Some countries send you a signal to tell you that it’s time to visit them. In the month of June, I trekked to ‘the world’s highest Irish Pub’ at Namche Bazaar, Nepal. Climbing to the dizzy height of 3,440 metres was the hardest I had ever worked for a pint of beer. But then, an Irish Pub is no ordinary place, and finding one at such a remote place was no coincidence.
Shortly after that, I was at the birthplace of pub culture — Ireland. I was intrigued to know what makes an Irish pub so popular that pub crawls attract over 80% of the tourists coming to Ireland. There must be something special about them; otherwise, why would there be over 7,000 Irish pubs in over 53 countries, from Mongolia to Iraq, Australia to Canada, Bolivia to Russia. Here is what I found after visiting pubs of all shapes, sizes, and styles.
Pubs are at the heart of Irish life
When it comes to a great pub, Ireland wrote the book. The public houses of the Emerald Isle have been at the centre of Irish life since the 10th Century. Nowhere in the world have pubs donned so many hats: funeral home, restaurant, grocery shop, music venue, job centre and a meeting place for everyone from poets to revolutionaries. Often basic and unpretentious, they are a home away from home.
A place to enjoy Irish ‘craic’
“There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t yet met” — goes the famous quote by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. With the evolution of time, they evolved into a global institution synonymous with hospitality, camaraderie and, most of all, community. As I sip on a glass of Guinness at Murphy’s Bar in Killarney, Tom Kennedy, a local who runs Experience Ireland Golf and Travel, says, “One word really, the ‘craic’! It’s tough to quantify this: is it the people that frequent the pub or the atmosphere or the quality of the pint you are served? Is it live music, or the welcome you receive from the locals and staff, or that random stranger who will chat with you for hours at the bar about even more random topics? It’s all of this really!”
More than just a place to chug pints of Guinness
It is here that conversations and camaraderie take over differences in age, nationality, and status. Sarah Dee, the Global Digital PR and Content Marketing Head, Tourism Ireland, says, “The Irish pub is never just a place to grab a pint. It’s the heart of the community, where family and friends come together. It’s where local stories flourish and grow, where legends come to life. Interested in Titanic? How about meeting a ghost? Whatever you’re into, here, there’s a pub for that.”
In a way, these watering holes are also talent incubators. Many great writers like James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan got their inspiration in literary bars. And, it’s not just literature that has profited from the pub culture. Musicians and dancers too found unwavering support in these unusual institutions of creativity.
Whether you’re a teetotaller or a beer-guzzler, Irish pubs should be part of your itinerary. After all, even Barack Obama couldn’t resist visiting one, cracking a few jokes and raising a toast. Sláinte!