In search of the elusive Good Friday pint

A 90-year law bans alcohol sales but there are exemptions beyond the illegal lock-in

Race tracks, ferries and trains: some people will do anything to get a pint on Good Friday. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire

Race tracks, ferries and trains: some people will do anything to get a pint on Good Friday. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire


Reading the 1927 Intoxicating Liquor Act that bans the sale of alcohol on Good Friday can build a thirst but the exemptions in the legislation can provide relief to those desperate to get out for a pint.

The law permits the sale of alcohol to passengers travelling by sea, air, rail or ferry, to residents in a hotel or to those attending a sporting event, the theatre, a musical performance or the greyhound track.

Madigan’s at Connolly Station in Dublin is one bar expecting a rush of customers. As a “railway refreshment room”, the train station bar is exempt from the alcohol ban but patrons must have a ticket to travel “out of Dublin” to enter the pub, says barman Ben. A security guard will be checking tickets.

One ticket-seller at the station who did not want to be named recalled Madigan’s being so packed on a previous Good Friday that there were two security guards at the door.

A one-way ticket to, say, Wicklow (€12.75) or Laytown in Co Meath (€15.05) will be enough to guarantee a passenger entry to the bar but it is a heavy tax to pay for a pint.

Across Dublin city centre, The Galway Hooker at Heuston Station will not be serving alcohol, contrary to what some people think and some newspapers have reported in the past.

The bar’s manager, Gerry, recalled people pointing out in news print that the bar was open for alcohol and demanding a drink. This Good Friday he will be serving teas, coffees and soft drinks instead.

Additional stock

At the newly opened Craft Lane bar at Cork Airport, manager Brian Casey has bought in additional stock in preparation for Good Friday drinkers and a busy travel weekend over Easter.

“There is that perception that they can’t get a drink elsewhere so maybe they will have a drink here,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if it is much different to a usual Friday. I would expect it to be busy.”

Mr Casey has not heard the barstool tales of people buying a cheap fare to get airside for alcohol.

“You would want to get through security and get parking at the airport. You would have to be pretty strung out for a drink,” he said.

The days of people buying ferry tickets at Dublin or Rosslare to avail of on-board drinking, if they ever existed, are long gone.

Ferry companies report a bump in sales at this time of year but it is down to Easter travel rather than buying alcohol in on-board bars. At Rosslare Europort, the terminal bar is gone six or seven years.

“The idea that you could buy a ticket and go into the bar and not travel at all is gone,” said general manager John Lynch.

But was it ever a craze among thirsty non-passengers? “Not in my time and I’ve been here since 2007,” said Mr Lynch. “We had a bar until about 2010 and it wasn’t really a noticeable feature.”

A spokeswoman for Irish Ferries said the company could not say if passengers travelled just to drink on Good Friday. “Customarily we do not inquire what the purpose of our passengers’ travel is,” she said.

Promotional tool

The Irish Greyhound Board has used the alcohol-ban exemption at its tracks as a promotional tool.

“Where can a punter in Dublin get a pint on Good Friday?” read the title of the board’s press release this week, pointing out that bars and restaurants at tracks in Dublin, Limerick, Galway and at least nine other locations would be holding race nights and serving alcohol.

“Every year I hear of people going to elaborate lengths such as booking a train or ferry ticket to enjoy a simple pint. Dubliners need to look no further than Shelbourne Park,” said the track’s general manager, Patrick Flynn, in the release. “Last year, Good Friday was one of our busiest nights.”

The Abbey Theatre still has tickets for the Good Friday performance of Rough Magic’s musical “The Train”, about the Irish Women’s Liberation Movement’s 1971 protest trip to Belfast to buy contraceptives, and audience members can enjoy a drink before, at the interval and after the show. Tickets start at €29.50.

A spokeswoman for the theatre said ticket holders were not allowed to stay in the bar drinking during the show. “You have to be coming to see the fine work on the stage,” she said.

The Gap O’the North pub that sits just across the border in Northern Ireland is expecting to see a busier trade from people travelling up from the south because of the ban in the Republic. “I am guessing it will be busier than the usual Friday,” said David McIlroy, a part-time staff member in the pub.

A Good Friday pint closer to home is more elusive.

“It is a hard thing to find,” said Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Licensed Vintners Association, which represents 600 pubs in Dublin city and county. “In Dublin they uphold the law; there is not much messing going on.”

But what about tales of secret knocks on the back doors of pubs, a friendly local publican and the famed lock-in?

“No, they’re illegal,” said Padraig Cribben, chief executive at the Vintners Federation of Ireland. “You hear stories about them anecdotally. I think they are more a myth of the past than a fact from the present.”