Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hunting for Craic

For another look at the underbelly of the Celtic Tiger, you could do worse then pick up a copy of Bill Barich's new book, "A Pint of Plain."

Barich, who is an accomplished travel writer and a well-read lover of literature, moves to Dublin and proceeds to circle the country over the space of about a year, searching for the perfect, authentic Irish public house (or pub.) Long enamored of the 'traditional' Irish of memory, Barich quickly discovers that much -- of not all -- of what we Americans consider to be 'Irish' is really "fairytale Ireland."

The John Ford/John Wayne film, "The Quiet Man" animates Barich's search, and perhaps most disappointingly when he travels to Cong, County Galway, and discovers that the 'real' QM pub is actually "a whitewashed, thatched replica of Sean Thornton's White O'Mornin'", where he is treated -- for five quid -- to views of "authentic reproductions" of the costumes from the movie, and other props. All in all, a rather inauthentic experience.

But Barich also discovers that the "authentic" Irish pub experience is itself become commoditized, thanks to Guinness (now a Diageo brand) and the Irish Pub Company, which itself has built over 400 "authentic" pubs world-wide, including conversions from other types of bars to an Irish pub (Interesting fact: "if a British pub switches to an Irish theme, say, and refits its interior with tin signs, etched Jameson mirrors, and so on, its profits frequently triple."(p.48)

Thus the book is really a study of modernization and globalization upon a traditional culture that is perhaps the world's most romanticized. In the end, there are only a handful of 'true' Irish pubs that survive to the present day, and most of those are run by senior publicans who seem unlikely to pass the bar to a child; notwithstanding the inevitable ("& Sons") in the name of a IPC-designed pub.

The end of the Irish pub is the end of a way of life. The farmers and related trades that supported the pub are going away, outnumbered by the information workers of the Celtic Tiger that Barich saw throughout the Isle. Even as the country reels from the Great Unwind, those traditional jobs will not likely return.

But one can still yearn for a pint -- and a bit of craic -- after a long day on the links in a pub such as Tubridy's.

Which of course, in a global economy, has its own website.

Which is, one supposes, Barich's point.

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