The Irish and drink – what’s that all about?

The Irish and drink – what’s that all about?

I HAVE to admit that any time someone is on the radio or in the media talking about the dangers of drink I immediately want a pint.

Health promotion always seems laden with the treatment of people as merely economic units.

It always seems to be about how many work days are lost to drink.

Not that I’m not denying the dangers of alcohol.

How could you grow up in Irish culture and not be aware of the many facets of drink and drinking? Indeed, how many other cultures have a clear difference between going for a drink and going drinking?

The Irish and drink, it might be a stereotype, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.

The Irish and drink. Why is that?

For instance, as we’ve moved through the different stages of this pandemic one, increasingly recurring, theme has been the question of when the pubs will reopen.

Of course, indoor hospitality is an economic question for countries across the globe after Covid-19, but the reopening of the pub has been an increasingly central feature of Irish national life.

Even as I write this the Taoiseach is about to speak to the nation about whether or not the pubs will reopen.

He’s making a national address. It’s no wonder the Irish pub has been marketed across the globe. We exported our obsession.

The Irish and drink. Why is that?

Was it poverty? Did an historically poor country find comfort where it could?

When sources of comfort, entertainment, and diversion were limited, a pint was always at hand.

But we weren’t the only poor country. We weren’t the only ones who had little or nothing.

Was it, then, our Catholicism?

If you look at the Catholic countries or the countries with a Catholic culture have they not shared both a restrictive, repressive religious morality and a certain licentiousness?

Italy, Spain, Ireland, say.

We may have kneeled before the priests but did we not laugh behind their backs?

Mass followed by a pint.

When the Church, as it did, sought to control even our very thoughts was there not a certain freedom in blasting our minds with booze?

Was it our community?

Irish people, in general, do like to talk, do like to find out about each other.

They seek each other out. They are communal and where is more communal than the public house? The session. The craic. They are not just about drinking.

You don’t have the session on your own. You don’t have the craic on your own.

Are you going for a pint isn’t something you say to yourself.

If there was a church in every village there were five pubs. The Irish and drink.

Was it because we were colonised?

After all, the devastation drink has caused to Aboriginal societies in Australia or Native American societies in the USA is well documented.

Of course what happened to those peoples is nearer to genocide compared to our experience at the hands of Imperialism.

But we are and were a colonised people.

It is not just this alone but that for a lot of our, more modern history at least, this fact has almost been denied.

But were we not the testing ground for British imperialism, for British Empire?

Did Empire not begin with us?

Certainly the hangover from being colonised has dissipated over the years and I don’t think you could credibly use it as an excuse for getting wasted on a Saturday night.

But it is still true. Our tortured relationship with Britain.

Charlie Haughey, Gay Byrne, and Ryan Tubridy. What do they all have in common if not aping, cravats and all, the appearance and manners of a certain idea of an English gentleman?

I’ll leave it to an in-depth psychological study to work out the deep effects of our colonised past on us as a people, but it makes sense that our relationship with drink might be one of them.

I know of at least a couple of Irish people who have reminded me, in their tortured drinking, of someone abandoned on a reservation.

Someday, perhaps, someone will work out the complexities of the Irish relationship with drink and what lies behind it.

It won’t be me. I’ll be sipping a pint somewhere.

But when I am that’s not to say there won’t be times I’ll look down at the glass and think, the Irish and drink.

What’s that all about?

Joe Horgan’s book People That Don't Exist Are Citizens of A Made Up Country is available here.