Irish pubs in danger of extinction as new rules bite
Smoking ban, drunk driving laws add up to closures
Synthetic Irish bars may be thriving around the world, but in Ireland the real thing is in danger of extinction.
One of the best-loved rural pubs has long been The Old Mill Bar and Restaurant, a picturesque ivy-clad tavern with red-washed walls and vintage tobacco signs. It is situated in the center of O’Briensbridge, a one-street village on the banks of the River Shannon in County Clare.
This delightful two-centuries-old roadhouse was judged the Best Country Pub in Ireland in the Licensing World Bar Awards of 2008. Business was booming then, and it employed 20 people.
But when I went there for lunch last week, hoping to enjoy a bite and talk to the owner about the fate of Irish pubs, I found it closed.
Above the door was a large sign with the words “FOR SALE” and the telephone number of an auctioneer.
I tried the two other listed pubs in the village (population 213): Ryan Darby’s and Betty Boner’s. Ryan Darby’s was closed until evening time and the doors were locked. So too was Bonner’s, a quaint old-style country pub which doubles as a grocery store.
Local Margaret Keogh was, however, tending Bonner’s tiny shop counter.
“The daytime trade has gone,” she lamented. “The older people who would come in during the afternoon and sit over a pint of Guinness have all died, and the younger people don’t drink during the day. They haven’t the money.”
Besides, she said, alcohol is sold so cheaply in the supermarkets these days that people are drinking more at home.
What is happening in O’Briensbridge is symptomatic of the fate of one of Ireland’s main tourist attractions, the quaint pub with local characters, like Pat Cohan’s bar in Cong, County Mayo. It was made famous by the film “The Quiet Man” starring John Wayne, though that interior was constructed on a movie set in Hollywood.
In addition to The Old Mill, thirty pubs closed in County Clare in the last year, according to reporter Dan Danaher of the Clare Champion newspaper. By comparison, only six drink licenses were lost in the previous two years.
Danaher blames cheap supermarket prices for alcohol, a fall in disposable income and a changing culture.
“You can go to the supermarket and get 20 bottles of Budweiser for 15 euro [$20.50] but in the pub you would pay 4 euro [$5.50] for one bottle,” he explained. “Also people are becoming more independent, they are looking for different things. It’s unusual to see people in a pub in the afternoon, though they will go to see matches on television.”
The decline started with a smoking ban in 2004, followed by stricter drunk driving laws . More recently, unemployment, renewed emigration  and an increase in taxes  because of the financial crisis have hampered pub business.
Things will only get worse. All Irish workers, starting this month, have to surrender up to 10 percent of their wages to fund Ireland’s international bailout .
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