Pandemic threatens Irish and global pub culture

The cosy and traditional design of Irish pubs has been adapted across the globe, shows this bar in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Image: Jorge Franganillo (Flickr) CC BY 2.0

The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has a severe impact on a crucial part of Irish heritage: its pubs. Specifically, 19th and early 20th-century bars in Ireland are at risk of being lost, art historian Marion McGarry argues in an article for RTÉ

“If they (old Irish pubs ed.) fail, then this has a profound negative affect on the local economy”, she writes. Even worse: they represent a part of Ireland’s history and cultural heritage. Because many of them had to close because of the pandemic, many traditional pubs risk never opening up again.

Window to the past

McGarry believes the pubs’ aesthetic plays an essential role in their value as intangible heritage. The unchanged shopfronts and interior almost act like interactive museums. People can imagine how their ancestors acted in a bar since so many elements stayed the same. ”They allow customers a window to the past.”

The distinctive neoclassical architectural style in which these bars were often built would determine the look of Irish towns for decades. ”New innovations in manufacturing meant that large glass panes and ceramic tiles were fashionable additions”, McGarry explains. ”The shopfronts were usually brightly painted to make them stand out from their competitors on the busy streetscape.”

The iconic neoclassical facade of the Crown Bar in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Image: andy lapham (Flickr) CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Global impact

Perhaps because of their unique appearance, Irish bars have been “exported” all over the world. ”Irish pubs in all corners of the globe mimic these older interiors to provide customers with a truly authentic experience”, McGarry writes. Some companies can even replicate traditional pub interiors so well that people almost think it is original.

Despite their success as a blueprint for ”bar culture” across the globe, McGarry warns that the ongoing pandemic threatens this unique piece of Irish cultural heritage. ”Prolonged closures means many such businesses risk never re-opening”, she writes. Some bars have tried to adapt by selling merchandise and selling takeaway orders. 

”Hopefully, our pubs, which survived pandemic and upheaval in the past, will re-emerge to offer us back the cosy and unique interiors we hanker for and that are so significant to our design heritage”, McGarry concludes.

Source: RTÉ.

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