Chances are you’re watching the All Ireland football final today. If you are from Galway or Kerry this is a racing certainty. Some will be lucky enough to go to the game, others will watch it at home or maybe the pub for some atmosphere.
Watching such games is a bit more difficult when you are abroad. You can usually find an Irish pub and watch the game there. Last Sunday I went to an Irish pub in Cadiz, Spain to watch the hurling final.
My son and I were dressed in green. We got to the pub in time but it didn’t seem to be busy.
I asked the barmaid to light the match. She asked if it was the Golf we wanted. No, the skidding. Sling? I tried to explain to her that it was arguably the most important event on the Irish sporting calendar but she didn’t seem very interested.
The coasters, walls and parasols all blazoned the claim that this was an ‘Official Irish Pub’. But aside from the familiar stock items like a street sign, an old milk can, a picture of Daniel O’Connell, dim lighting and of course Guinness, there was really nothing Irish about this pub. The staff and customers were all Spanish.
There is now a snobbery about Irish pubs abroad. You shouldn’t go to them. A bit like an American going to a Starbucks in Italy, it seems to miss the point of being abroad.
And if you happen to live in this country, visiting an Irish pub might seem like an admission of defeat – that you were unwilling or unable to assimilate into the local society and culture.
However, as any Irishman who has ever lived abroad before mobile internet became common will know, Irish pubs were an important service industry for the Irish.
They didn’t all have to have Irish names. Many of the best Irish pubs in London sounded like they were very British establishments. But you knew as soon as you walked in the door and heard the Irish accent this was the pub for you.
The Irish Pub was a “safe space” before the concept was even a wink for a social justice fighter.
These pubs were and still are important places for Irish people to watch matches from the comfort of their own homes. But that’s probably just the most basic service they offer. They are a mixture of social club, consulate, job board and real estate agency.
I’ve worked in a lot of pubs in my time. One was an Irish pub in Hanover, Germany. It was a real Irish pub run by a couple from Dublin whose names were written above the door.
At MacGowans, the Irish didn’t just meet and drink together. This is where people came when they first came to the city.
There you will learn how to navigate the German bureaucracy to get your residence permit, find an apartment, find a job and yes, watch a game.
People got legal advice there if they had trouble with the police. No real legal advice, but someone has probably been beaten up for not paying on the trams before, and they could tell you whether or not it’s wise to ignore the subpoena (it’s not, they’ll find you eventually).
There we discovered that an Irish 5p piece was exactly the same size and weight as a Deutsche Mark coin, so you could get a pack of cigarette butts for 25p.
Fellows who were lonely, unlucky or just a little homesick could meet fellow Irishmen and experience the comfort of an intimate conversation. I saw the All Ireland Hurling final there in 1996. Limerick was unlucky that day but seeing the tears of joy rolling down the cheeks of the Wexford boy in the corner got over it.
Irish pubs were great, and presumably they served the same purpose in Birmingham, Boston, Brisbane and every other place where the Irish liked to congregate, which was everywhere else in the world until the 1990s.
Something changed in the 1990s. Ireland got cool. People from other countries wanted to hear our music and so the Irish Pub became a place that the locals also frequented.
In Germany, Germans would come in to practice their English. The peace process meant that the English abroad now preferred to go to Irish pubs in other countries. English football matches were shown to entertain them.
The Irish Pub became a brand promoted by Guinness to gain a foothold in foreign markets. Pub chains opened for the first time and O’Neill’s began the McDonaldsisation of London’s Irish pub.
In Spain at least, a food company is giving Irish pubs the title ‘official’, presumably as long as they sell enough of their wares.
We stayed and watched the game on my iPad, met a Limerick guy and cheered on Nickie Quaid and his team-mates as they claimed the Liam MacCarthy, but it all seemed a far cry from what an Irish pub should be.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/irish-bars-abroad-are-a-mix-of-social-club-consulate-job-market-and-estate-agency-41862545.html Irish Bars Abroad are a mix of social club, consulate, job board and property agency