Ah, the pub. Cornerstone of community, culture and craic. Den of shoulder rubbing and bad joking. Where live music and lively chat intersect at a smooth mahogany bar.
It’s more than occasionally true that our version of ‘one-horse’ towns are in fact ‘one-church one-shop three-pub’ towns. And it’s always the pubs that will be full, noisy with debate shouted over a guitar, darts hitting cork boards and the crack of pool balls being hit. Sometimes the pubs elbow into the ‘shop’ territory, lining half the bar with tinned foods and newspapers, and, you might even say with a raised eyebrow, venturing into church territory with their own open-air confession boxes.
We don’t need to convince you to visit an Irish pub on your trip to Ireland but we do want to give you a little taster of the experience. How to stroll in, pull up a pew at the bar and order like a local. And what to say when someone cops your accent (that’ll take about 10 seconds) and ask ‘and whatya doin’ around here so?’.
A liquid literary legacy
Alright, it’s no secret that Dublin’s wordsmiths fancied a pint. In their selfless search for the meaning of life, they would perch themselves on the finest stools in Dublin’s finest watering holes and philosophize. And when we swan in the doors of pubs like Neary’s or snag the snug in the rugged charm of Toners (apparently the only pub in Dublin where W.B Yeats took a drink) we begin to understand. Joyce couldn’t write a book in Dublin without including a pub (take a bow Davy Byrne’s) and whether it’s rumour or not we like the idea of Gulliver’s Travels author (also Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral) Jonathan Swift sipping a wee dram in the Brazen Head. Possibly, though, the mother of all Dublin’s literary drinking dens is the Palace Bar on Fleet Street. Step inside and taste the air (and the pints) that once nourished the comic genius of Flann O’Brien, the devil-may-care charm of Brendan Behan and the poetic perfection of Paddy Kavanagh. Sure, it’s enough to fill a novel *wink wink*.
I’ll have a…
Surprising as it may be, it’s never easy choosing your drink in the pub. Your first few minutes inside the door are spent, arm over counter, scanning the lovely liquid and mumbling, ‘Ermmmmm. I’ll have aaaaaaaaaa…’ Don’t worry, though, because that’s all part of the fun. Will it be a glistening pint of porter with a thick head of cream just peeking over the glass, or a whiskey beside a peat fire with all that oaky, woody goodness charming your throat and your soul?
If your visit to the pub has been preceded by a long walk, and maybe a chill in your fingers, we’d highly recommend the reliable tummy warmer, an Irish Coffee. Bailey’s Coffee is a sweeter, creamier alternative. Both are so delicious you’ll think they were made by the hands of angels, not that beefy barman behind the counter.
When life gives you lemons…
Of course, we also have beverages of the non-alcoholic variety. Those of you who aren’t tickled by tipples should try a sparkling glass of our iconic red lemonade. Irish people are only crazy about the stuff. Is it because it reminds us of our childhood (birthday parties meant gallons of it) or that it can’t be found anywhere else and is consequently the thing we miss as much as our own mother when we leave Ireland? Have a sip, and tell us you understand our hysteria. In Northern Ireland, it’s all about the brown lemonade. Then there’s white, naturally, which is what everyone else around the world knows well. Yes, we’re probably the only island in the world where you need to specify a colour when ordering lemonade.
So you’re sitting on a stool, swishing your whiskey/lemonade or combination of the two, and suddenly you’re jerked out of your daydream by a bearded fellow in an Aran sweater giving a bodhrán a right bang. A fiddle, banjo and a tin whistle later, and you’re front row at your first traditional music session. Hours later as you wave goodbye and shut the pub door behind you, you say to yourself – ‘I’m not sure what just happened, but I liked it’.
So “where, WHERE??, do we find such a session”, you ask. Every corner of the island, to be honest. Some particular notables are Dingle, and the rest of , County Cork next door, County Clare, and County Antrim and its hopping Glens. This map of every pub that holds a trad session, with times and costs, is invaluable. For Northern Ireland, you’ll find a list of the pubs here.
Let’s face it, if we had the time we’d visit all the pubs in Ireland. Life, though, gets in the way and our holidays can’t last forever. So, considering that you’re not able to check out every single pub, we know your next question is going to be, which one should you most definitely NOT miss?
Ah, don’t make us choose! See there’s a pub for every mood, whim, fancy for music and taste in wallpaper. A consensus in the office was simply impossible, so we let each person have their say:
Aileen: For gas-lit gorgeousness it’s Belfast’s .
David: For those who like their pubs hidden in one of Ireland’s pretty side-streets it’s ; and for those who like their pubs with a little bit of literary history it’s Dublin’s .
Orla: It’s gotta be in Kildare. I tend to squeeze myself into a snug for a cosy catch-up and when it’s about that time, drag my friends onto the dancefloor.
Jonny: The Bodega on the Coal Quay is always good for a night out. It’s got really high ceilings and a fancy décor, which set it apart from your average Cork City late bar, nice mix of music too not just constant dance anthems = Win.
But, don’t just take our words for it. Pop over some time and find your own local.
Wondering what the coziest pubs would be? We’ve got the best pubs in Ireland for long winter nights.
You know those maestros behind the bar? Irish bartenders are a breed of themselves, as one cocktail shaker told us.