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Patrick Conway's Dublin pub is one of many that has closed in recent years. Photo by: Photocall Ireland

Pub closures in Ireland mean opportunity for British, US bar chains

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Patrick Conway's Dublin pub is one of many that has closed in recent years. Photo by: Photocall Ireland

With an average of a pub a day closing in Ireland, major British bar chains are poised to swoop on the Irish drinks market.

Rock-bottom prices for Irish properties have attracted giant owners JD Wetherspoon and Greene King from Britain. Reuters has learned that a third leading British pub company is also preparing to target Ireland.

It’s not only British pub companies that are targeting Ireland.

David Kelly, co-owner of the Ri Ra chain of bars in the U.S., has opened his first pub in his native Dublin.

JD Wetherspoon, owner of more than 880 British pubs, has agreed to buy its first two Irish sites, both in south Dublin. It aims to open 30 around the country.

Wetherspoon chairman and founder Tim Martin said, “It’ll probably take five to 10 years to get established. We think we can make a go of it.”

He added that an improved performance in their nine Northern Ireland pubs influenced the decision to enter the Republic market.

Greene King, which has 2,300 pubs, restaurants and hotels, recently agreed to buy two pubs in Dublin.

It is understood that representatives of the company, based in Bury St. Edmund’s, England have in recent months approached the owners of numerous large suburban Dublin pubs to ask if they would be interested in selling their properties.

At the height of the property boom in 2007 one in six Dublin pubs that changed hands was sold for at least €14 million ($18.8m), with almost half sold for over €6 million ($8m).

Now, following the collapse of the property bubble, the prices have fallen to where a typical Dublin pub is now changing hands for around €800,000 ($1.1m).

The downturn saw Irish drinkers diverted from pubs to cheaper off-license shops (liquor stores) and supermarkets, which now account for 60 percent of sales. But drinks manufacturers anticipate the tide turning back.

The government is now set to bring in minimum alcohol prices, which should prod some drinkers back to the pub by reducing the price advantage of buying beer in the shops.

Charlie Chawke, who paid the highest price ever for an Irish pub — €22 million ($30m) for the Old Orchard Inn in the Rathfarnham, Dublin, in 2005 — says he is not worried about competing with the big British chains.

“They’re very welcome to come in and try their hand at what they’re good at. We’ll see how they get on. People have come and gone before,” Chawke said.

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