Don Kavanagh is the editor of Hospitality magazine.

Don Kavanagh: Drying up and dying out


Don Kavanagh mourns the demise of the traditional Irish pub in his homeland.

In most Irish towns, the pub trade is visibly shrinking. Photo / Thinkstock
In most Irish towns, the pub trade is visibly shrinking. Photo / Thinkstock

I've been in Ireland this week and I have to say that the place isn't looking good at all.

Unemployment, recession, depression and a sudden return to poverty have kicked the guts out of most of the people here, but the biggest shock for me was the state of the bar scene.

Dublin is limping along, buoyed by its large population, and some tourist towns are ticking over as well, but in most Irish towns the pub trade is visibly dying.

My hometown had 42 pubs when I was growing up and all of them were busy, a feat made all the more remarkable by the fact that there were only 5000 people in the place. To put it in perspective, to achieve a similar ratio Auckland would need to have 11,860 bars.

Yesterday, I walked from the town square to the bottom of my hill and found one bar open in the afternoon. The other 15 I walked past in my five-minute stroll were closed, either permanently or temporarily. Many bars open only in the evenings now and some just at weekends. Two went into receivership this week and won't be opening again in the foreseeable future.

Those that do open are pessimistic and it's hard not to agree with them.

There is little relief in sight and what was once a legendary part of Irish culture - the pub - is now in danger of disappearing. If it keeps going like this the only Irish pubs that will exist will be the theme bars overseas.

It makes me glad to think that no matter how tough people are doing it in New Zealand, I'll be able to stroll into any number of bars when I get home, secure in the knowledge that they'll be open and offering a decent product.

But every drink I have will be tempered by the sadness I feel whenever I think of great pubs of yesteryear, once buzzing with music, conversation and that indefinable mix of banter, humour and fun, summed up by the word "craic".

Instead, they are now cathedrals to sorrow and mourning for a tradition that managed to outlast the depredations of famine, invasion, revolution and civil war, but was ultimately brought low by a massive economic boom that withered and died. It seems somehow both ironic and fitting and, dare I say it, even a little bit Irish.

- Herald on Sunday

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