American writer Bill Barich claims he has found the perfect Irish pub. And all it took was raising a glass in pubs in five Irish counties; Sligo, Laois, Mayo, Kildare and Dublin.
Readers may disagree with Barich, but there's no question that he put his heart and soul into the task.
Barich, who lives in Dublin, says his search was inspired by Pat Cohan's bar in the 1951 film, "The Quiet Man." He says that Cohan's embodied the kind of things he was looking for in an Irish bar - an old, honest type of place where a person could sit in peace with a pint.
He soon discovered that his task would not be as easy as he had hoped. He found that the traditional Irish pub is in danger of becoming extinct, replaced by trendy modern bars or, even worse, brand new bars pretending to be old.
He despairs of Sligo saying that it shamelessly exploits dead Irish writers. After seeing the Yeats Country Tavern, Barich says he noticed the poet's name “slapped onto other bars, hotels and gift shops.”
In the village of Cong, Co. Mayo, he visits Ryan's and Cohan's and wishes he hadn't. There are no customers in Ryan's, perhaps because the speakers are blasting Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," and in Cohan's, all he finds are equally bewildered tourists looking for authentic Ireland.
In Co. Laois, he finds a pub called E.J Morrissey's in Abbeyleix, and derides the knick knacks, ads and antique cereal boxes, as being just for show.
And in Co. Kildare, in a village called Ballitore (pop. 750), he discovers a pub called "O'Connors." where the friendly owner Pat O'Connor says, "We only offer company."
Eventually, Barich heads back to the capital, and there, on the city's bustling thoroughfares, he begins to find what he is looking for.
He loves the conversation in Grogan’s, a TV-free pub on South William Street, Dublin. Barich notes that the bar’s ham and cheese toasted sandwiches (“toasties”) are simple but elegant: made from scratch, with mustard in a jar, and not in those little condiment packages. The bar also displays art work for sale on its walls.
The lack of a TV is another good sign in The Cobblestone in Smithfield. The staff are friendly and cheerful and the traditional Irish music sessions on Sundays are free. “The scene couldn’t be manufactured or replicated anywhere else on earth,” he says, “and therein lay its beauty." Barich's search comes to an end at The Cobblestone - he reckons it's as good an Irish pub as you’ll get.
His choice of the The Cobblestone was unusual because Dublin pubs don't often feature in the best-of Irish pub lists.
In fact, Irish-American comedian Des Bishop says Ireland feels more Irish the further away you move from Dublin.
As such, the West of Ireland is about as Irish as you can get. Galway, in particular, has some great pubs - it's a pity Bill Barich didn't look here. Tigh Neachtain's, in Galway City, is one such example. "Tigh" is the Gaelic for "home of," and it's common to see "Tigh" in the names of pubs in the West of Ireland.
Further east, in Skryne Hill, Co. Meath, O’Connell’s is a throwback to a bygone era. Travel writer Guyan Mitra says the only way to check you haven't traveled back in time is by checking the dates on the newspaper. O'Connell's, which is perched at the top of Skryne Hill, has been used in Guinness adverts because of its stunning location.
In Kinsale, the Bulman often makes the best-of lists, particularly for its food. It even has its own pier to help source the crab claws which are a specialty dish.
Further south, (although not quite in the Antarctic!) the South Pole Inn in Annascaul, Co. Kerry is a a wonderful gem of a place. The bar was founded by Tom Crean in 1927 after he returned from exploring the Antarctic with Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton. It is now restored to its 1920s state (with pictures of Crean on the wall) and also acts as a stop-off point for hikers on the Dingle Peninsula.
Another classic bar is McCarthy's in Fethard, Co. Tipperary. In the past, it was common for Irish pubs in small villages to also serve as undertakers - a tradition that McCarthy's maintains.
But the final mention should probably go to MacCarthy's bar in the West Cork town of Castletownbere. This much-loved pub gained a kind of cult status in 2000 when the hugely popular English writer Pete McCarthy claimed it was the best bar in Ireland.
McCarthy traveled from Co. Cork, in the south of the country, to Co. Donegal, in the north - his rule was that he wouldn't pass any pub that had his name on it.
He was enchanted by the layout of MacCarthy's, describing the front half as a "grocer's shop with seats for drinkers," and the back half as a "bar with groceries.”
McCarthy - who died in 2004 - said he managed to live the Irish pub dream one night after he was invited to stay on in MacCarthy's after hours for a private party. He finds himself “in the dream Irish pub of the popular romantic imagination – dimly lit, past midnight, shelves piled with obscure groceries, a buzz of conversation and a whoosh coming from the crowd.”
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