The sad decline of the Irish pub

Some are being dismantled and shipped to places like Canada

Richard Cummins/ Lonely Planet

When Joe McGuinness decided to open an authentic Irish pub in Halifax, the Dubliner says he “spared no expense trying to duplicate the atmosphere.” Everything that appoints Durty Nelly’s—from the light fixtures to the chairs to the mahogany bar—was shipped over from the Emerald Isle. But while business booms at the Halifax establishment—in its first year, sales exceeded $2.5 million—pub culture in Ireland is fading away.

Increasingly, exported replicas of Irish pubs, which have been cropping up everywhere from Estonia to Dubai, are a homage to what was, rather than what is. Thanks to anti-smoking legislation, changing habits and the economic downturn, the country’s traditional gathering places have seen better days: since 2001, domestic drink consumption has fallen by 21 per cent; 833 pubs have closed in the last three years; in the past 18 months, 15,000 industry jobs have disappeared. Kieran Tobin, chairman of the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland, recently described 2009 as “the worst year for our industry in living memory.”

According to John Heverin, owner of ÓI Irish Pubs, one of several companies that exports made-in-Ireland establishments, foreign replicas are booming, at least in part, because they focus on more than drink. “A lot of their success is based around food,” he told the Sunday Times. “That’s why those [in Ireland] are closing.” The menu is certainly helping to drive business at Durty Nelly’s, which is ranked as the city’s second-best restaurant on the popular review aggregator (Incidentally, the Old Triangle, another Irish pub, holds top spot.)

But beyond food and drink, McGuinness says what sells is friendly service, traditional music and a welcoming atmosphere. “There’s a warmth and conviviality to the Irish pub experience.” Even if that experience isn’t as easy to find in Ireland as it once was.

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