Why The Irish Drink: Is Ireland A Country of Alcoholics Or An Alcoholic Country

The world knows Ireland as a country of pubs, and happy, hard working, hard drinking folk.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, that’s the world’s impression, and it’s not entirely undeserved.  In fact it’s often a proudly displayed badge of honor for the Irish.  You’d think that after two years, I’d have some notion of what’s behind the stereotype. I really don’t.  I’ve had thoughts and ideas, but nothing firm.   That may have changed a few weeks ago

My wife took a taxi ride, and the taxi driver began to rant, as is their way in this fair city.

“So the Irish are alcoholics.  Who cares? It’s nobody’s business but our own.   Who does it hurt?”  And on it went.

When she came home and related the story to me, my first thought was, “He’s right. It is nobody’s business but the Irish.” But it got me thinking.  And that is always a dangerous enterprise.

Coincidentally, several friends of ours (both Irish and expat) have, in various ways, put forth the notion that Ireland, as a country, exhibits many of the characteristics of an alcoholic.

Since then two questions have continued to sizzle in the ol’ brainpan:

First, why do the Irish drink?

and…

“Who is hurt by Irish drinking?”

For an answer to the first question, we ought to look at what and where the Irish drink.  Though broad generalizations are always suspect, today’s popular drinks seem to be stout, cider, and whiskey taken in liberal amounts at the local pub.  Given recent economic swings, many have taken to wine.  And now that pubs are unaffordable, many drink at home.

According to the website Ireland’s Drinking Culture, the first pub dates back to 1198, and whiskey dates back to the 1400s. There is also evidence to suggest that beer has been around in Ireland since the Bronze and early Iron Ages.  It’s also known that early monasteries had very active breweries.

Could the sale of alcohol have been an early means of supporting the church?  Could Iron Age stout represent the first tender shoots of the church’s, by turns, nurturing and smothering vines? And what of the ubiquitous pub?  Did the Irish begin drinking in pubs because it was a place where they could gather and sow sedition without drawing the suspicious gaze of their imperial masters?

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to these questions, but would like to. As for who the question of “who is hurt by Irish drinking”, modern times seem to offer a few clues.

Since I moved to Dublin, I’ve found it interesting that young people seem to be the most concerned about drunk driving.  I think the public awareness ad campaigns have pretty well done their job on that score.

It’s actually the older folks (60s and up) who seem to have the most troubling giving up drunk driving.  These are the folks who, at the pub, waste no time in telling you that they are “experienced drinkers” (their words not mine) and have enjoyed their pint (or six) and driven home just fine for 40+ years.  Further proof of Ireland’s aging alcohol problem can be found in the recent epidemic of depression in seniors who now feel trapped at home by the drunk driving laws, and have lost all sense of community.

All of this is to say that Ireland’s drinking problem is nothing new, and is clearly an accepted (and somewhat tolerated) part of the Irish psyche.  Doubtless, many see “growing old with pint in hand” as their right, due, and fitting inheritance.

Now, how has alcoholism penetrated Irish society?

Apart from the obvious, drunk driving, wrecked families, and such, let’s look at the notion of Ireland as a “functional alcoholic” that shows up for work on time, and generally keeps its act together in spite of the drink.

Beyond the drinking entitlement, Ireland’s feast or famine economic view, and things work “well enough” attitude are all fairly common symptoms of an alcoholic.  The fact that the country has precious little in the way of improved infrastructure to show from the Celtic Tiger is not a surprise.  It’s now widely viewed throughout the country as having been a bit of a bender, and just good craic.

Damning as this may seem, it’s not until you add Ireland’s chronic low self-esteem, “poor us” victim syndrome, and “I’m not hurting anybody” defensive outlook that you really get the picture of a functional or “dry” drunk.

I know that this will be seen as just another anti-Irish screed, and I’ll get my fair share of “Yankee Go Home” comments.  But I’m genuinely curious to know more about the history of drinking in Ireland.  Why is it such a huge part of the country?  Does it have roots in colonialism, and religion (as these are huge parts of the Irish psyche and identity in and of themselves)?

I know I can count on my readers to help set the record straight.  I welcome your constructive comments.

Sources:
Ireland’s Drinking Culture

A History of Beer in Ireland: from John & Sally McKenna’s Guides

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

Property ownership n Ireland

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
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106 Responses to Why The Irish Drink: Is Ireland A Country of Alcoholics Or An Alcoholic Country

  1. Hi Glenn. Interesting piece as always. Your questions call my attention, so since I am a librarian, I went a start looking for books on the subject. I am not sure if I find the right one but you may want to read this book: Benign Anarchy: Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland by Shane Butler.

    Summary: Author Shane Butler tells the story of how Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was established in Ireland – the first European country to start an AA group – in 1946, and how it gradually came to establish itself as a mainstream Irish institution, the need for which has become clearer as alcohol consumption levels increase. AA is described as a hybrid institution, straddling healthcare and religion, and the book looks in detail at how early Irish members negotiated working relationships with the mental health system and the dominant Catholic Church. The book also focuses on AA’s commitment to the avoidance of conventional, organizational management systems, involving clearly-identified leaders and top-down instructions for front-line members. The survival of AA in Ireland, as elsewhere, is attributed primarily to the fact that it has remained firmly outside of alcohol politics, seeing itself as a ‘fellowship’ which exists only to help individuals who seek its help in relation to their own powerlessness over alcohol. It is recognized, paradoxically, that AA in Ireland could not have negotiated such a smooth entry to this country without the energies and skills of its early leaders, and this book documents the activities of these leaders who – with the assistance of AA in the United States – strategically managed the fellowship’s establishment in a potentially hostile environment.

    Although I did find that call to stop drinking so much in Ireland goes back to the 18th century as these interesting letters pointed out:

    An earnest address to the people of Ireland : against the drinking of spirituous liquors
    by William Henry. Published in 1753

    A letter to the Right Hon. Henry Grattan, on the deplorable consequences resulting to Ireland from the very low price of spirituous liquors : pointing out the causes of the aggravated encrease of those evils, and entreating his attention to the necessity and means of remedying them. Published in 1811.

    Happy reading!
    Marisol

  2. How weird I posted earlier today about your post Glenn.

    I thought it was very interesting and provocative, and being the librarian that I am, I found some other books on the subject that you can add to your list of things to read. This issue about Alcoholism and Ireland goes back to the 18th century to the present and it was interesting to find these books/letters discussing that issue, e.g.

    1) An earnest address to the people of Ireland : against the drinking of spirituous liquors
    by William Henry (1753) and

    2) A letter to the Right Hon. Henry Grattan, on the deplorable consequences resulting to Ireland from the very low price of spirituous liquors : pointing out the causes of the aggravated encrease of those evils, and entreating his attention to the necessity and means of remedying them.by Friend to Ireland.; Henry Grattan (1811)

    A more recent book that I thought was interesting too, is from 2010, Benign anarchy : Alcoholics Anonymous in Ireland by Shane Butler.

    Happy reading and thanks for the great post!
    Marisol

    • Hi Marisol,

      Thanks so much for not just reading the blog, but for doing research on its behalf. This is great. You’ve really helped to answer my questions.

      -Glenn

    • Keln says:

      Well, if we’re talking books, there are some possible clues to be found in a book by Thomas Cahill called “How the Irish Saved Civilization”. While his conclusions are open to criticism, he has some interesting tidbits of Irish history both before and after the rather rapid Christianizing of Ireland.

      Specifically, he attributes the drinking culture to pre-Christian Ireland, citing the very dark side of the original Irish religious experience, where there was a constant and palpable fear of demons and evil spirits, especially at night while one was asleep. It was apparently common among pretty much all Irish at the time to drink oneself to sleep, literally passing out drunk every single night, a tradition originally borne from fear of evil spirits that basically just became “a thing one does” over time.

      He also connects the drinking with the general Irish attitude, again since from pre-Christian Ireland, that one should live in the moment and that the future is too uncertain to worry about. An excerpt:

      “They understood, as few have understood before or since, how fleeting life is and how pointless to try to hold on to things or people. They pursued the wondrous deed, the heroic gesture: fighting, f******g, drinking, art – poetry for intense emotion, the music that accompanied the heroic drinking with which each day ended, bewitching ornament for one’s person and possessions.”

      Depending on the accuracy of all of this, it seems the answer could be as simple as drinking and the predominant Irish cultural attitude have gone hand in hand since ancient times. Most attempts (and all I have found are attempts, not an authoritative answer) to explaining the phenomenon of Irish drinking seem to only look back a few centuries or so, many blaming years of poverty or English abuse or the Catholic Church. I think Cahill’s explanation that it is cemented in the DNA of Irish culture from since ancient times to be more interesting and possibly accurate.

      If you compare Ireland to a lot of other civilizations, it enjoyed a relatively low amount of external influence for thousands of years. That is even counting British, and earlier Anglo-Norman influences. So it stands to reason that many ancient things might have survived in it’s still predominantly Gaelic culture. Compare it to England itself. England today and England as the Romans found it are almost night and day (culturally) in comparison.

      Look at another culture that has enjoyed relative isolation like the Japanese. For all of their modern embracing of various external cultural aspects (especially American in modern times), they still have a way of making those things “Japanese”, and there are so many existing traditions in Japan that can be directly traced a thousand years or more back in history. Whereas a nation like China was influenced by external cultures so much it has changed over and over again for centuries. The same is true for all cultures that existed along the Silk Road, and especially those that became a part of the Mongol Empire.

      So it stands to reason that both the cultural attitudes and related practices (such as drinking) in Ireland might have survived a very long time and are just a hard coded part of that culture today. The fact that outsiders and Irish both seem to have trouble explaining it adds credence to this hypothesis. When a culture does something and they can’t explain why they do it, it strongly suggests it is just a part of who they are and has no reasonable explanation other than “that’s just how it’s always been”.

      I like multiple sources when forming anything close to a conclusion, and since this is all based on a single source and a few tidbits I’ve read here and there, it doesn’t meet that criteria, so treat this idea as merely an interesting suggestion and nothing more. I also would like to know the real reason and really how much did the Irish drink before the Church had much influence there, and if that changed one way or the other when the Church entrenched itself in Ireland.

  3. John Kernan says:

    Another interesting read Glenn, thanks for that. As an Irish man who has lived abroad for the best part of the last 25 years, and who has spent most of that time working in “Irish” pubs I have no definitive idea why we drink the way we do. I think that we as a nation (with the help of some well funded marketing campaigns) have romanticised the Irish pub experience. Many foreigners visit Irish pubs because Irish people have told them that they’re great “craic”; the singing, the story telling, the friendly characters and their cutting wit; the virtual embodiment of all things that make it great to be Irish. The truth is that unless you are with a group of friends, many Irish pubs are dour, dark, unpleasant places staffed by unfriendly, uncaring people. And before your detractors become my detractors, let me say that I do enjoy going to the pub. I like to drink good beer, I like to read the paper in the pub. The bar staff greet me by name as do some of the other customers and that feels good but this is a rare occurrence in a city, never mind a country renowned for its pubs. As for drinking at home, that’s where I drink tea, cheap drink alone has no appeal for me.

    Back to your original question of why do we drink so much? Perhaps we do it out of habit. Going to the pub is as much a rite of passage for us as perhaps, going fishing or hunting is for some North Americans. Getting drunk at the weekend is often a precursor to spending all of Monday talking about how drunk we were at the weekend. At times we seem to revel in our drunken antics, our drunken reputations, but I don’t know why we do.

    The monasteries involvement in brewing beer came about in Ireland as it did in most of Europe as a way of dealing with water that was not always the cleanest or purest, and of using up excess barley or wheat. I have never heard it suggested that the church ever used it as a tool to keep the populace in line.

    On the other hand, I had a history teacher many years ago who told us that the reason there were so many pubs in Ireland was because the ruling British government turned a blind eye to breaches of the licensing laws, so that we would have more opportunities to meet drink and talk about our plans for revolution, and they would have as many opportunities to listen to our plotting and thwart our plans. In light of their involvement with the opium trade in China in the 19th century it’s not so far fetched.

    Anyway, thanks again for a thought provoking read and perhaps one of your other readers will be able to answer your questions as I for one still do not understand why we drink the way we do.

  4. Lordstilton says:

    We are way down the list on alcohol per capita.. And if you look there isn’t that much of a gap between us and those below us from north Europe.. The irish are associated with having “the craic” which usually means consumption of alcohol so therefore were all drunks however that doesn’t stack up with the data.. Without Yankee bashing Americans always seem to have more of a hang up with drink.. Obviously due to the ridiculous laws associated with alcohol in the states…it’s part of our culture to drink when celebrating and has been for centuries

    • Lordstilton,
      You cannot seriously be trying to say that alcohol/ism is not a huge problem in Ireland, and that Ireland’s views on alcohol haven’t affected the smooth operation of society.

      For the love of God, you’ve got members of the Dail recommending that the drunk driving limit be raised in certain areas because they are more experienced drinkers, and given the local culture, the current laws are too restrictive. I don’t remember which member it was, but I recall hearing it on RTE, and learning that he was also a publican ( small wonder). It came out later that it was more of a publicity stunt, but the fact that it was ever even remotely tolerated is ludicrous.

      And if you Google Ireland and drunk driving limits, you’ll see that lowering the limits has always been a massive struggle.

      And to deal with the final part of your statement –
      Ahh, back to the America bashing…
      So, the American cultural mores are ridiculous, but those in Ireland are fine because they’ve around for centuries? Oh, that’s a tidy little self-absorbed moral code you’ve devised there. It’s one that could be used to justify just about anything. And the fact that in your mind it’s all okay because it’s all in the name of celebrating (again, it’s fine if it’s all good craic).

      Thanks. You’ve pretty much made my point for me.

      • Rod says:

        Glenn – Sorry old chap, but you’re wrong – I’ve been around the block and visited almost every capitol in Europe. The Irish don’t stand out regarding alcohol – you should travel more and get out there to understand it. The Germans certainly drink and party heavily, and have issues with alcoholism- If you don’t think so, you’re blind to alcoholism in Germany. Are you familiar with the Finns and Vodka consumption? Go to Helsinki and live there as I did, and see weekend activity. How about Iceland ? They have a 27/7 AA radio station playing warning about alcohol to help deal with their problem. Sadly alcohol IS an Issue in many European nations due to many different factors really..

        • Rod,

          First of all, thank you for reading the blog, and for taking the time to comment.

          But I think you’ve simultaneously “missed” and “made” my point.

          MY point about Ireland and alcohol is not about volume. It’s about what alcohol does to society. Yes, there are other countries that (arguably) drink “more”, but, as you yourself said, they have mechanisms in place for dealing with it. Ireland and alcohol is all about denial of the problem (assuming that you are Irish, I have to count you as a shining example of this). The classic Irish defense is that “it’s not a problem because it’s not as bad as it is in other places”. My God, the number of times I’ve heard the Irish use the words “I am an experienced drinker” to justify their behavior (including driving) and consumption levels is unpardonable.

          And, frankly, Ireland can’t take care of itself.

          The alcohol problem is not just a personal issue. It burdens society (the medical system, family dynamics, child rearing, police/emergency and welfare services, etc.).

          Much as it likes to behave as if it’s one of “the big boys”, Ireland doesn’t have the sate resources that Germany or the Scandinavian countries do. That doesn’t excuse or justify their levels of drinking, but those countries (in general) have the resources to absorb a greater portion of the burden than Ireland ever will.

          But first, it must admit that there’s a problem (Step One in AA, my friend.)

          Cheers,
          Glenn

          • Alan says:

            I wasn’t going to comment on this initially as bloggers like you do not deserve the feedback to boost your SEO. But I can’t resist….

            It sounds to me that you just didn’t enjoy the time you spent in Ireland…too much time blogging and not exploring the real Ireland probably. There are many reasons as to why the Irish have been dubbed with the stereotype of alcoholics. Firstly, it is because of uniformed Americans like yourself reinforcing this stereotype with insignificant data to support.

            In regards to your comment about “experienced drinkers”, this is misinformed. The issue is rather different. It is in fact to do with the extremely secluded people of very rural Ireland not being able to go enjoy a drink as they are miles upon miles away from any public house. The suggestion was to allow these people have one or two more drinks in order for them to have some sort of social life instead of having spend their lives working and staying put on the weekend.

            The drinking culture in Ireland dates back centuries, when one could argue the perception was in fact true. The famine in 19th century Ireland saw 1 million people die with another 1 million people emigrate. A large proportion of these heading state side. It is here that Americans saw waves of deprived, alcoholic Irish people enter our country. And it is from this that people like yourself have carried these stories onward, reluctant to see the massive modernisation of Ireland both socially and economically.

            As an Irish man (24 years old) living in Los Angeles, I can say with no hesitancy that the people here LOVE to drink. Any excuse will do…St.Patrick’s day (which the US have pretty much hijacked), Cinco De Mayo, Memorial weekend, 4th July, etc. etc. The list could literally go on.

            You complain about people American bashing. How is it possible not retaliate when a post like this appears clearly bashing Irish people. I’m truly sorry that you think this of Irish people..truly. Ever since moving state side I have made many well educated, well travelled, friends here who throw all the terrible views of “dumb Americans” out the window. But then someone like yourself comes along and destroys all their hard work. However, for me, I will not allow someone like yourself change my view. I love your country, and will continue to contribute to it’s economy. My suggestion for you…next time you’re in Ireland put away your laptop and look a bit deeper. I can only imagine what some of your other posts here are like.

          • Alan,

            Thanks for taking the time to respond and contribute to the conversation.

            Though, by your response, it’s clear that you couldn’t be bothered to actually read any of the rest of the blog. If you had you would know that I’m not just a blogger passing through. I’ve lived here for four years now. Granted, at the time of the original post I’d lived here less than four years, but still I wasn’t passing through” I’m also a professional travel, food, arts, and culture journalist, so I’m pretty savvy at picking up on cultural clues and discerning between what I see as someone passing through, and what’s actually a sustained part of the culture.

            First of all, I lived in Los Angeles for 7 years, and you can’t possibly equate LA drinking with Irish drinking (even on St. Patrick’s Day).

            And for you to even faintly hint that, because people live out in the country they should be allowed to drink more and then drive to ensure that they have a social life, pretty well makes my point and shows that you, if you still lived here, would be part of the problem.

            Your response says that, you believe the Irish are not capable of socializing without drinking.

            And, yes, I know there are historical reasons that contribute to the reasons why the Irish drink. But, frankly, they’re just excuses at this point. And, if Ireland wants to count itself among the more advanced nations (as it loves to do at least – economically and intellectually), then it needs to put its post-colonial excuse making in the appropriate psychological place and deal with the effects drinking has on Irish society as a whole. Everyone who comes here notices. It’s not just Americans.

            In fact, because America and Ireland are so closely aligned (such good friends politically and socially), Americans (maybe more than any other group) tend to give the Irish a pass on the drinking. That may also be because a shameless number of our young and middle-aged tourists come here just to drink.

            If you read the comments on the blog, you’ll see that a huge number of other Europeans, and visitors from places other than the U.S. are profoundly disturbed by Irish drinking, and not just the volume, but by the stranglehold it has on the culture.

            So rid yourself of this fantasy that it’s just a stereotype, and one that’s only perpetuated by American bloggers.

            Until you do, you are part of the problem.

            -GK

    • Jacque says:

      Hmmm. Typical answer.

      >> ridiculous laws associated with alcohol in the states

      If you’re talking about 21 being the legal drinking/purchasing age, I don’t think that’s ridiculous. It’s ONLY three years of the 18 legal age in Ireland. But then again, like you said, “part of our culture to drink,” so that three age gap must be looking like a punishment.

      • Deirdre77 says:

        Yes it is a ridiculous law! As a European I cannot stand that the US always claims the moral high ground. When one looks at reality this attitude is laughable really. The US is one of the most hypocrite countries in the world. You´re making a big fuss about alcohol and its dangers and officially one is not allowed to drink alcohol in public in most US states but there are millions of drug addicted teenagers in your country – way below the age of 21. You´ve got the worst amount of drug addicts in the United States of all countries: Heroin, Cocaine, Crack etc. etc. plus tons of Alcoholics.
        Americans don´t drink less alcohol than the Irish. The US has an alcohol problem as well. Especially underage and college drinking are huge problems but lots of american adults have a drinking problem also.
        Someone from a country which just recently started to legalize Marihuana shouldn´t really look down on other countries.
        And don´t try to say that Marihuana is less dangerous than alcohol because it is not. I don´t need any fake research studies. I know what Marihuana can do to people since there are a lot of Marihuana addicts in the UK and my home country too.
        Every new life destroying drug one reads about in the newspaper appears on the streets of the US first and then gets “distributed” and “fashionable” the world over.
        And you have the nerve to talk about some fellas who enjoy a night out in a pub and drink a few pints? You couldn´t make it up.
        By the way I am German but have lived more than a decade in Britain and while I have to say that every country has its flaws I just cannot stand the arrogant view of many Americans.
        And the Irish are right to say that what and how much they drink doesn´t affect anyone but themelves. It´s their business.

        • PJ34 says:

          Oh Glenn, did you hit a nerve with this one! You’re a better man than I am to try to tackle this issue. Of course, I only found this piece because I was wondering the same exact thing. I could not help but laugh out loud to “fake research studies” about marijuana to justify the Irish drinking phenomenon. Three words: denial, denial, denial!!!

  5. lordstilton says:

    Glenn,
    I didn’t say anywhere that alcohol isn’t a problem in Ireland. Alcohol causes problems in any society its freely available. My point was Ireland has as much of a problem as all the other northern European countries. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_alcohol_consumption we are 15 down the list in per capita consumption. If you look at the figures, our consumption is on par with the rest of northern European countries. So why is it that Ireland is so associated with alcoholism? Is it possible the reason is that Ireland is associated with “having the craic”? I never in my post said that its okay because it’s in the name of celebration. All northern European society’s generally associate celebration with the consumption of alcohol. I think this is because we weren’t as influenced by roman culture as the southern European countries. Southern Europeans usually drink when they are eating.
    How exactly did the Irish tolerate Healy Raes call for raising the drink limit? The man was ridiculed. As he pretty much is every time he opens his mouth. Do a bit more research into parish pump politics in south Kerry and you might understand how the man is even in the Dail!
    I don’t really feel I bashed any Yankees…which really is pot calling kettle black coming from yourself!! I’m only back, from living in your fine country of birth for the last two years. I loved every bit of it. Especially the people I lived and worked with. I did find that the laws on alcohol in my mind were ridiculous. Notably having to have ID just to be on the premises of a bar. I’m in my late 30’s have some common sense. This happened numerous times. The 21 age limit again in my mind rediculous..18 year olds are responsible enough to drive a car, own a gun and go off and fight wars then they should be responsible enough to have a beer.

    • Jacque says:

      But it’s only thee years. Three. Ya, know – get over it. If you can’t have craic’n time w/o alcohol then I think that more of a problem with you than the law. It’s obvious that there’s a culture difference in terms of how alcohol consumption is viewed, but please.

  6. mikeglennon1 says:

    This was an interesting blog. I would like to offer some corrections/critique. I think the popular drinks you cite is more a reflection of your drinking company (which is fair enough!) than reality, although it would be interesting to see the statistics on it. Stout (mainly Guinness) was undoubtedly the most popular drink 30+ years ago but recently I would say that lager has overtaken it. In terms of spirits jagermeister is the flavour of the month, with bourbon, vodka, rums and alcopops all rivaling whiskey. I think a study of Guinness over the last hundred years would actually provide a great insight into questions of Irish drinking habits. If you go back 30+ years it was the case that if you were an Irish man, you just drank Guinness, then consumption fell away, especially among young people, and over the last few years, thanks to good marketing, it has made a return among the young as something of a hipster drink.

    On the drink driving thing, I don’t think young people have a more healthy attitude to it than older people or that the awareness campaigns have had a huge impact. Young people are just as likely to drink drive as anyone else in my experience. What has changed with drink driving is an increase in wealth and a change in social patterns.

    Young people simply can afford to pay for taxis now and that wasn’t always the case. For example, when my mother (from just outside inner city Dublin) was younger she would walk home from the city centre after the pub because she couldn’t afford the taxi/thought better of keeping the money for other things. My father (from rural Ireland) didn’t have a car and there weren’t any taxis. Nowadays you would think twice about walking home in Dublin and spending a tenner or so on a taxi is considered nothing. In rural Ireland there is a proliferation of taxi and late night bus services and it is nothing to pay for them. I think this has actually increased consumption of alcohol as young people don’t have to worry about driving home (of course that’s not meant as an argument for drink driving but an observation I think holds true).

    As for the older people and a lack of community, 40+ years ago in rural Ireland sessions in people’s homes were far more common between neighbours. That tradition largely died out and left the pub as the only really social outlet. I have no real answer as to why that happened.

    The fact that the pub is considered the only social outlet is a huge factor in Irish people’s drinking. I think also colonialism played a part in getting the process started. If you look at other societies that suffered attempted exterminations by outside powers, such as Native Americans and Australian Aborigines, you will find a sad history of alcohol and other substance abuse. I think the Irish differ slightly from these societies in the way Irish people turned the alcoholism into a virtue and here is where we get to the kernel of the problem.

    Over the last thirty years Irish identity has been hollowed out and degraded, whilst at the same time, the process of globalisation has offered a bland alternative western consumerist identity to replace it that hasn’t filled the void (this process was at its most intense during the past 15 years). This has meant, for young men especially, that their understanding of their place in the world has been destroyed, this then leads to a kind of ‘generalized’ depression which leads to excessive alcohol consumption.

    As excessive alcohol consumption (or having the craic) is seen as a hallmark of Irishness it becomes embraced by most young people (especially men) as the only aspect of their identity that is meaningfully Irish. This leads to a vicious circle of alcohol abuse: Irish identity is eroded so to compensate they drink, drinking then becomes all it is to be Irish, so they drink excessively to try to be Irish.

  7. mikeglennon1 says:

    This was an interesting blog. I would like to offer some corrections/critique. I think the popular drinks you cite is more a reflection of your drinking company (which is fair enough!) than reality, although it would be interesting to see the statistics on it. Stout (mainly Guinness) was undoubtedly the most popular drink 30+ years ago but recently I would say that lager has overtaken it. In terms of spirits, jagermeister is the flavour of the month, with bourbon, vodka, rums and alcopops all rivaling whiskey. I think a study of Guinness over the last hundred years would actually provide a great insight into questions of Irish drinking habits. If you go back 30+ years it was the case that if you were an Irish man you just drank Guinness, then consumption fell away, especially among young people, and over the last few years, thanks to good marketing, it has made a return among the young as something of a hipster drink.

    On the drink driving thing, I don’t think young people have a more healthy attitude to it than older people or that the awareness campaigns have had a huge impact. Young people are just as likely to drink drive as anyone else in my experience. What has changed with drink driving is an increase in wealth and a change in social patterns.

    Young people simply can afford to pay for taxis now and that wasn’t always the case. For example, when my mother (from just outside inner city Dublin) was younger she would walk home from the city centre after the pub because she couldn’t afford the taxi/thought better of keeping the money for other things. My father (from rural Ireland) didn’t have a car and there weren’t any taxis. Nowadays you would think twice about walking home in Dublin and spending a 20euro or so on a taxi is considered nothing. In rural Ireland there is a proliferation of taxi and late night bus services and it is nothing to pay for them. I think, if anything, this has actually increased consumption of alcohol as young people don’t have to worry about driving home (of course that’s not meant as an argument for drink driving but an observation I think holds true).

    As for the older people and a lack of community, 40+ years ago in rural Ireland sessions in people’s homes were far more common between neighbours. That tradition largely died out and left the pub as the only really social outlet. I have no real answer as to why that happened.

    The fact that the pub is considered the only social outlet is a huge factor in Irish people’s drinking. I think also colonialism played a part in getting the process started. If you look at other societies that suffered attempted exterminations by outside powers, such as Native Americans and Australian Aborigines, you will find a sad history of alcohol and other substance abuse. I think the Irish differ slightly from these societies in the way Irish people turned the alcoholism into a virtue and here is where we get to the kernel of the problem.

    Over the last thirty years Irish identity has been hollowed out and degraded, whilst at the same time, the process of globalisation has offered a bland alternative western consumerist identity to replace it that hasn’t filled the void (this process was at its most intense during the past 15 years). This has meant, for young men especially, that their understanding of their place in the world has been destroyed, this then leads to a kind of ‘generalized’ depression which leads to excessive alcohol consumption.

    As excessive alcohol consumption (or having the craic) is seen as a hallmark of Irishness it is embraced by most young people (especially men) as the only aspect of their identity that is meaningfully Irish. This leads to a vicious circle of alcohol abuse: Irish identity is eroded so to compensate they drink, drinking then becomes all it is to be Irish, so they drink excessively to try to be Irish.

    • Mike,

      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to post such a thoughtful comment. That really pushes the discussion forward quite a bit.

      I’ll have to ponder this and will likely get back to you with a few questions.

      Thanks again,

      Glenn

    • Deirdre77 says:

      @mikeglennon1
      Absolutely spot on. Your comment summarises all that is wrong with today´s world and that alcohol and other substance abuses are substitutes for a lost generation which had all their values destoyed and mocked as old fashioned and meaningless – families were destroyed by free love, children viewed as a nuisance in regards to personal development, selfishness portrayed as great, abortion (killing children) was made legal, men were destroyed by feminism, national identity was erased and replaced by today´s one and only identities allowed Globalisation and Consumerism.
      With all the meaningful values destroyed and society falling apart the hearts and souls of human beings became empty, sad, lonely and therefore searching for something to numb their unbearable pain……………………………………………..
      it´s the same the world over I believe…………………..

  8. Dear Lordstilton,

    As always, thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog.

    Apologies for taking so long to get back to you, but I wanted to think about this one for a while.

    First, a friendly word of advice. If you want to be taken seriously, never use Wikipedia as your source. It’s entirely unreliable as primary source material. The entries can be (and are) written by anyone. You are far better off linking to, and referring to, their cited source material (assuming it checks out as being reliable). In this case it’s the World Health Organization, so you’re probably okay.

    Because I’m interested in continuing the discussion, I’m willing to move forward as if you’d cited the WHO directly.

    First, I take issue with your analysis. Ireland consumes more than the rest of Northern Europe (with the exception of Portugal – I know we can quibble over what is/isn’t “Northern” Europe). France, Germany, the U.K., and others are all lower on the consumption list than Ireland (granted not by much). But Ireland is 15th behind Romania, Russia, Moldova, and a slew of other former Soviet states, and bleak, impoverished eastern European countries. Are you sure that’s the standard to which you want to compare Ireland? That’s pretty grim company, my friend.

    And, I think you are missing my larger point. It’s not the amount that Ireland drinks that is important to me. It’s the effect it has on society. That’s what’s behind my questioning whether Ireland is a country of alcoholics, or an alcoholic country. My point is that alcohol, and the traits of an addictive personality, seem to have a serious stranglehold on Irish society.

    And, yes Healy-Raes is clearly a nutter. But the fact that he got any press, and more importantly, the fact that something like three of five local council members ratified his proposal tells me that he was at least somewhat taken seriously.

    I’ve also heard the term “experienced drinker” bandied about by enough of the Irish to believe that a significant fraction of Irish society earnestly believes there is some merit in the idea of “experienced drinkers” being able to handle their drink well enough to be cut some slack in society.

    That’s a sign of a huge social problem.

    As for American bar owners checking everyone’s identification regardless of age, it may be humiliating, but it works. And it avoids the all-to-pervasive Irish way of not having clearly defined (or enforced) standards in laws and governance, so “officials” can decide on the day if they’ll verify someone’s age, or enforce a particular law.

    I agree with you that if you are old enough to serve in the military you should be old enough to drink. But you have to figure that there is probably a 4-5 year gap in enforcement. So if they set it at 21, they may effectively be keeping 16-17 year olds from drinking.

    Just some thoughts.

    Again, thanks for your comments.

    Pax,
    Glenn

    • johndivory says:

      Hi Glenn,

      I’m inclined to think that it’s not so much a question of volume but of attitude and consequence.

      Here are some figures that might interest you.

      http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/how-much-do-we-drink/

    • johndivory says:

      Hi Glenn,

      I’m inclined to think that pulling out the volume argument is an excuse to avoid looking at attitude to alcohol and consequence (social, domestic etc…),

      Here are some figures that might be of interest to you.

      http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/how-much-do-we-drink/

      http://alcoholireland.ie/facts/alcohol-related-harm-facts-and-statistics/

      Best regards,

      John

    • patrick says:

      Bit off topic, but I disagree with you on the drinking age limit. Having it pushed to 21 could easily encourage kids into taking drugs as they may be more available. Plus in a place like Ireland it would be pretty socially exclusionary. I agree that there’s a problem with the drinkin culture in Ireland for sure though. Also, you might be interested to know that Ireland has one of the highest rates of teetotalism in Europe. In the 80’s only 3 out of 4 Irish adults actually drank, putting those per capita figures in an interesting light, and showing the extremes of drinking culture. Started with the Puritans. Will find the book for you, and write more once I’m off my mobile. Great blog man.

      • Hi Patrick,

        Thanks for reading and for taking the time to post.

        I’m actually less concerned with the drinking age than the fact that not drinking excludes you from social acceptance. I know it’s part of the culture here. But that is a problem.

        • Patrick says:

          Hey Glenn,

          Realise that it has been a year since the comment!

          It is definitely a problem. I do wonder if it’s part of a wider European issue though.

          I don’t drink anymore, and also now live in London, hence why I relate to this blog so much. I actually find the exclusionary effect much worse here (perhaps stereotypes about Irish people are partly to blame). Most people just assume that I’m an alcoholic and try to be really nice to me when I’m back in Dublin!

          There’s definitely a national mythology thing going on as well. Seems like a way that people can certify their Irishness or something. Probably a colonial hang up due to the history, much like the agricultural myth.

          Patrick

  9. Pingback: Why the Irish Drink: a reply | deliberatelyevocative

  10. shea says:

    if you have access to Jstor have a look at the history articles temperance movements in the 19th and early 20th century. skimmed over one before and saw an orange man in the 19th century pondering was it wise to support the temperance movement, that sober irish men are more dangerous than drunks. think their might be an element of social control in it given that other colonised societies American Indians and Australian Aborigines have stereotypes of being heavy drinkers but then that is to ignore that prior to the celtic tiger we where down the stats in europe on drinking, could have alot to do with current marketing campaigns and that we are living up to a label others have made for us.

    might be playing the violin here but with the last 150 years, famine, mass emigration, wars, abuse of power and trust, poor economic deveopment, if you look at a lot of the scandals in recent years they are dealt with after the fact, is that fear do we bottle things up, how is power distributed in society and do people feel their voice matters.

    then there is the power of the publicans always playing the poor mouth ‘What with the drink trade on its last legs and the land running fallow for the want of artificial manures’ they are quick to neutralise opposition, try getting a cup of coffee in a cafe in Dublin a supposedly modern european city after 8oc. A justice minister mcdowell got slapped down quick a few years back ( even though his madder idea’s went though with out batting an eylid) when he suggested changes be made to the licensing laws to make them more like cafés, more emphasis on food etc so where else is there to socialise in that type of climate.

    i had a teacher who in his down time suggested an idea that we where addicted to extremes, drink, drugs, gambling long history of political violence and religious fundamentalism, that if Islam ever took off here we would make the Taliban look like pussies.

    Think your right to ask this question, don’t mind the detractors, but a few factors to it, history, culture, foolishness, bad influences and the mode of production are all factors in our current state.

    • Thanks, James & Shea ( not sure who posted the comment originally).

      this gives the discussion some context.

      I knew there have to be some historical reasons. Eventually we’ll tease them out.

      Thanks.

      -Glenn

  11. James Moore says:

    if you have access to Jstor have a look at the history articles temperance movements in the 19th and early 20th century. skimmed over one before and saw an orange man in the 19th century pondering was it wise to support the temperance movement, that sober irish men are more dangerous than drunks. think their might be an element of social control in it given that other colonised societies American Indians and Australian Aborigines have stereotypes of being heavy drinkers but then that is to ignore that prior to the celtic tiger we where down the stats in europe on drinking, could have alot to do with current marketing campaigns and that we are living up to a label others have made for us.

    might be playing the violin here but with the last 150 years, famine, mass emigration, wars, abuse of power and trust, poor economic deveopment, if you look at a lot of the scandals in recent years they are dealt with after the fact, is that fear do we bottle things up, how is power distributed in society and do people feel their voice matters.

    then there is the power of the publicans always playing the poor mouth ‘What with the drink trade on its last legs and the land running fallow for the want of artificial manures’ they are quick to neutralise opposition, try getting a cup of coffee in a cafe in Dublin a supposedly modern european city after 8oc. A justice minister mcdowell got slapped down quick a few years back ( even though his madder idea’s went though with out batting an eylid) when he suggested changes be made to the licensing laws to make them more like cafés, more emphasis on food etc so where else is there to socialise in that type of climate.

    i had a teacher who in his down time suggested an idea that we where addicted to extremes, drink, drugs, gambling long history of political violence and religious fundamentalism, that if Islam ever took off here we would make the Taliban look like pussies.

    Think your right to ask this question, don’t mind the detractors, but a few factors to it, history, culture, foolishness, bad influences and the mode of production are all factors in our current state.

  12. rae says:

    i’m an american living in ireland for 10 years….a) most europeans drink excessively by american standards. Be it the English, Italians, French or Polish (the list goes on) so it’ not just the Irish. I think it was just easy to brand them as alcoholics as american immigrants because people needed a reason to hate and discriminate. b) the weather – what the hell else is there to do in this country? it’s pissing outside 95% of the time…you want to socialize, maybe escape the 10 kids and wife. it was and is the thing to “do”. When I first arrived here 10 years ago, the internet was still in its infancy. I am going to go out on a limb and say cable wasn’t too far ahead of it. Cabin fever could surely be a reason for wanting to hang out at the local frequently. c) Divorce was only legalized in 1996!!!! Imagine ALL the unhappy marriages. d) 1 in 4 Irish have been in some way abused. decades and decades of taking crap from the church and other authority figures not to mention their relationship with England surely are factors in all of this.

    • Rae,

      Thanks for reading, and particularly for taking the time to contribute these notes. These are some interesting insights, most I’d not considered before.

      Cheers.

      GK

  13. Irish, but not an alcoholic! says:

    It really saddens me that many people in different Countries think of us all as alcoholics. Whenever I read something on the Internet about the Irish there is always a mention of the drink. A lot of the time though, it is true! I don’t understand why so many Irish people feel the need to walk down the road with a can of beer in their hands at two o’clock in the afternoon just because the sun is shining! I hate walking home and seeing piles of vomit on the footpaths! I don’t drink at all and even if I do ever drink I would never drink so much that I don’t know where I am or that I can’t remember what happened last night or that I make a holy show of myself! I would really like it if some of the Irish population would clean up their acts and show the rest of the world that that is not what we are all about! Good work with your blogs I have enjoyed reading most of them! Best wishes! 🙂

    • Dear “Irish, but not an alcoholic,

      Thanks for reading the blog, and particularly for taking the time to comment.

      Yeah, I feel a bit bad about calling attention to the problem, and further fueling the stereotype. I certainly don’t mean to imply that all Irish are alcoholics. Yet it does seem to be a systemic problem.

      Thanks for reading, and please keep me on track by commenting in the future.

      Best,
      Glenn

  14. Doug Farrell says:

    I am an American 3rd generation Irish. It is a question many wish had am answer. Why can people stop at 2 drinks and others not? Instead of Damning those that can’t, focus on a medical reason instead of a moral one.

    • Doug,

      Thanks for reading the blog, and particularly for taking the time to comment and contribute.

      For me, the reasons why the Irish drink is less important than what effect that drinking has on the culture.

      Sure, it may (and probably does) have medical causes in some cases. But it’s hard to credit those reasons, or feel sorry for those individuals, when we hear so many people (young and old) in Ireland say, “Why would I go out for one or two? I really don’t like the taste of alcohol. So when I got out to have a drink, I only go if I can get really pissed.” We’ve heard that so many times from people.

      Asking the question”Why do the Irish drink the way they do”,is a bit like shopping for a pair of sunglasses and asking why the sky is blue?

      It’s related, but ultimately unimportant. That they do drink at a level that seriously impacts society is undeniable.

      The compelling questions are about the effects of that drinking.

      I also get a lot of comments comparing Ireland to other places, and saying, “well, we aren’t as bad as other places (by volume, or frequency, etc.)”.

      Again, I’d say hat those numbers are fairly meaningless. You deal with the problem in front of you, and don’t excuse it by saying, “You’re more of an alcoholic than I am.” or “Alcoholism is crippling your economy at a faster rate than ours.”

      Cheers,
      Glenn

      • janeeyre says:

        How exactly are the data meaningless? Because they don’t bear out the biased subjectivity of your view? I think you might need to get out more. Try the City of London on a weekday afternoon – with workers spilling on to the steeets outside the pubs- and then tell me that the Irish are extreme in Northern Europe in their drinking habits. For a self-professed well-seasoned traveller, you seem a bit uninformed.

        • Jane,

          The data are meaningless given my original purpose for writing the article.

          My point was not to compare volume consumed, of which you’re right, the Irish may not be the leader. But your contention that “we don’t drink as much as other Europeans”, and your all too Irish attitude that “it’s not as bad as it could be, so why worry about it” actually makes my point about Ireland being an alcoholic culture quite nicely.

          I originally wrote the post to get a discussion going about the effects of a drinking culture on the rest of society. Ireland’s “poor me” (victim) attitude, low self-esteem, and overwhelming sense of dependence are classic traits of an alcoholic.

          THAT was my point.

      • Jimmy J says:

        Glenn,

        Thanks for taking the time to raise this issue (although not for the first time). I would have to disagree with your quote above, from my experience Irish people who don’t want to drink don’t if or if they feel obliged to, they have a drink with the toast/at the time of the main reason for the get together only. People who drink at home cant claim the above reason.

        Personally I think the definition of binge drinking as ‘taking 6 drinks (standard drinks) or more on one occasion’ is a bit unreasonable. I have seen people who have had 4 drinks in an hour or hour and a half and were badly affected (ie a dose to listen to) and people who maybe had 10 – 12 drinks who were not significantly more different than when sober because they were at a wedding/other long event and the drinking was spread out over many hours.

        I think the crucial thing is drinks over time spent drinking that is the main issue. This is why the drinks stats are skewed. Old school drinking was not about getting drunk but about sticking the pace and keeping going until the end of the night. A lot of other cultures feel it is reasonable to go to bed when the like (which obviously it absolutely is) but in Ireland they feel it is necessary to keep going and going to maximise the night. I realise this is not the issue raised but I think the younger generation think the faster the better as if drink was going to go off.

        • hi Jimmy,

          Thanks for taking the time to rad the blog, and thanks in particular for taking the time comment.

          While I agree with much of what you’ve said, I also have to point out that, in my experience, the young Irish drinkers are far better and more responsible than older Irish drinkers (50+) at not drinking and driving. I’ve heard far more older Irish say things like, I can handle it (drinking and driving) because I’m an experienced drinker”. Or, “I’ve been drinking for 50 years, nobody is going to tell me when I’ve had too much, or what I can do.”

          The sense of drinking entitlement in the older Irish population is appalling.

          Cheers,
          Glenn

  15. I think Irish people (although fun loving and friendly) are generally quite shy and lack confidence as a nation. Perhaps a history of oppression hasn’t helped this, I don’t know. I can remember being on holidays on a Greek island aged 25. I remember sitting quietly in a corner with my friends while we attempted to get drunk so we could start having fun. Meanwhile several groups of Italians entered the same bar, they danced madly on tables and had a great time. None of them were drinking (anything). I turned to one of my friends and asked why we couldn’t do the same sober. She replied “they don’t need to drink to be like that but we do”. It’s something that has always stuck in my mind.

  16. Scor Canny says:

    It might be an idea to look at other peoples who use alcohol excessively like the Native American Indian, the aboriginal people and of course the Irish and see what they have in common. oppression and suppression.

  17. lagflo says:

    I am American and I live in the US and I would say that the US has appalling alcohol and illegal and legal drug problems. I’ve never seen such a bipolar attitude towards mind-altering substances than in this country. It really does seem to be all (addiction) or nothing (extremely puritanical). (And some swing between the two!) It’s also far more acceptable in the US than anywhere else I’ve lived (in Ireland, UK and Italy) to drink and drive. 70% of the people I know here do so on a regular basis and I’m working in the technology industry; populated by people with higher than average IQ etc. If you think of the US as full of clean living souls, visit downtown anywhere at the weekend. The behavior on display is far worse than I’ve seen anywhere in Europe. I currently live in SD and it isn’t unusual to see people dancing around in their underwear covered in vomit on the streets at 10pm on a Saturday night.

    Overall, I find this article a bit lazy in terms of its oversimplification of a culture. So, one Dublin taxi driver with a chip on his shoulder is defensive about alcohol – is that a basis for any assessment of a country’s mental health? Also, I wonder who the author is associating with. Perhaps if he was a little bit more discerning, he might find good company with the majority of Irish people who prefer a cup of tea over an alcoholic beverage. I might find something far worse to comment on in the US if I too had such a low bar for my company. Meth? Crack? Heroin? Alcohol is a problem in the US but it is unfortunately the least of our addiction problems.

    • pixiedust48 says:

      Excellent points. I do find the sensationalism of the original article lazy, as you say. What a non-thinking thing it is to say many Irish are alcoholics. Next, we’ll be saying all Brits are calculating villains (as portrayed in films)! Or all French are obnoxious types indulging in extra-marital affairs! Or all Americans are fat and stupid! Sometimes attempts at being provocative can be tedious.

  18. Pingback: Low Corporate Tax Rates & Attracting Foreign Investment: Is Ireland’s Greatest Asset It’s Willingness To Be Controlled By Outsiders | An American in Dublin

  19. Seamus Flaherty says:

    It’s a stereotype we have ourselves here in the Republic of Ireland but you shouldn’t believe all you read. I drink sometimes, from hard spirits to light ales, but don’t have a problem with it, at least drink no more than the average on the street. I think as with our near scots, some people have this idea of the Irish as degenerate drinkers and it’s often an unfair label. For a country the size of ours it’s a shame we seem to rise to the fore all too often in one way or another.

    But wouldn’t want to be any other nationality. Drink or no drink, proud of my heritage.

    • Seamus,

      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment.

      And, you’re right to be proud. There is a lot be proud of in Ireland.

      My point with this point was really not so much the volume of drink in Ireland. It’s the sense of dependence and the traits of the alcoholic (habitual user) tat seem to be mirrored in the large context of Irish society that I find interesting and disturbing. In particular, I’m thinking of the “Poor me” low self-esteem nature of the Irish (collectively), the binge/purge nature of the economy (when the Irish are rich they binge, and when they are skint they wallow in self-pity and venom).

      Like other addicts and users, Ireland hasn’t yet developed a long-term sense of itself. Collectively the country doesn’t think much beyond what’s immediately in front of it. For the country that’s austerity, but for the Irish drinker out for the craic that’s ordering the next pint.

  20. Morgsy says:

    i just pulled 2012 stats on alcohol and Ireland was ranked 6th behind countries like Poland, Czech republic, Germany, Austria & Estonia. However looking at the beer consumption for the US states, there were only approx 10 states that consumed less than the Irish (average 26 gallons per capita) North Dakota consumes 45 gallons, the most of any other state. The Irish drink mainly for the social aspect while here in the states i find most Americans drink to get drunk. The state i live in right now has the lowest consumption of alcohol Utah (20 gallons), go figure as it is so driven by the Mormon religion., however this state has a major issue with Meth & Crack cocaine.

  21. Oisin says:

    For the same reasons Australian Aborigines, Native Americans and Black S.Africans do Glenn, colonialism has a profound effect on the indigenous people of a country.

  22. Gav says:

    Hello Glenn,

    Your comments on alcohol-culture in Ireland are most welcome. Far from bashing outsider views, I think that adopting the view of the outsider is important, if not essential , to we, the Irish, in recognising and changing our over-reliance on alcohol.

    I have what you might regard as a fatuous observation, but it is my lived experience.

    The friendliness of the Irish is famous. This friendliness may be built on the shared sins, or shared intoxication of citizens, from early teen years to the grave. It is famously difficult to maintain friendships in Ireland once one excludes the ubiquitous pub. The distance and overly-vocal admiration (thinly veiling suspicion most of the time) that accrues to the pub going, non-drinker goes some way to substantiating this.

    Again, I have no hard data to back this up but have lived in several parts of Ireland for most of my life, except for a brief, but near obligatory, submersion in the Irish expat community (South Korea, New Zealand).

    In all of these Irish places or Irish enclaves drink was the social glue. Someone was not truly your friend until they had gotten drunk with you, shared an otherwise embarrassing ‘adventure’ or divulged their raw views and/or secrets.

    When an Irish person – particularly, if I may risk a wrathful comment backlash – an Irish man, tries to abstain from drinking or even from drunkenness, that person can expect to be regarded by his or her peers as having fallen out of the loop, or in some groups, even to have betrayed some unspoken compact.

    The Irish are welcoming but they are also legendary for ‘slagging’ and this can be unmerciful.

    Even amongst older, accomplished and respectable professionals, to refuse an offered drink is, depending on the individual offering (and the individuals observing) considered either as somewhat cold, or as an outright rejection – as judgmental, in short.

    As an Irish drinker in the classic and well-regarded frame I can tell you that this culture is not engaged in without regret or knowing consequence. Indeed, it is my experience that friends – particularly good friends – can agree on their common reliance on alcohol, discuss their desire to find alternative social activities, and yet fail to meet again under any other than ‘boozy’ circumstances.

    It may be that this has something to do with our national love of frank discussion (world’s problems solved and solution lost in the blackout is a common Irish quip; all professors after pint number six, another). Perhaps there is simply sufficient social inertia, to make it extremely difficult to escape this trajectory , or loop. (See for example the mass abstinence campaign of Father Theobold Mathew with 3,000,000,000 subscribers*, no doubt with varying success stories, just prior to the famine circa 1840.)

    In any case we have an alcohol dependent society and to deny it is to look into the tiny corner of the room not occupied by the elephant. I thank you for your invitation to comment. If we who live in Ireland, and our Irish abroad are to prosper in the most meaningful sense of the word, it is necessary to take note of the views of visitors and sharp-eyed friends, and to avail of the spaces they provide us to comment.

    Mise le mor meas,
    Gavin

    *number of pledge-takers gleaned from wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theobald_Mathew_%28temperance_reformer%29

    • Thanks, Gav.

      I’m always interested to read Irish (particularly male) viewpoints on drinking and socialization in Ireland.

      It’s a really complex and fraught issue that goes well beyond, “well the Irish just like to drink”.

      Thanks for adding to the discussion.

      -GK

  23. Jason says:

    Ignorant racist article. Some Irish don’t even drink.

    • Jason,
      Thanks for reading the blog, and for takig thetime to comment.

      You’re absolutely right. Many Irish don’t drink. That’s why it’s so very sad that the drinking majority has forced Irish society and culture to adopt traits akin to those of an alcoholic.

      Cheers,
      Glenn

  24. JP says:

    What a pleasant (i.e., well written) post, and a great find of a blog. As a writer myself, I appreciate the thought and time that goes into a well-done piece. Not sure how I arrived here, but I’m bookmarking it. As to the content, well, I’m from the US and I’m not an alcoholic. And I’ve never been to Ireland. But I did enjoy reading the comments from others here with far greater insight into the issue. Thank you, Mr. Kaufmann!

  25. Mark says:

    Hi, just stumbled across this piece, it was interesting as Irish people seem to crave knowledge or opinion from foreigners on everything Ireland.

    My answers to your questions are just my simple opinion born out of a quiet moment to myself and concluding to what I believe is the answer, . You ask why do we drink?, in my opinion it goes straight back to occupation. You drink to forget.
    who does it hurt? The person drinking and the family of that person.
    These are just two simple answers , too much questioning and research will get you lost in your questions, which I seem to pick up from your piece.

    Have a nice day.

  26. Niall says:

    In school we were tought that under penal laws in ireland Catholics were not allowed own land(have their own farm), but could own a pub. That’s seems to be the excuse we were taught in school anyway. Niall, Irish and yes I drink

  27. Joe says:

    An interesting topic and clearly one with “legs” given that Glenn’s original post is over two years old. My own tuppence-worth is as follows:

    Why do the Irish drink ? Because it makes them feel happy, at least for a while.

    Why so much? Irish social life smiles indulgently or shrugs unconcernedly at tipsiness and/or complete confoodlement provided it’s accompanied by a happy, or at least non-threatening, appearance. Whereas some other societies (e.g. Latin countries) view stumbling mumbling incoherence as a symptom of foolishness. They also view drinking without food intake as barbaric. By the way, even as a confirmed drunkard of long standing I think they are correct on both counts.

    Is excessive drinking the inescapable result of post-colonialism? Of course it isn’t. The usual suspects (e.g. Native Americans, Indigenous Aussies) have genetic problems with processing alcohol. Anyway, Ireland’s history is one of annexation by a bigger, more efficient neighbour rather than colonisation. Our “Old Enemy” and much-reviled persecutors are also indistinguishable from the Irish to anyone outside the Anglophone world in terms of appearance, language and general attitude.

    Why do we favour pubs? We have been deserting them in favour of home drinking for decades. The pub used to be where a man escaped from the grim realities of home life and could relax in a reasonably well-kept space for which he needn’t apologise. As Irish homes became more comfortable, and alcohol prices tilted decisively in favour of supermarket-bought product the alcoholic house party gained ground. One seldom-mentioned factor is, I believe, the rise in affordable foreign holidays. The cost of a double-evening weekend carouse in Dublin publand, with taxis home and a takeaway will nowadays cover a week in Spain or Greece. Even the most dedicated pub customer can spot which of those is the better deal.

    Does the country itself behave like an alcoholic? It’s one way of looking at it and there are enough parallels to make the simile amusing. My own view is that Ireland behaves like an anxious and constantly approval-seeking younger child. In what other country do radio and tv interviewers routinely ask visitors what they think of the native welcome and do they really, no but really, like it here? Big Brother is usually the UK, sometimes the US; in both cases we tend to copy selected opinions and practices in knee-jerk fashion while at the same time looking for ways to sneer at the supposed ignorance, insensitivity or hard-heartedness of the senior sibling. If a commentator wants to appear particularly sophisticated and knowledgeable they pull in Sweden or Finnland where nobody, the commentator included, knows what’s actually happening or is likely to check. What no Irish government or group ever seems to do is sit down and seriously work out (a la the Swiss/French/Germans) what policies and courses of action are most likely to benefit ourselves irrespective of what the UK, EU, US or whatever stranger is in town thinks about us.

  28. James McClean says:

    Good article.
    But us yanks don’t want you back either. Now you have offended Irish and Irish Americans. Once you work a blue collar job you will understand. Turn a wrench and drink a beer, me Irish grandfather always told me. I live by that to this day.

  29. James McClean says:

    Good article.
    But us yanks don’t want you back either. Now you have offended Irish and Irish Americans. Once you work a blue collar job you will understand. Turn a wrench and drink a beer, me Irish grandfather always told me. I live by that to this day.

    James McClean I – Potato farmer, Derry Ireland
    James McClean II – Tool and Die Maker, New York New York
    James McClean III – Masters of Engineering, Princeton
    Masters, Naval Academy Retired Navy Pilot
    James McClean IV – AAS
    BAS in Progress currently machinist/Millwright

    Don’t misjudge the irish. I guess us “functioning” alcoholics do pretty well for ourselves.

  30. James McClean says:

    The target is Irish here, yet you should be blaming Europe as a whole. Don’t point out one country, most European countries drink heavily. Germany, you can drink on work breaks. Spain, wine at 10 AM is perfectly normal. France, wine comes out of drinking fountains. There are just as many pubs in England as Ireland. Russia requires vodka with every meal. Stop picking on the little guys and expand your article. Drink a business.

    • James,

      Thanks so much for reading the blog, and for taking the time to comment.

      But, like so many Irish apologists, you’ve completely missed my point. I’ve never denied that other countries drink a lot too. My point is about the effect that alcohol has on society. Sure you can always point out other extremes (Russia, Moldova, etc.), but the fact that Ireland, as a culture, has a binge/bust, self-pitying attitude in much the same way that many addicts and ritual abusers do can not be denied or overlooked.

      You do not see that in Germany, or France, or Italy (despite the fact that they may drink a lot and alcohol may be inextricably tied to daily life).

      Thanks for commenting.

  31. Tony says:

    Glenn…

    An interesting discussion, and clearly an emotive topic.

    I have a question (and not just related to this post), can you expand on your perception of the Irish as having chronic low self-esteem? This seems to be a core argument in typifying the country as exhibiting the traits of an alcoholic. Whereas I would like to think of Irish people as generally modest and self-deprecating but also possessing a huge pride in their country, culture, achievements and so on.

    • Hi Tony,

      Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment. Excellent question.

      The Irish are very proud. And as a result that’s one of the reasons that the lack of self-esteem stands out for me – because it does seem so out of character.

      I notice it in the fact that nobody slags on the Irish as much as the Irish. If you want to see somebody exhibit a total lack of faith in their countrymen, talk to an Irishman. They rare always ready to show a lack of faith in the system, the government, politicians,and anyone in power.

      add to that the fact that they really don’t trust themselves. For that reason, you constantly see them looking to authority figures for validation. Whether it be the church, the EU, the UK, or even the local beekeeping “authorities” for certifications that have no meaning, but make them feel validated.

      The Irish love taking tests and getting certified by outside authorities, rather than trusting in themselves.

      Fr a country that fought so hard for independence, Ireland still looks outside itself for validation and direction much more than seems right and proper.

      It’s that lack of faith in themselves that, for me, is the hallmark of their low self-esteem.

      Cheers,
      Glenn

      • Edwin says:

        Perhaps we come at it from a different perspective. The Irish see themselves as part of the whole, we take pride in our efforts at international peace, aid and our people are scattered everywhere. You would be hard pushed to find anyone who hasnt been outside of Ireland before and many have lived elsewhere. Perhaps you see comparisons to other countries as a weakness, I do not. While I wish we didnt focus our attention so much on the US or the UK ( the political, media and social environment being not something i would for Ireland) it is maybe understandable given the links with both due to our. diaspora. Now lets put this against the Anerican mindset of the belief that no one can do it better than we, we are unique and so what works elsewhere could not work here and the general isolationist mindset in which you grew up in. Ireland seeking models of best practice before changing something is fine by me, accepting it lock stock and barel because it comes from somewhere else is not ok. Perhaps both societies need to come more to middle. I wee this happenning in Ireland, can you in the US?

  32. Tony says:

    Glen…

    Thanks for your response, some really interesting comments.

    I’m not sure whether your observations demonstrate a lack of self-esteem, there are other contributory factors, though my cultural bias probably results in blind spots when discussing Irish traits.

    “Nobody slags on the Irish as much as the Irish. If you want to see somebody exhibit a total lack of faith in their countrymen, talk to an Irishman.”
    At an institutional, systemic & political level Irish people certainly do moan and complain, but at an individual, community or national level I don’t perceive Irish people to “exhibit a total lack of faith in their countrymen”.

    “Always ready to show a lack of faith in the system, the government, politicians,and anyone in power.”
    For the most part true, and I do find the general default cynical view of government and politicians disheartening. Though having said that, I can understand it taking into account recent cases of governmental mismanagement, corruption. And as you’ve said yourself, there are serious infrastructural issues in Ireland.

    In terms of tying this back to deep seated self-esteem issues, it would be interesting to compare Irish people’s views on politicians, government etc. with other nationalities. It seems to me that a lot of other nationalities are equally adept at showing a lack of faith in the government (English, Spanish, Italians, the list goes on. American chat show hosts have raised this activity to an art form!).

    It would also be interesting to explore Irish people’s faith in politicians over a period of time. E.g. people’s perceptions of Jack Lynch & Sean Lemass versus Charles Haughey & Bertie Ahern.

    I do however think that Irish organisations are at a number of levels, and in many cases, dysfunctional for a variety of reasons. E.g. What we say and what we do are often two very different things. If we speak and debate about something long enough we think it’s resolved when it’s not. We’re very happy to complain in private about a variety of things, but not do anything concrete to resolve it.

    “Looking to authority figures for validation. Whether it be the church, the EU, the UK”
    I find this point interesting. I’ve seen it been pointed out elsewhere, but again, I’m not sure how valid it is.

    I know you’ve mentioned the church, the EU, and UK as mere examples, but it’s worth considering each of these in turn, and through the time prism also. Irish peoples’ opinion of the church have obviously changed drastically and I don’t really see us seeking validation from them in any real sense. The EU, again I don’t see this as being relevant, e.g. I’m thinking of what happened with the Treaty of Lisbon. And the UK. The last country on earth that the Irish would seek validation from!

    Cheers,
    Tony

    • Tony,

      Good points.

      But…

      ” And the UK. The last country on earth that the Irish would seek validation from!”

      Seriously? Really?

      The Irish hold themselves up against the British all the time (economically, culturally, socially).

      • Tony says:

        Sure Glen.

        I said that rather flippantly.

        There is of course a complex relationship between the two countries and the fact that we are neighbouring countries naturally lends itself to comparison. But this is different to seeking validation from. Can you cite specific examples?

        • Yes, actually. I’m sorry I can’t range further afield, but I’m at work and must use what is close at hand.

          You really need look no further than responses to this blog for evidence that many Irish look to the U.K. for “validation”, or confirmation of right or appropriate action.

          With regard to the split hot/cold water tap issue, I’m amazed at the number of Irish respondents who claim that because it’s always been that way (we inherited it from the UK), or it must be okay because they do it that way in the UK too.

          And the number of Irish commentators who have justified the levels of Irish drinking by saying “In the U.K. (and other places) they drink as much as we do” is staggering. Incidentally this is evidence of the Irish habit of claim there’s no problem because the situation could be worse, or is worse elsewhere. – another trait of addicts and abusers.

          Cheers,
          GK

          • Edwin says:

            This is still just comparisons, being our closest neighbour, this is not evidence of seeking validation from the UK. I wholly disagree with you on this point. It simply is not how I see it

  33. Tony says:

    Glenn…

    Those specific examples make sense to me, so thanks for that. Though after scanning the hot/cold water discussion I couldn’t find responses along the lines of it’s always been that way (funnily enough, I did see a response saying we originally followed a German standard before switching to the UK standard), or it must be OK because the British do it also.

    In any case, I’m sure a lot of Irish academics & psychologists would agree with your characterisation of the Irish as suffering from low self-esteem manifested through deferential attitudes to authority, substance abuse, seeking validation from elsewhere and so on. I find it interesting that their narrative is usually based around post-colonial syndrome as the root cause of this. And a lot of the contributors to this blog appear to state this as the origin for the Irish dependency on/fondness for alcohol.

    Though again, I think this is a complex area where causality is difficult to determine. For example, Seán Ó Faoláin’s book about the development of the Irish psyche, “The Irish”, claims that our extreme fondness for alcohol pre-dated the arrival of Christianity or the Anglo-Norman invasion. And once Christianity arrived, the hedonistic tendencies co-existed with extreme asceticism. I find this interesting in terms of the boom / bust behaviour and the national ambivalence towards alcohol. For example, I can off the top-of-my head, think of a host of reasons for loving alcohol (ranging from the sensory to the historical to the social) while also hating the negative impact alcohol abuse has wrought on Irish society.

  34. Joe says:

    Glenn,

    This seems to be such a perfectly provocative proposition for pro-Hibernian prevarication that I’m Gaelically gobsmacked about its generating such a genuinely geosocialogical gestation of Godforesaken guesswork.

    BTW, Glenn (if I may thus undress a virtual acquaintance),one cannot help noticing a certain grammatical and/or spelling decline in thy latterly posted pronouncements from your hitherto lucidly literate comments. Could it be, is it so, that even now and even thou have finally succumbed to the evils of drink and are keying in comments whilst kaylied?

    Joe

  35. Tony says:

    Joe’s Joycean jocularity makes me long for a glass of jemmy.

  36. Tuskar Rock says:

    Part of the Irish national OCD syndrome. Question is, where did it come from?

    Well the symptoms of this dysfunction originate in the depths of the dystopic state to which Ireland had sunk by the latter end of the 19th century, and – I fear – it will be quite a while yet before we shake it off.

    I think that, bad an’ all as it may be to have been socially, economically, culturally, linguistically and demographically eviscerated for their benefit by Britain, the worst turn done to us was to make us feel bad about ourselves; to suspect that the contempt we have traditionally been held in by the British may have some basis

    93% of all persons of Irish descent live, not in Ireland, but in some other country. Flight from despair and desperation became a habit, one that will not be shaken easily either. In France, when things get desperate, they take to the streets (in fact, they actually rip them up – to throw at the police). In Ireland, in such circumstances, we take to the boats. Traditionally, we are all flight and no fight; all bitterness and resentment and no optimism and positivity. Show me an Irish person full of positivism, optimism, and a true belief in Irish exceptionalism equal to that of other nations, and I’ll show you an American.

    Do say; what do you yourself think that a combination of low self-esteem, a pathetic eagerness to please others and to be thought well of by our “betters”, and an inability to function well in company without getting plastered, all taken together and applied to an individual, would indicate? And, possibly to a nation also?

    Historic abuse, perhaps?

    • Hi Tuskar,

      Thanks for reading the blog, and for such a thoughtful response.

      I’ve heard many of those same thoughts cited as reasons/excuses for Irish drinking. But, frankly I’m less interested in the reasons why than I am the effects and the way forward.

      Thanks for contributing. I hope you’ll continue to read and play a role in the conversation.

      -Glenn

      • Tuskar Rock says:

        Great blog – my compliments!

        Re your topic:- I daresay that, in order to know where one needs to go, one has to figure, not only where exactly one is right now, but how one got there.

        This is all the more important when one thinks what are our peculiarly Irish problems, and what can be done about them. I have always thought that our national inability to hold our drink is but one symptom of a set of unhealed wounds in the Irish psyche.

        I shall be watching with interest.

      • Edwin says:

        As interesting as this all is, we are all forgetting one thing. There was until very recently feck all else to do lol. Joking aside, and we clearly exhibit all the signs of post colonial disorder, we were never truly allowed to be ourselves, and this is mostly due to our our own constant meddling in our pricate lives. Drinking was one of the few times when emotions were permitted.

        Im heartened by how many of my friends have took to mountain biking, surfing, music, theater etc and how this has drastically reduced the amount we drink. We still binge on occasion of course but it no longer seems to be out of a self destructive desire to bury those parts of ourselves that we felt were not acceptable to society or were afraid to voice for fear of having the micky taken out of us.

        On a wee American bashing side, when ive had American friends visit they always mistook humility and politeness as low self esteem. Having lived out of Ireland for a fair bit, it is this very characteristic that I cherish the most. American brashness and narcisism is very off putting to me but I have learned the reasoning behind it, the incessant competitive environment, the America is number 1 adnauseum that my mates were subjected to growing up is very difficult to shake for them. They felt they had to always sell themselves, be on the up and up and compete in everything. To me this seemed and still does seem as behaviour of people who are a littke lost and rootless and I often see it as being issues with self esteem.

        As for Ireland exhibiting the behaviours of a functioning alcoholic, made me laugh and has more importantly made me think. Ill have to get back to you on that one, once the wheels have stopped turning or at least slowed down a bit.

        I know im late to the party, but have been thoroughly enjoying your blog.

  37. Sawyer says:

    Having 3/4 grandparents from Ireland, I have a plausible conclusion. Both of my father’s parents were born in the South-West region of Ireland in a city named Cork. According to my great grandfather, many of his friends and neighbors frequently went to the local pub after a long day of work. When I asked him why so many people were inclined to drink so often, he laughed. In his thick Irish accent, he said, “We Irish folk have been oppressed and depressed since before my father’s father was born. It’s always rainy and everyone is always pale.”

  38. John says:

    Interesting blog Glen. I’m an Irish male (27) and will attempt to summarise your original question(s). Ireland is an alcoholic country. Why?

    -GAA (Hurling & Football) comes hand in hand with alcohol consumption. Play for your local team and drink to get drunk after every game. If you don’t partake you’ll be an outcast. When I was 17 I was awarded a man of the match award for an under 21 game in my local pub after the game. The prize was a free pint of beer from the bar manager preceded by an announcement for all to hear.

    – Weather>Lack of social outlets>Depression>Alcohol/Drug abuse

    – Weather+Oppression>Lack of social outlets>Depression>Alcohol/Drug abuse

    – Pride: It’s developed into some sort of cult religion that the Irish are associated with bars, alcohol and good craic. There seems to be an Irish bar in every major city in the world and sometimes non-major cities. Irish people are proud of these”temples” popping up all over the world and whenever we go abroad, seek them out like our lives depended on it.

    I’d love to go deeper and give a better insight into why alcohol consumption continues to be a hot talking point amongst Irish people. I guess I could go as far as saying that Irish people have been brainwashed into believing that a life of alcohol induced tales and stories are how we measure our lives. We pass through our teenage years observing our peers succumb to a lifestyle of alcohol abuse. Our peers glorify this existence and welcome us into this world at tender ages of 13/14/15.

    Guinness is good for you or so the Irish population were led to believe in 1928. Marketing campaigns and parents feeding their teenage offspring pints of Guinness- that’s how it all began.

  39. Edwin says:

    I commented earlier but it was a little lazy so I”d like to rectify that, if I may.

    It is undeniable that we have a huge problem with drink and your posing of the question about Ireland itself portraying some of the characteristics of an alcoholic is certainly interesting and is a link that I’ve never made or thought of before. I’ll need to ruminate on that one.

    As a son of an alcoholic and a friend of many an Irish man and woman in the same boat, alcohol has always been something I think about with some regularity. I will try and share my thoughts about this.

    The historical reasons, for me, stem from our past as an agricultural, rural based society . Most people lived and worked on farms and had two choices when it came to socialising and catching up with members of their community. Mass and the pub. This continued, arguably, until the mid 90’s when other forms of entertainment became more readily available as we urbanised. This long stint of rural life was certainly long enough to mold a culture around the pub which continued when urbanisation kicked in.

    However, if my aunts and uncles are a permitted source of reference here, drink was important in their lives but getting drunk to the point of getting sick was frowned upon. Somewhat excusable if you were a man but a big no no for women. This poses the question for the current suicidal obsession with binge drinking.

    Culturally, growing up, as with most things in Ireland, you are simultaneously told that you cannot do something that people you respect (elders) are regularly part taking in. Like so many things, there wasn’t any attempt to foster a mature attitude towards alcohol in the home, like say, the French do. So, once we reach a certain age 16/17 we suddenly start to drink without any experience of it aside from it being prohibited but, in our eyes, clearly an acceptable part of our lives. This has the same effect as that ubiquitous first year uni student who has suddenly experienced freedom for the first time and behaves like an idiot. Furthermore, for women, drink may have been seen as a liberating factor and to drink was to be equal. Similar to smoking in the US in the 1920’s.

    Also, for many Irish it is/was very difficult to express ourselves emotionally and suddenly when drunk we find that we can speak freely with little judgement. This is liberating for many. The more open we become (and this is happening, the less we will need alcohol as a crutch).

    As someone else pointed out, as with many cultures that were thrown into a globalised world dominated by American soft power, we found ourselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. We despised (and simultaneously loved) anything to do with the old ways as we linked it to the Church, misery, conservatism and the casting out of the ‘other’. This pushed us to eagerly buy into consumerism and try and create a new identity for ourselves by buying the latest products and worse buying our hollowed out culture back from abroad. This, as most societies are now learning, (I think) has proved vacuous and unfulfilling and had the effect of throwing us into an identity crises.

    Advertising and the reflection of our culture from abroad also exacerbates the problem even more as we are bombarded with this image that to be Irish is to drink. Our most famous brands are all related companies that manufacture alcohol.

    Ever the optimist, (and not American) it has amazed me how many of my mates have either stopped drinking altogether, or severely reduced their intake. The huge explosion of craft beers can be seen as evidence of a more maturing attitude as they are far to expensive to get ‘rat arsed’ on. People have started to understand the impacts on their health, and have begun taking to the outdoors more. My fridns have ditched the pint for a surf board, instrument, mountain bike or pair of walking shoes. We prefer to have a few beers and a smoke rather than get pissed. Perhaps this is part of maturing but having witnessed the generation that proceeded us, I don’t see a strong argument there.

    On the side, I have noticed that you constantly refer to us having crippling low self esteem. While you have a valid point to a degree, I think you should be wary of where you are coming at for that one. My American mates constantly confused my politeness, humility (clearly lol) and unwillingness to accept compliments as a sign of low self esteem. This really grates on me because I have zero issues with self esteem. These are some of the traits I cherish in the Irish. To me they seemed brash, arrogant, narcissistic and constantly needing to be validated. Ironically, these traits led me to believe that it was in fact them who suffered from low self esteem. As I got to know them better, I began to understand them, as they did me. They were constantly bombarded with America is number one, the best yada yada ad nauseum. Everything in their life was a competition, to sit and just be was seen as a weakness and a waste of time, they were constantly getting validation from their parents (smaller families) and teachers. They have opened up to me that these are very hard to shake off and they have seen how the resulting behaviour really grates on others outside of the US. The Dutch are the only other group who have similar behaviour patterns, in my experience.

    Anyway, it may be something to keep in mind and may adjust the prism to which you see our behaviour, or maybe not but was certainly illuminating for me.

    I am thoroughly enjoying this blog by the way, I know I’m a little late to the party but better late than never! Keep sucking diesel 🙂

  40. Edwin says:

    Also, our sense of identity is getting stronger, they crash highlighted whats important for a lot of us. We are embracing the old, but on our terms, and creating the new and I for one am excited about where we go next.

  41. Mulligan says:

    Dear Glenn,
    I want to put my tuppence-worth into the question of why the Irish drink. The facile answer to your question is that lots of countries drink (& often even ‘dry’ ones). But the context of your blog makes it clear that what you refer to is alcoholism.

    My response is in song form. The song is based on the traditional The 7 Drunken Nights. (And I’ve nicked a phrase from James Joyce.)

    I apologise for repetition: some of the points in the song have already been made by other posters, but I include these points partly cos I think it’s useful to package many causes together; & partly cos, if a point is in the form of a song, people can sing it down the pub.

    Notes: tootle on the flute in this context means sexual intercourse. ‘Yir kilt’ does not mean the kilt that you own; it means ‘you have been killed’.

    ALCATHOLIC
    or
    A THEORY OF ALCOHOLISM AMONG WORKING CLASS IRISH CATHOLIC MEN
    As I came home on Mon night,
    As horny as could be,
    I held a johnny in my hand
    for my dear wife & me
    I said in a whisper to my wife,
    ‘Would you kindly tell to me:
    Will we tootle on the flute tonight?
    I’ve a johnny here for thee.’
    Ah, yir mad wi’ lust, an’ fit to bust
    Till ye cannna see.
    Them things are for Protestants
    & we are both RC.
    Well, I’ve never been to Rome; to Rome I’ve never roamed;
    But, more & more, I wonder why it’s Rome that rules my home.

    As I came home on Tuesday night,
    So horny yet again
    The johnny I produced once more
    While going half insane.
    ‘We’ve five kids here already
    We don’t need more, you see
    Neighbours never need to know
    The needs of me & thee.’
    ‘Ah, yir mad wi’ lust & fit tae bust
    Till ye canna see.
    I’d have to confess; &, oh, the distress:
    The priest may not like me.’
    When Catholics walk up the wedding aisle, they also wed the priest.
    A priest in the head is a priest in the bed; from priests, where is release?

    As I came home on Wed night,
    As broke as I’ve ever been.
    I banged my head on the top of the door,
    and then I did make moan.
    I whispered to my wife upstairs:
    ‘Would you kindly tell to me
    Why is the house we’re living in so very, very wee?’
    ‘Ah, yir skint, yir skint, ye silly old fool,
    till ye canna see.
    We can’t afford a bigger house
    We live in poverty.’
    ‘I don’t think that I ask too much. I do not speak from greed.
    In the land of my birth, I have no earth to build the house I need.’

    As I came home on Thurs night
    To let the wife go out
    I thought that I would babysit
    But I had my doubts.
    When babies yell, I fear that I’ll
    Just resort to blows.
    But fists can’t fly when babies cry:
    I am not one of those.
    ‘Ah, yir split, yir split, ye silly old fool.
    Ye don’t know what ye are.
    Father/fighter; fighter/father:
    It’s an inner war.
    Men are under pressure to always cut up rough.
    You fear that one of these drunken days you’ll hit a child you love.’

    As I came home on Fri night
    As drunk as I’ve ever have been,
    I saw my wife did speak to me, to a neighbour & 3 weans
    I had to interrupt my wife:
    ‘Would you kindly try to explain:
    How can you speak to 5 at once?
    The idea hurts my brain.’
    ‘Ah, yir out of touch, ye silly old fool
    Ye are not up to date:
    The past still lasts: you’re caveman cast;
    You’re different from your mate.
    Men are single-minded cos they had to go to kill;
    Female multitaskers are more varied in their skills.’

    As I left home on Saturday night
    To escape the kids,
    I didn’t know where I would go:
    I was feeling on the skids.
    I said to my wife in a whisper,
    ‘I’m off out for a while.’
    She didn’t speak to me at first,
    But then she cracked a smile:
    ‘Ye think, ye think, ye silly old fool,
    The pub’s a remedy;
    It is relief but nothing more
    You’ll soon be back to me.
    Once a week you think that you can drink your kids away.
    But the five of them will still be here at the end of the drinking day.’

    As I roved out on Sun night for to take the air,
    Atlantic rain soaked thru my cap,
    & then it soaked my hair.
    I said to my dear landlady,
    ‘Would you kindly tell to me:
    why does the rain of Ireland fall on me so commonly?’
    ‘Ah, yir soaked, yir soaked, ye silly old soak.
    Yir soaked right to the core.
    The motto of my public house is:
    when it rains, I pour.
    And, if you dwellt where it is dry like Spain or Italy,
    Would the weather ever drive you back into the P.U.B?’

    As I came home another night,
    bandjaxed through & through
    I wondered ‘bout my job of work:
    & what else I could do.
    I said in a whisper to my wife:
    ‘It’s very hard indeed:
    I hate it but I go each day
    because I’ve weans to feed.’
    ‘Ah, yir killt, yir killt, ye silly old fool
    Till ye canna see.
    Employment law is full of flaws
    It is wage slavery.
    I know that, in the building game, you have a lot to bear.
    If the poor were paid in a way that’s fair, we’d all be millionaires.’

    When I came home in the very last verse
    I thought that I’d been cursed
    I saw the many pressures
    In this isle of dreadful thirst.
    I said in a whisper to my wife:
    ‘Would you tell me what you think
    Are all the forces in our lives
    that drive me to the drink?’
    ‘The rain, the weans, & those ordained,
    The stone age & bad houses
    The father/fighter confusion
    & responsibilities.
    But, to cap it all, there’s capitalism: & isn’t it a shame?
    And you are the poo-er oul’ drunken sod that gets the bloody blame.’

    Mulligan, 11.2.16.
    A wee bit of this theory comes from me; a wee bit from A level sociology; but most comes from ‘Joyce’s Revenge: History, Politics, and Aesthetics’ in ‘Ulysses’ by Andrew Gibson, Oxford University Press, U.S.A.; New Ed edition (7 April 2005); 019928203X.

  42. Tatiana-Deirdre says:

    I am an Irish American dual citizen and I am offended by your comments. I think they show bias or even jealousy towards the Irish since we are the most educated of Europe and the most literate and literary. Irish people like myself are gifted with the ability to write, storytell, be more passionate than most, more courageous and charming and a LOT of people in America want to be Irish. The dark exotic Irish with dark eyes fair skin and black hair-not round faces- are gorgeous we have it all!

    This must bother you and it shows. Why do so many jewish actors change their names to Irish surnames like Rogan etc? To make themselves more likable You seem a bit jealous and bitter; I would be too if I weren’t Irish. BTW you are not very likable neither are most Americans which is why I claimed my Irish citizenship though I am a Native New Yorker.
    And you are dead wrong about the Irish being druns there are far more American lushes especially in the stupid geny millenial demographic than in Ireland Russians have a bigger alcohol problem and so do Native Americans and indigenous people in Latin America so since you want to be a bigot label them drunkards not the Irish!
    Cheers!

  43. Maire daugharty says:

    Of Irish descent- and Austrian- coming from two hard drinking cultures and a long line of frank alcoholics- and one who has chosen to put the substantial effort into not drinking- I wholeheartedly support an open discussion of the perils of both a people, and people in general trapped in addiction. I hesitate to visit my country of origin bc I know drinkers are suspicious of non- drinkers. Of course, I realize there is more to Ireland than the pubs. The defensive responses were interesting to read- no matter how carefully you word your inquiry, the drinking alcoholics will ne offended. Great questions- enjoyed reading.

  44. Matt S says:

    Your comments are hilarious, obviously to get all us (part) Irish people worked up 🙂 I can only tell you a story about my grandmother to explain alcohol and Ireland, at least back-in-the-day. Friends weren’t always nearby – my grandmother lived on a farm with sheep and most families had ~10 children to split the workload. When friends visited, it was a big deal. Not like today where you step in your car and arrive 30m later with no issue. That short trip could have taken a very long time just to come by to visit. So you gave them your house – you made them food – you made them feel at home. And with that, you celebrated! And alcohol is part of the celebration by tradition. IRELAND isn’t about drinking alcohol; it’s about accepting everyone for who they are, celebrating another day of life with those around, and hoping for luck in the days ahead. That’s what I gathered from my grandmother and her friends in Ireland.

  45. Patience says:

    This is my take on why the Irish drink, first before I start I am not saying this to hurt anyone’s feelings. The only feelings that have been hurt are my own. I am in love with an Irish man who drinks. I have to be patient waiting for him to save his money to come see me, while he spends it all drinking. I will always be second to a pint (or six). When I go over to Ireland for a visit, it is so easy to pop in any pub for a pint. If I want to have a pint in one pub then leave and then all of a sudden I would like another, not to worry there is another pub right across the street or two doors down. It is so easy to have another and it seems like many have the time to do that since most do not work. What else is there to do during the day especially when the weather is not up to par but to stop by the pub and see what everyone is up too and have a pint (or ten). 6 pints at 4.50 euro is 27 euros a day is over 180 euros per week. If my man would skip a day or more could have had plenty saved by now. But again the pint and conversation is much more important.

  46. Ken Niemeyer says:

    I just returned from a wonderful visit to Ireland and found the weather, the country and the people great….however, drinking and smoking is a problem. Two things that harm the people of Ireland. No one seems to mention the alcohol industry which throughout Irish history made massive profits exploiting human weakness identifying inelastic demands. In the USA, the tobacco companies and chocolate manufactures gave cigarettes and candy to the soldiers so they would come back addicted to their products just like banks today give credit cards to high school students to get them hooked on credit as early as possible and we know how that played out in the recent financial crisis. I did note the Irish habit of “accentuating the negative and eliminating the positive” about so many things including the weather, the economy, history, the burden of working, the government, etc. The future holds much promise so why dwell on the past?

  47. Jimmy lynch says:

    I taught this was a complete misconception I’m a 24 year old irish man and drinking here is more of a social thing. It’s a minority that cause the problems. The older generation have seen a different time when it was tolerated to drink and drive. But Ireland as a country has great schools world renowned 3rd level education. For a tiny country we are well respected world wide with some of the best poets authors and business minds. Yet people stick to the common misconception that we are quote functioning alcoholics. Get with the times.

    • Oh, Jimmy:

      I think you may be a bit young, and have not lived in cultures where drink is not so prevalent.

      It’s still a huge problem in Ireland.

      And the fact that you believe Ireland being well-respected in any way dismisses the need to deal with the alcohol problem is evidence enough of a problem.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      -GK

  48. Sailboat Instructor says:

    This BLOG is brilliant!

    The thoughtful comments provide excellent insights.

    There are references to the consequences to drinking, but not much in the way of details. Perhaps example(s) might ground the discussion a bit.

    Three Irishmen decided to learn to sail. They signed up for a 4 day class, spread over two weekends. On the first days it was very windy and had a grand time crashing and splashing about. They worked cooperatively, joked regularly and performed like a well seasoned crew. But, they had little previous experience, so were very much beginners.

    At the end of the second day, I advocated that over the week that they reflect on the lessons. And added (they have access to all sorts of boats, including small sail boats) that they would benefit from going sailing on their own. Rig a boat, mess about and see how it goes, then bring questions when we would meet next. The intent was for them to take ownership of the process and get comfortable with the process (they were a bit rough around the edges, as is common for beginners). They were very excited and in great spirits.

    At the end of the third day they were still in great spirits and showed significant progress. I pointed out that on the forth day there was an option for me to evaluate them, avoiding a formal test. And added that we could go over the written test and if they were comfortable do that as well. I added that I expected them to all “ace the written test”.

    They asked about their chances to pass and I joked it was on the fence and suggested it was 50/50 (joking that either they would or would not). They were still in good spirits and enthusiastically gave me a present for my time and efforts.

    On the forth day they came unprepared. One looked jaundice, the other two had the demeanor of someone with a hangover. They related how they went to the pub and drank for 10 hours. They determined, in this condition, that they were going to fail, so refused to complete the class (presumably to take in incomplete instead of a fail).

    I explained that the option to place out of the formal test was not obligatory. And that even if they failed, it would not go against them or even be recorded. They reluctantly took the written test and all passed with perfect scores. No amount discussion could convince them to complete the course. As a practical matter, I had seen almost enough to give them a minimal rating and was looking for the level of skills to give the higher rating. I literally walked with them pleading the whole way.

    In retrospect the joke about not passing gave cause for self doubt. That was an error on my part. They were fine before going to the pub. Then after they had resolved to “give up” and nothing could dissuade them from that pre-conclusion.

  49. Kelly Albertine says:

    If you have ever read 12th century Irish literature it always boils down to war and beheadings, sex, and drinking – Kelly

  50. Kevin says:

    Hi people

    First of all I would like to precise that I’m native french and I have learnd english mostly by myself maybe because my irish mommy didn’t learn it to me.
    So may excuse my english.

    So as a french irish guy i can tell you about the differences I saw between my irish family (mother) and my french family (father).

    I remembre for example that when I was going in Dublin to see my granny, when i was about 16 years old, she put before some beers into the fridge for me and my father.
    the interessant thing is that my grand mother was a very serious chiristian woman, with a lot of morality, teacher also…

    This is just an example to say that, for me, alcohol in Ireland is part of the culture.
    The word that I would use for it is the same in french and english: it’s “omniprésence”.
    I mean that’s a pity but if you live in this country you will have interaction with people who drink, at the minimum, but you will probably see also people drinking too much.

    I was kind of shocked sometimes to see that there were advertissements on the tv about alcohol, because in France it’s illegal.
    in France, to drink in public is also illegal, And it was strange for me to see people drinking in the street, because it shows to young people that drinking alcohol is fun and not a big problem.
    So why do people can drink in public or see alcohol ads with a huge alcoholism problem in the country?
    For those two points (ads for alcohol and drinking in public), Irish people can say thanks to the lobby of alcohol’selling!
    So why the State of Ireland has this complicity with this lobby: I dont know, I guess “The Lobby of Alcohol in Ireland is just Powerfull”.
    Think: who is the richest family in Ireland?
    I’m sure that you guessed: Guinness family.

    I remember to have seen childs drinking in the street, they’re were about 10 to 12 years old.(and my granny was living in a nice neighberhood).
    Yes in Ireland alcohol is omnipresent, it’s just part of the culture.

    I hope, like Glen sayx, that young Irish people will show that they develop their responsabilities on this subject.
    I think also that they have another mentality compare to old Irish (50+).
    I saw that they are more smart and open minded than their elders for the question of Northen Ireland for example.
    It’s time for progress but I know that the economic context is not good, and this doesnt help people to be happy….

    I read a lot of posts on this page, and I remembre that some people talk about Cannabis.
    I can tell you that cannabis can be a big problem of addiction (I’ve been addicted myself) and that we have a big problem with haschich in France (1 milion users at the minimum).
    Of course we also have a problem of alcoholism in France.
    The difference between alcoholism and cannabis (when you’re addicted) is that you can stop cannabis if you have motivation. Alcohol is much harder to stop and for that reason is highly addictive.

    In my country we drink at the same time we eat, but this can be a trap even if you’re not in a pub, for example because you can have the feeling of not being drunk, but this is just because you eat at the same time.

    Anyway, I wish the best for everybody!

    • Bogmanster,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Though I have to say I think the Journal article is complete bollocks.

      Yes, entrepreneurs are “received” well in Ireland. They promise jobs. But do they deliver long term? And how many of those startups would be viable without the multinationals who are largely their only customers.

      And, how entrepreneurial would Ireland be without the tax breaks? Yes, Ireland is entrepreneurial, but, sadly, only when propped up by government giveaways.

      I’d love to see the Irish government stop assuming that the only way Irish companies can compete is to have their mother (the government) buy them friends (business opportunities).

      If that’s not a sign of government sanctioned (actively promoted) low self-esteem, I don’t know what is.

      [For the record, I think Irish companies, and Irish workers are better than that, and could be so much more (in the long term) if they truly developed their skills and infrastructure, and stopped relying on tax breaks to drive the economy.]

      Otherwise, great points.

      Cheers,
      GK

  51. Bogmanstar says:

    Hi Glenn,

    Good catalysing blog post. Few observations (from a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-drug-taking Irishman – I just copied my late parents, neither of whom drank or smoked either):

    “First, why do the Irish drink?”

    Same as anyone else, to get drunk : ) As to why we drink *in the manner we drink*, there are a few reasons. First, let’s drop all the cod-psychology b/s and the colonised excuse, Irish people in 2017 have few self-esteem issues. Partly, this may be due to straight-forward Americans not fully recognising the Irish cultural imperative of extreme self-deprecation. Rule number one is: talk yourself down, always, or you’ll have no friends left. It’s all b/s of course, and you don’t believe any of the modesty-schtick you’re obliged to pump out in Ireland. Snag is, your Irish modesty-bullcrap risks being taken at face value by Americans, who, bless ‘em, think you mean it. Consistently, modern Ireland is one of the world’s most entrepreneurial cultures; and the key attribute you need for entrepreneurship is a large dollop of self-belief: http://www.thejournal.ie/ireland-most-entrepreneurial-country-in-europe-1533477-Jun2014/
    Arrogance would be nearer the mark, in many cases. Some obvious factors:
    – The weather. Hard to have a casual out-of-doors culture (apart from full-on sports) or a pavement (sidewalk) café culture in the Irish climate. Pub steps into the void.
    – The lack of a national cuisine. Hard to have a café culture in a country that worships junk food and where e.g. there are no equivalents of tapas bars open late. Unless you’re going to a fancy restaurant for a blowout meal or a junk food chain for some cheap food, there is nowhere that understands the concept of “food as social backdrop” in the way the Southern mainland Europeans do. Come 8pm, and there’s nowhere to hang out except a bloody pub.
    – The ingrained macho attitudes (across both genders). Hard to have a café culture in a country that sees sipping lattés as a bit cissy and destroying yourself with binge-drinking as the epitome of cool-ness and adult-ness. In e.g., Italy or Spain, being seen vomiting into a gutter at 3am marks you out as a loser and a pitiable idiot. In Ireland, you’re a hero and people bond with you next day about your drinking “war stories”.
    – The anti-intellectualism and constant spoofery. Hard to have a café culture in a country that bases conversations on endless shallow banter. The way people talk when they’re drunk is the way Irish people aspire to talking when they’re sober.

    “Who is hurt by Irish drinking?”

    Primarily, spouses and children. Battered spouses and battered children. I’ve seen other families’ wrecked homes first-hand; the hidden weekend misery. There’s no way to dress this up; it sucks. Heavy drinkers by and large are a bunch of narcissistic, immature wastes of space.

    “Beyond the drinking entitlement, Ireland’s feast or famine economic view, and things work “well enough” attitude are all fairly common symptoms of an alcoholic. The fact that the country has precious little in the way of improved infrastructure to show from the Celtic Tiger is not a surprise. It’s now widely viewed throughout the country as having been a bit of a bender, and just good craic.”

    Stop saying “craic” – it’s a fake Irish word, and, as a sometime Irish speaker, it annoys the hell out of me. Just write “crack”. “Crack”, in the sense of “good fun”, was Ulster slang for decades before it was adopted South of the border; and it was written “crack” for years before this trendy “craic” nonsense started. (The Undertones’ (pop-punk band from Derry in the 1970s, still gigging) early singles were released on “Crack’s 90” records, a local Ulster way of saying the “fun was dialled up to 9”. “Craic” started out of a desire to differentiate it from crack cocaine, but that’s not much of a reason to write fake Irish anymore.

    Anyway, digression over (wasn’t it great crack altogether), boom bust economics / un-checked bubbles etc. are as much to do with neoliberalism. Ireland is a socially-liberal country with a right-wing economy, ran primarily for the benefit of shareholders and tax dodgers. It’s why our corporate tax rate is so much lower than our personal tax rates. As with affordable housing, centrally-planned investment in infrastructure presents severe ideological difficulties in a country wedded to neoliberal mantras such as “the markets know best” and that governments should “interfere as little as possible”.

    “I know that this will be seen as just another anti-Irish screed, and I’ll get my fair share of “Yankee Go Home” comments.”

    No, I’d much rather you stayed : ) Americans are great; I don’t think I’ve ever met an American I didn’t like. Even the ones I completely disagree with (Trump voters etc.), I still can’t help liking them on a social / personal level. Cheerful and positive, occasionally slightly gullible / less-cynical, and, above all, no real understanding of, or time for, begrudgery. If you do well, an American will congratulate you. An Irish person will secretly hate you. Welcome aboard, if you’re here for a few years, you’re part of the national story now anyway.

    PS: The GAA link is outdated– this was true in the 1970s and 1980s (as indeed it was also then true for soccer and rugby), and perhaps still true for joke junior teams, but these days, the pendulum largely has swung the other way, with inter-county players training like bandits 6 days a week and generally living like Spartans. If you drink heavily in modern GAA, you’ll not last long.

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