Irish pubs ‘unofficial embassies of Ireland’, says Senator

Irish pubs central to surge of overseas visitors to country in 2015, conference hears

‘The Irish pub today has spawned a cottage industry that is worth billions,’ said Senator Billy Lawless. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times/File photo

‘The Irish pub today has spawned a cottage industry that is worth billions,’ said Senator Billy Lawless. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times/File photo


Irish pubs, both home and abroad, are central to Ireland’s tourist image and act as “unofficial embassies” for Irish people in other countries, Senator Billy Lawless has said.

Speaking at a conference in Citywest, Mr Lawless said “the Irish pub” played an integral role in the record surge of overseas visitors in 2015.

Mr Lawless praised the economic role of the Irish pub trade at the Irish Pubs Global Gathering, which is billed as a unique opportunity to bring together pub owners, operators and staff from the Irish pub sector.

The Senator, a former publican who served as president of the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland in the 1980s, is well versed in the importance of the Irish pub abroad, today running six successful restaurants and pubs in his adopted home of Chicago.

“The Irish pub today has spawned a cottage industry that is worth billions,” said Mr Lawless, speaking at his first public event since his appointment as Senator for the Global Irish.

He said: “The Irish pub is by no small measure a source of great success, and an integral part of our social, cultural and economic life as a nation.

“Believe it or not, the Irish pub actually beats the national monuments and heritage sites in the ratings game,” he added, citing recent research by Lonely Planet which ranks the pub high on the checklist for visitors to Ireland

The Lonely Planet study found that the pub is central to the tourist image of Ireland, placing it as the number three attraction, while listening to traditional music in a pub came in at number four.

Peter Nash of Tourism Ireland presented similar findings, arguing that while we don’t have any individual stand out icons to attract visitors such as the Eiffel Tower, the pub is a “fantastic icon for Ireland”.

“When we ask people why they choose to come to Ireland on holidays, a visit to the Irish pub in Ireland is a very important part of what they say inspired them to come to Ireland,” he said. “The great thing about the Irish pub really is that it is in the landscape.”

Pubs abroad

Mr Nash was keen to stress the growing importance of Irish pubs abroad in influencing people to choose Ireland as a tourist destination, acting as a “microcosm of many of the things Ireland has to offer”.

“We see the Irish pub abroad as having an ambassadorial role for Ireland, and if people want to get a sampler of what a vacation in Ireland might be like, if they go to a good Irish pub abroad. . . they get a sense of what Ireland has to offer,” he said.

There are currently over 7,000 Irish pubs scattered across the globe, close to matching the number of licensed premises in Ireland, which stand at around 7,300.

While also finding that tourists often get their first taste of the Irish pub’s “ceol agus craic in places as diverse as Singapore or Sydney”, Mr Lawless emphasised the role of Irish pubs abroad as the “unofficial embassies of Ireland” for the Irish Diaspora.

“They have anchored communities, cashed cheques for workers and acted as a place to find work or a place to stay for thousands of Irish men and women who left home,” he said.

The event, now in its fifth year, will run until September 28th, and is built around the theme of “creating a destination pub”.

The event will also honour the best in the trade this year at the Irish Pubs Global Awards on Tuesday evening, with categories including the Best Irish Pub and Bartender of the Year.

AIB is the main sponsor of the event, together with associate sponsors Dubai Duty Free, Guinness and The Irish Village Dubai.

* A Dubai-based pub has been named as Irish Pub of the Year at an award ceremony to mark excellence in the Irish pub industry at home and abroad.

The Irish Village in Dubai won the award at the Irish Pubs Global Awards at the Citywest Hotel, while An Púcán in Galway was named as Best Irish Pub at home.

The awards were held as part of the fifth annual Irish Pubs Global Federation Gathering.

“The Irish pub continues to enjoy iconic status around the world and this conference and the awards are testament to this,” said Enda O’Coineen, founder and president of the Irish Pubs Global Federation.

Pub food - a major focus of the trade in recent years - was also recognised, with Best Irish Pub Food going to the Old Spot Gastropub in Dublin, while McGettigan’s in Abu Dhabi won Best International Irish Pub Food.

Other winners on the night included Kevin Barry’s Pub in Savannah which won Best Authentic Irish Pub, and The Jar in Dublin, which took home the award for best Marketing Campaign of the Year.

Oliver Hughes, the co-founder of the Porterhouse, who passed away earlier this year, was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award.