Modern life calls time on the Irish country pub

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The Independent Online

One of Ireland's most familiar institutions - the little gnarled old man in the corner of the pub emitting a mix of pipe smoke and philosophical observations - is fast becoming an endangered species.

The smoking ban removed the tobacco from the pubs some time ago but now the small country bar itself is disappearing at an alarming rate.

Modern Irish lifestyles are wreaking havoc on the old ways, leading no fewer than 600 rural bars to shut their doors in the past two years. There are predictions that more will close in the years ahead.

There are still of course many watering-holes in the Irish Republic, with plenty of larger establishments in Dublin and other cities. But the future looks bleak for the smaller pub, known worldwide for its quaint and homely character.

According to Seamus O'Donoghue, former president of the Vintners' Federation of Ireland: "We have seen post offices and shops closing down in many rural areas and now we are afraid the same thing is happening to pubs." The trail of closures is striking: more than 70 in Co Cork, more than 50 in Galway, more than 40 each in Limerick, Mayo and Tipperary.

The 2004 ban on smoking in bars and other public places had a major impact, especially in rural areas, but it was only the first in a series of problems for small publicans.

Various charges, according to the vintners, have "spiralled out of control", with hefty rises in the cost of water, waste collection and local authority charges. At the same time there has been a heavy police clampdown on drinking and driving. The high price of alcohol also means more people are drinking at home.

Steven Cassidy sold his pub in Gortahork, a remote part of Donegal, two years ago. He said: "A lot of my trade would have been old regular people. There's a lot of old men that worked the land, farmers that make a living from the peat bog. A lot of that would be day-time drinking but that's a thing of the past now. There was the clampdown on drink-driving, plus the smoking ban stopped a lot of the old-timers."

He described the new drinking patterns: "A lot of them are sitting at home now in mid-week, drinking in the house. A lot of the little rural pubs won't open till six or seven or eight in the evening - there's just nobody there. I feel for the older publicans." By contrast Paddy Logue, who runs a bar near Carrigart in another part of Donegal, has survived. "We're holding on," he said. "But the amount of drink sold would be a lot less than three or four years ago."

Nigel Tynan, editor of Licensing World, said: "The publicans are lobbying hard and trying to show that their way of life is vanishing, that we are losing the small premises that have always been a cornerstone of life in rural Ireland, and a major tourist attraction as well."