“Inside or outside” the barmaid barked in her soft lilting Cork accent. The befuddled customer unsure at the consequences of choosing either of these options instead resorted to a deer in the headlights reaction. “Outside it is so” was the response from the barmaid, her patience withered away as Galway lurched towards the end of another festival season and her mind was focused on her yet unfinished thesis.
It has since been completed and celebrated in that inimitable Irish style of several days of drinking until the world outside is a place to be both feared and loathed.
Drink and Ireland’s relationship to it, is a hot topic at any time; just listen to Lifeline and Galway is a buzz at the minute.
I first heard it in the pub one night; it started out as a whisper met with incredulous reactions such as. ‘Feck off’ and ‘Ah they can’t do that’. Galway has a new superintendent, yes folks there’s a new sheriff in town and she (“Wouldn’t you know it’s a woman” I heard a beery sage impart at the bar) has the intention of enforcing the existing licensing laws. I will give you a moment to consider this outrageous affront to the drinkers of Galway.
This has caused such a commotion that a poorly written petition has been slung together by a pickled activist citing the poor put-upon publicans and club owners as people we should have sympathy for.
We are known and even celebrated as a nation of drinkers. We get this where ever we go and no doubt there are many of us who revel in living up to this stereotype when overseas. The year out in Australia as a year of debauchery had become a rite of passage before the economic collapse. Should we look across to the continent for a better way of dealing with our drinking culture? France has long been held up as having a responsible attitude to alcohol but anecdotal evidence from friends, – and journalists – who have recently visited there, has seen a rise in the binge drinking culture which blights Britain and Ireland.
In Sweden off licenses are state controlled, is that the road we need to go down? In Ireland the issue is so deep-rooted in our culture that a mass moment of introspection is required. I don’t profess to have any answers but we have got a lot more going for us than our ability to consume alcohol.
Drink is something that has permeated every aspect of Irish culture. It has been the pub that has long been the epicentre of Irish social life. It is where sporting teams go to celebrate and commiserate. It is the first port of call when lives enter, leave or join together in this world. The very image of a pint of the black stuff is an iconic brand, which immediately associated with this country. Even though Porter is an English invention.
It has for many years sponsored our national games and there are countless apologists when our national leaders are being photographed and recorded in inebriated states. Darren Clarke downs a pint cheered on by the crowd after winning the Ryder Cup whereas Colm Cooper cracks a can of cider on his way up pick up the Sam Maguire. These events happened within weeks of each other and resulted in a hilarious exercise in hypocrisy as doctors lined up to slam Colm Cooper conveniently ignoring Clarke’s indiscretion. This may have something to do with amount of doctor’s cars found in golf club car parks.
I found myself in a heated drink fuelled discussion with the aforementioned barmaid and a fellow Hubris administrator during the Volvo Ocean Race festival here in Galway. I took the side of drink in this argument purely because no one else was and it is in my nature to be contrary and found it a pretty difficult position to defend. It is such a destructive influence on every level of society, one would have to question if this substance had been only just invented would it be legalized. Is there any accounting for our attitude to alcohol or even hope for it changing in the future? Is this a changing in the attitude of the city authorities or merely a PR exercise in anticipation of the return to Galway of its student population? I would imagine it is the latter and that all of this closing time clamp down will blow over in a matter of a few weeks.
What could be done to address this issue? Certainly the banning of sports sponsorship by alcohol companies and pubs would be a step in the right direction. Breaking up the lobbying influence of the Vinters Association, who famously scuppered the ‘Cafe Culture’ legislation a few years ago, would be another positive step. Alternatives to the alcohol dominated pub as a place to celebrate – which the cafe culture legislation may have produced had it got off the ground – is a must. Many will say it is up to the individual to make the changes to their own life but strong leadership from the very top is essential.
I think that all pubs should close at 10pm on the dot whereupon a klaxon would sound 4 times. At 10:15 the klaxon would sound 3 times, at 10:30 it would sound twice and then at 10:45 it would sound just once. If anyone were found wandering the streets from 11pm onwards they would be spirited away to a re-education camp run by Young Fine Gael and The Youth Defence for 2 weeks.
I have to declare a conflict of interest as this proposed change to the law would mean I wouldn’t have to put up with drunken arses outside my window all hours of the night.
I am a pretty lucky guy. Not that I want to start this post by alienating a portion of the readership or rub my good fortune in their faces. Rather it is a statement of fact. I am in a strong relationship with a wonderful woman who happens to be my best friend. It is only a matter of time and a not inconsiderable financial injection before we give what one of my closest friends calls ‘a day out’ that special occasion when we bring our nearest and dearest from our family and friends together to celebrate our commitment to each other.
Now in times gone by in Ireland this was a lot more of a straightforward process. Our practically mono-cultural society meant that it was a safe bet that your betrothed was of the same religious background. So then it was just a matter of getting married in her local church with the parish priest, or the priest in the family carrying out the ceremony and then on to the ‘afters’ at a local hotel. Job done off you go now and make some babies. Please don’t take my description of this tradition as me dismissing or denigrating the special nature of these ceremonies. I have myself been to many of these ceremonies and would not allow my own lack of religious beliefs stop me from appreciating and participating especially when it comes to the union of two of my friends. I must say that having recently attended both types of ceremonies I much prefer ceremonies that place the couple and the celebration of their love at the centre of day rather than a deity and their responsibility to perpetuate a rigid and dogmatic view of marriage. Rather I am highlighting the relative straight forwardness as juxtaposition to the myriad of thoughts, traditions, beliefs and non-beliefs that we in Ireland face now as a multi cultural nation with traditional religious establishments and traditions on the wane.
Anyone familiar with the content of this blog will know that three atheists administer it. So there are my colours pinned to the mast. My partner on the other hand believes in some greater power and, while she is not enamoured with the Catholic Church, she is a lover of iconography and tradition and had always seen herself getting married in the traditional Catholic ceremony. Early on in the relationship I dug my heels in on my opposition to a Catholic ceremony should I be lucky enough to have my proposal accepted. ( I realise I’ll have to give on something big later, but we’ll cross that bridge yadaa yadaa yadaa) The subsequent revelations about not just abuse but also of the cover up which was perpetrated by the Catholic Church meant that a lot of the persuading that I would have had to do was done for me by the very institution I opposed. Now I know that our choices will be met with resistance from both sides of our families but hell if they don’t like our choices then they don’t have to come. It will be their loss because we know how to throw a party.
These non-traditional ceremonies are very much on the rise. In today’s Guardian there is an article which highlights the rise of Humanist ceremonies in Scotland. Now over 1 in 2 ceremonies are non-religious, with half of those not taking place in registrar’s office. Here in Ireland legislation is slowly moving forward thanks to the presence of Labour in government and in particular Ivana Bacik.
The changing of mind sets and traditions is a slow and arduous process, but it is happening. People are now more open to other beliefs and non-beliefs. Society will not fall apart due to the ebbing of influence from former power structures rather structures will replace them based around a philosophy and morality learned through combining reason with human experience rather than dogma.