Ireland has a drinking problem: the death of old 'country' pubs

Published Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 9:11 AM

I take up my battered old bugle to blow a brazen blast of praise over my Irish Voice colleague John Spain for his piece recently about the crazy new drink driving legislation moving rapidly towards the statute books even as we speak.

John and I most often sing from different ends of the sheet, as well as from different coasts, but by heavens the next time I meet him in a country pub the drinks will be on me. Every comma of his column and every word of it rings as pure truth.

I salute him. I echo his every word.

I'd forgotten (we worked together one time) that John is a bogman like myself. He mentioned that along the way of his ire about the upcoming new law that will mean that you cannot legally take even one pint of porter without being over the sharply reduced 50mg blood alcohol level.

The move has come from Transport Minister Noel Dempsey. He is from Meath and that is more than a little bit significant maybe.

He's a countryman technically, but hardly truly. Meath has the best land in Ireland. You'd have to search hard for a bog there, never mind a bogman.

Also Meath is now essentially a part of greater Dublin. There are more taxis and hackneys and coaches there than in all of Connacht. There is never any trouble in obtaining transport home from the pub.

Anyway, all the county's once remote regions have been crammed with housing estates built by the Celtic Tiger. It would be difficult enough now to find an old style country pub that is miles from anywhere in Meath.

It is not at all typical of the huge remote swathes of the west and south west and north. And these are the main areas where the country pubs are already being wiped out and emptied.

And they are the areas for which the old and venerable pubs are of most benefit for an aging and scattered rural population. They are their community centers, now being attacked on every side and at every level.

I have written here recently about just how socially serious the disappearance of the rural pubs is for the folk who live in the very real but Hidden Ireland.

John Spain put it powerfully when he said in his piece that the Fianna Fail backbenchers have been silent and compliant in the face of their ministers slashing cuts and dire pre-budget warnings over recent months. They silently listened to the ritual spinning of the "leaks" about what is likely to happen in a December budget that is certain to have them thrown out of office by the people at the first opportunity.

But many of them exploded at the party meeting with Minister Dempsey when it emerged the alcohol blood level limit is to be lowered. These were the politicians from the Hidden Ireland who know well the realities of rural living and the importance to their people of the little pubs.

Many of them, for God's sake, hold some of their "clinics" in these very pubs! As John said clearly, that backlash was genuine.

John also pointed out that the righteous lobbies of the country, both inside and outside the media, very speedily pictured the Fianna Fail rebels as thick backwoodsmen. They indeed did that, and are doing it since. (I am glad to say I wrote a page of support for the rebels in the Daily Mail!)

But John also hit the nail on the head by speaking the truth about the reality in rural Ireland nowadays in relation to the existing blood alcohol levels. He did not make the mistake that the angry Tipperary politician McGrath did when he suggested that a pint could improve the driving of nervous drivers.

What John said was that there were no global statistics for all the factors -- apart from alcohol levels -- behind our road casualties. That was a good point.

John also argued that speed rather than alcohol is probably the most potent factor involved, that young men driving too fast kill a lot more people than old bachelor farmers with two pints taken driving home at 30 miles an hour, very carefully, over roads they know like the backs of their hands. They cause fatalities very rarely indeed.

A linked point I'd like to make is that young men driving too fast are very rare visitors to the little quiet country pubs so important to their seniors. No, they are invariably coming home at high speed (often with no drink taken too!) from the kind of urbanized "plastic pubs" and nightclubs that are the only ones surviving all the negative factors now at play.

I suggest to all of you who love to come home to visit the pubs your fathers and grandfathers drank in to read John Spain's fine truths now if you have not read them already. You'll find them in the archive here at www.IrishCentral.com.

That way you will not be so shocked when you do get back here and find them closed and shuttered. Because that is what is happening every week.

Bravo John!

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