Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If you're Oirish, come into the pub

So, that was St Patrick's Day. Much green was worn, much beer was drunk, much craic was had, much crap was spoken. Some became Irish for the occasion, while others claimed they were Irish all along, having ancestors from County Mulligan. Their Irishness will last as long as their hangovers, but will be rediscovered again next year. What a way to celebrate a Saint's day; what an excuse to get drunk on a Monday night.

Of course, they are not really Irish, all those revellers. They are Oirish, at least for one night a year. Oirishness is a neither a nationality nor an ethnicity. It is a state of mind. It is also a state of inebriation. People tend to become Oirish over the course of an evening, developing distinctive brogues and a tendency to be best friends or deadly enemies with complete strangers - sometimes almost simultaneously.

Oirishness can be acquired almost anywhere with an alcohol licence, but is most readily available in a Traditional Irish Pub. These establishments can be found all over the world, even in Ireland. There was one in Perugia when I lived there. The city did not have an Irish community to speak of, but that was unimportant. The local tourist industry operatives could go there if they wanted a night off from being traditionally Italian, while the tourists could find a home away from home where everything was as fake as everywhere else designed for tourists.

The Traditional Irish Pub differs in almost every respect from the Irish bar, which traditionally is a mean little place, about as wide as your outstretched arms; but don't go outstretching your arms, because someone will think you want a fight. Usually it will be one of the sour old men who sit at the bar all day, recalling all the reasons they hate everyone who is different from them, while reserving their deepest hatred for those who are most like them: other Irishmen who happen to have slightly different opinions about the interpretation of Scripture.

By contrast, the Traditional Irish Pub is an expansive, welcoming place. It is similar in many respects to the equally bogus Traditional English Pub, although it could just as well be a Traditional Malaysian Pub for all that it makes any difference. What matters is that the designers can create a plausible approximation of what might pass for traditional, Irish and a pub, to people who have never been to Ireland and could not care less anyway. For reasons known only to the designers, this bogus traditional Irish character is expressed by hanging agricultural instruments from the wall, as if gangs of farm workers had come in for a swift pint and parked their tools on the wall to avoid any nasty accidents.

Irish pubs can become Oirish. In Auckland, Murphy's, a pub that was Irish in the sense that it had been a centre for the Irish community for the best part of a century, was turned into a Traditional Irish Pub. Later, just short of its 100th birthday, Murphy's was renamed Father Ted's, the name of a fictional character in a British comedy series which makes fun of Ireland.

Establishments of this kind provide much Guinness which, as the ubiquitous pub bore will tell you, is not as good as the real stuff in Ireland. Traditional Irish Pubs also provide Traditional Irish culture: a covers band with a fiddler. This band will play traditional melodies, such as Pride in the Name of Love, Brown-Eyed Girl and Sweet Home Alabama. They might also attempt other songs in the style of The Pogues, the band formed by traditional Irishman Shane McGowan, who was born in Tunbridge Wells and attended Holmewood House Preparatory School and Westminster. Strangely enough, Irish pub bands never play anything by The Corrs.

You will always find a welcome in a Traditional Irish Pub. Remember the old saying: there are no strangers, only sociopaths you haven't met yet.

9 comments:

twelve-plus-one said...

Or The Nolans.

Uroskin said...

As a Belgian, I can attest that the fare and beer at the various "Belgian Beer Cafes" are often of a standard much higher than your average pub in Belgium proper.

Fergus said...

We have a rash of them in Dunedin. Truly awful. Though one does have Mac's cider on tap. Still none of them are as eye-defoulingly horrible as that English pub in Newmarket whose name escapes me.

Anonymous said...

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Pablo said...

fergus, are you referring to the Cock & Bull? I'd hate for you to think that only Newmarket benefits from its eye-defouling horriblness. There's one in Ellerslie as well. They might even be a chain.

Pablo said...

Oh, and Uroskin, I recall a very fine branch of O'Neill's in Brussells.

The Reluctant Botanist said...

God I hate the Cock and Bull. Almost as much as I hate St. Patricks Day.

Fergus said...

That's the one. Haven't been back in Auckland for a while. Is the frontage for the Ellerslie one as bad ?

exclamation Mark said...

You forgot to mention Orish "dancing" which is a drunk person's attempt at some Michael Flatly RiverDance quick-step on the crowded Oirish pub "dance floor" (the approximately 1.5 square metre of slippery floorspace between the bar and the band stand). This usually results in falling over and/or kicking someone else in the back of the legs which of course leads to one the fights you previously mentioned.