For you serious tavern drinkers out there, I have a piece of constructive advice. Save your money and fly to the Republic of Ireland as soon as you can. Dying off, like the Siberian Tiger, is the Irish pub as we know it. Indeed, soon there may be more Irish pubs in the States – and by that I mean pubs owned by Irishmen in the U.S., not Irish-themed pubs – than there are in the Old Sod.
Why? Well, it’s complicated but Irish pubs, which are often owned or co-owned by breweries, are laden with at least EUR2bn (US$2.7bn) of debt. All this after sales spiked and then precipitously fell by over a third after the artificial pseudo-boom created in the name of the Celtic Tiger fad faded fast, according to the Allied Irish Banks Plc.
With Ireland undergoing perhaps the worst struggle to overcome the disastrous mismanagement of its housing bubble in all of Europe save Greece, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus, its old-boy banking system – having failed to deal early with tens of billions lost in bad real estate loans – came close to collapse. Unemployment almost quadrupled, emigration and an ensuing brain drain resumed and the spending spigot from down low on the streets to the high-lifers has been reduced to a soft trickle.
“The pub sector has borne the brunt of the recession in Ireland’s domestic economy,” the Dublin-based bank said in a report carried out in conjunction with the nation’s bar owners. “One in four pubs have reduced their weekday opening hours.”
“There is simply not enough consumer demand to support the 7,400 pubs plus another 1,000 hotels nationally,” said Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive officer of the Licensed Vintners Association. The LVA represents about 700 Dublin pubs, or 90 percent of the total.
There’s also a widening gap between pub prices and those of liquor stores, far tougher drink-driving laws and, even worse, a ban on all kinds of smoking. Each has further exacerbated the effect of the recession. Although the Republic of Ireland is often stereotyped as owning a two-fisted, hard-drinking citizenry, the fact is that its drinking laws are some of the harshest practiced anywhere by its police forces, the Guardia and the PSNI The breathalyzer limit for drivers pulled over in the U.S. is 0.08%, whereas in Ireland it’s 0.05. This doesn’t mean folks have quit drinking, per sé, but they’re drinking at home or among friends at informal dinner parties where they can all smoke to their hearts’ content. Consequently, since 2007, 11 percent of Irish pubs have closed, and that trend may continue, according to O’Keeffe. And according to a survey in The Irish Independent, 60 percent of bar owners believe it will take five to 10 years for the industry to improve.
Yet, thanks to tourism, which mostly means North Americans and Australians, over 40 percent of Dublin publicans recorded an increase in sales last year, compared with 26 percent in the countryside, according to a telephone survey conducted for the bank by the Amarach Research Company.
The recently deceased Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, saw it as a kind of collective unravelling. “If there’s no conversation in pubs, the center will not hold,” Heaney wittily said at a 2011 reading in Chicago, alluding to his poetic forebear W.B. Yeats. “There’s no center to hold, or even hold forth, if yooz got no pub to go to.”