From the "round system" to tipping and closing time, our guide to the ins and outs of pubs in Ireland.
The pub is the center of the social universe in Ireland. It's much more than just a drinking place - it's where families mark births, deaths, birthdays and christenings, and where sports fans congregate to cheer on their teams. Many an Irish couple first met in the pub.
When tourists come to Ireland, they often spend a lot of their time in pubs and the possibilities for pub etiquette misunderstandings are endless. There are a number of practices to be aware of.
With this in mind, Irish Central has come up with a guide to pub etiquette, to help avoid red faces all around!
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The rounds culture
The problem is that no one will remind you when it’s your turn. And if you forget to get your round in, people will start talking about what a stingy bastard you are behind your back.
This story illustrates the point: A few years back a new guy, Seamus, started at my brother's company. During his first week on the job, Seamus went out for drinks with his new colleagues. He thought they were all being very generous buying him drinks all night. The following morning, word had gotten out that Seamus didn't buy his round. This did not bode well for his reputation.
The moral of the story? Probably the worst thing you can do in a pub in Ireland (aside from belting out a few bars of “God Save the Queen”) is shirk from the responsibility of rounds.
Do this once, and it will take years to redeem yourself. When it comes to drinks – and indeed most things – the Irish have long memories. This could explain why Seamus is still floundering in middle management, poor man.
Couples are TWO Units!
An important point for couples to note: just because you are together, and you love one another very much, doesn’t mean you are a single entity when it comes to drinking. (Unless of course, you are sharing the same drink.) For the purposes of rounds, you are two, distinct people. Meaning you both have to get a round in.
Tipping in pubs in Ireland is generally only necessary if you have table service. Even then, it’s not as much as in the U.S. Don’t feel bad about tipping less while in Ireland. Remember, the person serving you is probably on a decent wage. As a cardinal rule, if you go to the bar yourself and order drinks there is no need to tip.
Especially in rural areas where there are music sessions on, the pub is a place for the entire family to enjoy. So don't bother complaining to the barman if you see kids running around the place.
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During the week, pubs serve until 11.30 pm. On Fridays and Saturdays, it's 12.30 am, and on Sunday, it's 11.00 pm. In all cases, there is a half-hour "drinking up time." At the weekends, because most of the pubs close at the same time, the towns and cities get very crowded at about 1.00 am - making it a challenge to get a taxi home.
Some pubs have a late license allowing them to serve until 2.30 am, the same time that Irish nightclubs must stop serving.
In addition, pubs actually close completely on Good Friday and Christmas Day so be prepared for long lines at the liquor store on Holy Thursday and Christmas Eve. However, there are exceptions; if you're staying in a hotel or traveling on a train on Good Friday you can buy a drink.
Up until 2000, pubs had to close from 2-4 pm on Sundays – the so-called “Holy Hour.” The bizarre thing was that as long as you were already inside the bar before 2 pm you were could stay – the bar just couldn’t let anyone in during these hours.
Another peculiar law concerning drinking in Ireland is that technically, it’s an offense to be drunk in public, so mind yourself on the way home!
If during your time in Ireland you get to be part of a lock-in, you can rest assured you did something right to impress the locals. Lock-ins are what happens when the pub has officially closed for the night but nobody is quite ready for the good times to end. The pub owner or bartender in charge that night will quietly invite friends, regulars or, if you're lucky, a new face who made a good impression, to stay on for a few rounds after the doors have been locked and the windows shuttered. The idea is that once the pub is closed for the night it becomes private property...!
In the spirit of this loophole, some bartenders will insist you pay for any drinks you plan to have during the lock-in in advance, so no money is exchanged after closing time, or that all transactions be done in cash. If it's just a group of a few close friends, however, the drinks might even be on the house - a way for the owner to unwind and have a bit of a night out after a night's work.
* Originally published in 2016.