When drink is in, sense is out.
“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.