Drinking in Ireland can be a weighty topic for those who take their drink seriously. Fortunately, I don’t. Instead, I’m just going to give a few helpful tips on what to do or not to do when you inevitably go drinking in Ireland. This will not include a list of great pubs to go to since frankly, this webpage would not be long enough to include the whole complete list!
First things first: the best place to get a drink in Ireland, bar none, is a friendly, atmospheric pub. Despite all the clichés in Irish tourism marketing, this one is still true – nothing beats drinking in a cheery, noisy Irish pub. Following that, there are plenty of hotel bars and restaurants serving alcohol, but for a real Irish feel to your drinking experience, a pub should be your first stop.
Having said that, finding a pub in which to get a drink can be surprisingly difficult at times. Pubs are plentiful in every Irish town, but the opening hours can be somewhat perplexing. As a general rule, alcohol isn’t sold before mass ends on Sundays, and most pubs will close after midnight (a horrifying situation to visitors from countries with all-night drinking). And if you’re looking for a drink on Good Friday or Christmas Day in Ireland, you’d almost always be out of luck, as all pubs close on those days. Word has it a few pubs have been quietly staying open in recent years even on these days, but they’re still few and far between.
Anyway, once you’re actually in the pub, there are numerous poisons to choose from. The clear favourite is undoubtedly Guinness, or as a friend of mine likes to call it, ‘the black stuff’. This flavourful stout is the quintessential Irish beer that is available on tap everywhere; if you ask for a pint in any pub without specifying the brew, chances are you’ll get a pint of Guinness. The drink can be a bit strong for those more used to lagers; it’s a bit of an acquired taste.
Guinness is the king of Irish beers especially in Dublin, but there are always contenders for the throne and the biggest prince-in-waiting is Murphy’s, a lovely lager which is more popular than Guinness in the West of Ireland. In Northern Ireland, it’s the Harp that is more popular than Guinness. Presumably, if you ordered ‘a pint’ in those places without being specific, you’d get the local favourite rather than Guinness.
For those interested in craft beers, Ireland used to be a bit of a desert, but in recent years, thanks in part to a tax break for small brewers offered in 2005, there’s been an explosion of micro-breweries lovingly crafting small batches of brews of stouts, ales, lagers, porters and so on. There are quite a few microbreweries going strong now in most major Irish cities.
Apart from beers, there are wines and hard liquors, most of which are the same as any the world over. Don’t expect an Irish barman to know much about wines though; the fact that the sole vineyard in Ireland has closed shop should say something about the state of Irish wine appreciation. Irish whiskey tends to get more respect but it is rather more expensive in the country than out of it due to higher taxes. Cider and mead are less commonly drunk but still generally available, and tend to be treated as after-dinner drinks – cider in Ireland tends to have higher alcohol content then beer, which sometimes fells unsuspecting drinkers.
Then there are the infamous ‘alcopops’, or sweet, alcoholic soft drinks. With high alcohol content and even higher sugar levels, these drinks tend to be favoured by those preferring quick inebriation over actual appreciation of their drinks, which explains why they’re immensely popular with the younger set and largely disdained by older drinkers.
As of 2007, a pint will cost about €3.70 – €5.50, while spirits and shots will set you back €5.00 – €7.50 and wines can be enjoyed for €4.50 and up. There can be some differences in price between cities – Galway traditionally offered cheaper pints than Cork. If you’re not sure how much your drink will cost, just ask the barmen for a pricelist; by law, all pubs are supposed to display one.
There are a few ‘Dos and Dont’ when it comes to drinking in Ireland. One of the least obvious, and potentially most likely to happen is: ‘don’t drink in public places’. This includes the parks, the beaches and the sidewalks. There’s a hefty fine attached to this offense and pleading ignorance of the law doesn’t always work, even for tourists – and now that you’ve read this, you can’t say you’re ignorant of it, can you?
The Irish are generally considered friendly and easy-going, but one thing that’s likely to get their (or really anybody’s) goat is to ‘accidentally’ forget to buy your round of drinks when out with new-found Irish companions. This system of drinking, where each member of a party takes turns paying for everyone’s drinks, may be informal but it is one of those unspoken social arrangements which you disobey at your own risk.
And finally, don’t drink and drive. In Ireland, the legal limit for alcohol in your bloodstream while driving is below 0.08 percent. In a country where most of the roads outside the cities are infamously narrow, windy and confusing, it is certainly not to be taken lightly, especially by the Irish police, or Gardai, who rigorously enforce this law. Spending precious vacation in an Irish jail is a great way to take all the fun out of drinking in Ireland.