Diarmaid Ferriter: There is little middle ground debating the pub trade in Ireland

The centrality of the pub to Irish life is a cause of celebration and anguish

There is reason to believe those running pubs can adapt again if allowed, instead of facing existential crises. Photograph: The Irish Times

There is reason to believe those running pubs can adapt again if allowed, instead of facing existential crises. Photograph: The Irish Times

Those owning and running “wet pubs” have every reason to feel aggrieved and the case they make for carefully managed reopening is strong. Much has always been done to communicate and celebrate the centrality of the Irish pub to Ireland’s appeal, domestically and internationally. Equally, critics have often sought to suggest such centrality is an indulgence and a curse.

That has been part of the problem with debating the licensed trade in Ireland; there is little middle ground and much the same applies to alcohol consumption. Shortly after the foundation of the State, writer George Russell mused on what he regarded as our misplaced priorities: it was “absurd that a country struggling desperately to find its feet should attempt to maintain in proportion to its population twice as many licensed houses as England . . . statistics for individual towns are still more startling. In Charlestown and Ballaghaderreen every third house is licensed to sell liquor; Ballyhaunis, with a total population of a thousand, has a drink shop for every 20 of its inhabitants and Strokestown and Mohill run it close with one for every 26 . . . how many of these towns can boast a bookshop, a gymnasium, a public swimming bath or a village hall?”

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