure, who reach contentment before capacity, and what so ever they drink, can hold it and remain gentlemen

**The Irish have an average BMI of 27.5. The US and NL have BMIs of 28.8 and 25.4, respectively. Those data are from 2014, so the stats are now worse. (Curiously, the order of countries when looking at 2016 rates of obesity*** — 25.4%, 41.9% and 20.4% in Ireland, US and NL, respectively — is different, probably due to a classic “mean vs median” skew.)

***In a  recent, “I can’t believe this is not the Onion” development, Paris has announced it will charge “obese cars” (=the norm in the US) more to park. European parking spaces just don’t have the elastic waistbands of America’s.

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Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

3 thoughts on “The decline of the Irish pub”

  1. From an Irish friend:

    “…the kids are not driving or drinking at all. You don’t need a car to go from the couch to the phone charger. You could sound bitter and still complaining after all these years. It is what it is and that is a good thing more than a bad thing. The Gov’t killed Irish drinking culture, which was dying anyway but the tourist still come to drink. The less said about being over the limit the better. I was breathalysed for the first time the other day – random test I passed.”

  2. I posted this on to ask for opinions. The mods deleted the post and said this: “Honestly I think if we approved this post, you’d be subject to a wealth of criticism from the sub. Your piece is poorly written, and I’m not sure what argument you’re trying to make… for all our sakes we’ll leave this one under low effort, and you can spend some time doing more research on the pub scene. You clearly haven’t been to a bar when the ashtrays come back out and the door is closed out.”


    1. David:

      Let that be a lesson to you! However, criticism is a plus as people have noticed.

      In AZ, drivers whine about people in the left lane who pass me when I am doing 70 mph in the right lane and the speed limit is 65 mph. The ones passing are doing 75 mph+ on a 4-lane highway which should be restricted to 65 mph due to the quality of the road and the occasional stop light some will run.

      The complaints continue as they whine about themselves camping in the left lane who are well over the speed limit. a minute or so later, I arrive at the same destination.

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