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Over and stout for the Irish pub?

By Mark Simpson
Ireland correspondent, BBC News

An Irish pub
The Irish have long had strong links with their traditional pubs
With an estimated 200 bars a year closing in Ireland, is the country's love affair with the pub coming to a bitter end?

Some believe the traditional Irish pub is an endangered species, and the credit crunch is now placing it in greater jeopardy.

That's the sad conclusion of a travel writer who has just completed one of the longest pub crawls in Irish history.

The author Turtle Bunbury went to all 32 counties in Ireland, and visited more than 700 pubs. Although he couldn't manage a pint in every one, he got a real taste of Irish pub culture in the new millennium.

"It's an endangered species - the traditional old-style Irish pub," he says.

"A lot of the ones which have closed are the ones in the middle of nowhere, and they're the ones where actually the best craic was probably found in days of old. So in the country, the Irish pub is struggling."

Years ago, you could open the door and expect people just to come in. Not any more

Ger Clancy, publican

According to figures from the Licensed Vintners' Association and the Vintners' Federation of Ireland, 1,500 pubs have closed since 2001.

The future looks pretty gloomy too.

The Republic of Ireland is officially in recession, and as prices go up, disposable incomes come down. It's a sobering thought.

However, the problems afflicting traditional Irish pubs cannot be blamed on the credit crunch.

They began during the economic boom years, when Ireland's economy was so strong it was nicknamed the "Celtic Tiger".

Changing habits

Some believe there has been a cultural change within Irish society with people becoming increasingly selfish rather than sociable, and more interested in saving money than drinking beer.

Ger Clancy
Ger Clancy says publicans now have to work harder to please their customers

As Mr Bunbury put it: "The inclination to go off and sit down in a pub and drink 15 pints over the course of a day doesn't sit easily with making a fortune."

Stricter drink-driving laws and the smoking ban haven't help the booze trade.

Not just in Ireland, but in parts of the UK, there is an increasing tendency to drink at home rather than in a bar.

As the credit crunch saying goes: "Staying in is the new going out."

You can still smoke at home, supermarket alcohol is cheaper and if you can't afford a taxi, there is always the couch.

This is the sort of social life that haunts publicans like Ger Clancy.

His family has been running Clancy's pub on the main street of Athy in County Kildare since before World War II.

'Extra mile'

The riverside market town is an hour's drive south of Dublin. It used to have more than 40 pubs, now it has just 16.

Mr Clancy says: "Years ago, you could open the door and expect people just to come in. Not any more.

"Customers are a bit more demanding than they used to be.

"And they have reason to be more demanding, because they're paying more for their pint. It's expensive. And therefore you have to give them value for money. You have to go that extra mile for them."

A few publicans are literally going the extra mile, by buying large vehicles - people carriers - to ferry customers to and from the pub.

Turtle Bunbury
Turtle Bunbury's research has taken in more than 700 Irish pubs

After his nationwide tour of the country for his book The Irish Pub, Mr Bunbury is in favour of a community bus scheme in isolated, rural areas.

"It would take people to and from the pub - maybe not every night, but some nights. And maybe a tax-free bus that the publican himself runs."

Speaking of taxes, publicans believe they already pay too much on alcohol and they'll be hiding behind the sofa fearing the worst when Ireland's Finance Minister Brian Lenihan announces his budget next week.

Whatever happens, the pub trade is bracing itself for a tough winter. Tourists to Ireland may find fewer pubs, and dearer beer.

Even so, there is still plenty of alcohol to be found around the country. Those who arrive with a thirst are unlikely to leave unquenched.

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Ireland correspondent Mark Simpson reports on the decline in popularity of the traditional Irish pub




SEE ALSO
Smoking ban rattles Ireland's pubs
26 Mar 04 |  Business
Ireland thinks again on drink
20 Feb 03 |  Europe


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