Vomit and flying fists? Doesn’t sound like an Irish pub to me
Australia’s Irish bars have been getting a bad rap. But on a recent crawl in Sydney, from the Cock’n’Bull, in Bondi Junction, to PJ O’Brien’s and Scruffy Murphy’s, in the central business district, the most frightening thing was a sticky floor
Taste of home: “The type of customers we appeal to are interested in food, traditional music and getting a pint of Guinness served to them by someone Irish, without a shamrock on the top,” says Patrick Gallagher of PJ Gallagher’s, in Sydney. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe
Irish pubs in Australia have been getting a bad rap. A journalist with the news.com.au website, Anthony Sharwood, wrote an article in which he declared them “full of raucously drunk backpackers who travel halfway round the world to behave even worse than they do in Cork and Dublin”.
The piece opened: “Irish pubs are great. Who doesn’t love dodging vomit and flying fists? Seriously, what’s better than a place to drink yourself so utterly senseless that the 66-year-old barmaid and the chair in the corner become objects of immense sexual desire?”
I call Sharwood to find out what his beef his. He cheerfully tells me he hasn’t “set foot in an Irish pub in years. In fact, the last one I was in was New Delhi”. He says he was taken aback, even upset, by the strength of the reaction he got to the piece online.
“Look, it was basically Friday-afternoon journalism. All the fresh news had run out and I had an hour left in the day, and I wrote it. To those who took offence, I’m sorry, but all I can say is that I wrote it from a place where I felt there was a kinship between the Australians and the Irish. We have an understanding.”
We do, I agree. “We do,” he says. So what prompted the vitriol? “About 12 years ago I finished a three-year stint as a Sydney cabbie. Without question, the drunkest passengers I saw on a recurring basis were the Irish. They weren’t aggressive, but I had them slurring in my cab, I had them spewing in my cab, and I had them make me despair at the state of humanity, and I suppose I may have some vitriol left from that. But I’m definitely not racist.”
Patrick Gallagher, who runs five Irish pubs under the PJ Gallagher’s banner in Australia, takes a few minutes out from opening his sixth to dismiss any link between Irish pubs, drunkenness and violence. “Truly authentic Irish pubs are about family, comfort and safety. The type of customers we appeal to are interested in food, traditional music and getting a pint of Guinness served to them by someone Irish, without a shamrock on the top. We get all nationalities, and our pubs are trouble-free.”
Are they still as popular as ever? “In the last 18 months we’e gone from one to three, and now soon-to-be six Irish pubs all called PJ Gallagher’s – all genuine and authentic, down to the tradesmen who paint the walls. So, yes, the demand is as good as ever.”
Nonetheless, Sharwood is not alone in making the connection between Irish pubs and bad behaviour. Bale out before 8pm is the advice one backpacker gives on TripAdvisor on the best way to enjoy Scruffy Murphy’s pub, in Sydney’s central business district, while another suggests that if you want to fit in, “get pissed”.
Are Irish pubs in Sydney really all that bad? I decide to investigate – which is how I come to find myself in the Cock’n’Bull on a Friday evening.
The Cock’n’Bull in Bondi Junction is one of Sydney’s most notorious Irish pubs. Two years ago it featured prominently in a special report by A Current Affair, on the the Australian TV station Channel 9, about the violent behaviour of “foreign backpackers” in Sydney.