Restrictions are lifting but I’ll wait for a pint inside the pub

Restrictions are lifting but I’ll wait for a pint inside the pub

GOD, I could murder a pint.

As I write this a man in Donegal has come on the radio to talk about being a recovering alcoholic and the difficulties of that during lockdown.

As I write this I’ve seen The Irish Examiner and The Irish Times.

One is running a very sobering piece about the terrible health damage done by alcohol and the other a piece about the introduction of minimal pricing for booze.

It’s scary stuff. One in four Irish people don’t drink at all but the rest of us drink 574 pints or 149 bottles of wine a year.

All of a sudden I don’t want that pint so much.

But, yeh, I could murder a pint.

In a pub. In a proper, ordinary pub. Sitting reading the paper, maybe.

Just talking nonsense for a while, perhaps.

Or maybe a night like the one Alan McLoughlin gave us in 1993 with that goal in Belfast.

Alan McLoughlin, son of Manchester, Galway, and Limerick.

The pub crowded and everyone in a communal sporting heaven. With pints.

All the old Irish there. Our mothers and fathers. All the Irish who brought us up.

All that matters being that night and the hours ahead. God, yeh, I could murder a pint.

Of course there is a dark side to alcohol. We all know that.

Nearly every Irish family will have some story of a soul lost to drink, of a life bent and twisted by booze.

Most of us will have our own stories of, Jesus, what was I thinking, that involve a drink too much.

Most of us know the slippery slope even if we’ve never journeyed all the way down it.

Drink is part of Irish culture. It is part of who we are.

Whatever the stereotypes about drunken Paddy and Brendan Behan and Shane McGowan, and the lie about booze and genius, we are drinkers.

As a society. As the small country that created an entire commercial genre out of our pubs and exported it around the world.

Stereotypes are often stereotypes because they contain a kernel of truth.

One of Ireland’s most distinctive literary voices was undoubtedly Flann O’Brien, the author of The Third Policeman and At Swim Two Birds.

They are two dark, very comic books.

They are also two of the best works ever by an Irish writer.

Flann O’Brien was, alongside being one of our finest writers, tormented by drink.

There is footage of him being interviewed in which he is so far gone, so befuddled by the booze, that it is painful to watch.

In one beaten body, the emblem of Ireland’s relationship with drink.

Genius works of enduring art and sodden, saddened, alcoholism.

He was a martyr to the drink, they’d say.

Do other countries, I wonder, have such a peculiar relationship to alcoholism? We, the Irish, after all, often refuse to even acknowledge it.

I’ve known people who were drunk first thing in the morning that Irish society would refuse to acknowledge as alcoholics.

But I’m often a little suspicious of health promotion.

Of the idea that we could all eat better and run more and drink less if we could only be bothered.

That we’d all be better off if we went to the farmer’s market and bought olives and avocado.

As if health was in some way disconnected from economics and environment and society.

Of course there’s individual choice. Of course there’s personal responsibilities. But there’s a lot more too.

And, God, I could murder that pint.

I could sit back in that old pub I go to and look out through the high windows. There’d be an old fella at the counter nursing a dark drink and a golden whiskey.

The pub would be lit by that pub twilight and have that smell only pubs have.

The new lessening of restrictions is promising a drink in a beer garden soon, but I’m not interested in that. I want to be inside the pub.

I want to put the creamy pint down on the table.

Feel the pull of maybe just one more.

I’ll have a think about all the great people I’ve had a drink with, the ones gone and the ones still here, the laughter and the tears.

The promises made with no intention of being ever kept.

The lasting friendships formed.

I’ll hear the latch in the door lift, wonder who’s coming in.

God, I could murder a pint.