What is it that makes the Irish pub so special? Held in high esteem by locals and international visitors alike. The Irish pub is not just as a licensed premises that dispenses drink and assorted beverages. The Irish public house is seen as being at the heart of the community’s social engagement and sociable entertainment, expressed in conversation or in music.
There lies the heart of the truth. Visit a pub in Ireland and the drinks on sale are only a part of the appeal. The banter and craic with the bar staff and the other customers is what puts the soul into the experience, and if there’s music, then it soars.
The Irish pub has evolved dramatically over the years to maintain its relevance to its community and loyal locals by introducing additional enticements.
Historically, the undertaker and grocery services, and in more recent times bar food, music, quizzes, bingo and talent shows to list a few. However, it has maintained its core value, serving the customer with friendly and informal professionalism. While Ireland has no shortage of must-visit pubs in every county, below is a sampling of some inspiring pubs that are a destination in their own right. Go explore.
So many pubs of character and warmth to choose from in the compact capital, its coastal villages around the bay and its mountain enclaves. A surplus of riches and below are just a few gems you need to visit in Dublin.
John Kavanagh, aka The Gravediggers, 1 Prospect Square, Glasnevin, Dublin 9
Just fifteen years away from its 200th anniversary, this family-owned pub has eight generations of Kavanaghs serving behind the bar. Its nickname is a clue to its neighbour, Glasnevin Cemetery. This Victorian bar has refreshed and nourished countless locals, visitors, mourners and celebrities alike without ever losing its authenticity.
You know a place is important when it gifts the language with a new word. “Going for a jar” is attributed to John Kavanagh’s Gravediggers Pub when professionals of the same name would take a pint on their break and bring the glass with them to finish at their leisure. The publican’s stock of glassware soon diminished and a rule was implemented that gravediggers would be served only if they brought their own drinking vessel. The common glass jam jar found in every household became their pint glass replacement.
More information: facebook.com/JohnKavanaghTheGravediggers
The Long Hall, 51 South Great George’s Street, Dublin 2
The candy-striped red and white canopied windows hint at the theatrical interior. Although established when kings still ruled France and America in 1766, a major makeover at the height of Victorian craftsmanship in the 1880s serve as a calling card to the immortality of quality, a true classic never goes out of fashion.
Popular equally with the public, politicians, tourists and celebs, possibly because all are made feel like a local. No surprise that Bruce Springsteen paid a visit to relax between concerts.
More information: (0)1 475 1590
Johnny Fox’s Pub, Glencullen, Co. Dublin
Another eighteenth century pub, built in 1798 and regarded as one of Ireland’s highest pubs. Set in Glencullen in the Dublin mountains, its lure is not just its scenery and rural retreat from the capital, but its lively traditional Irish music, dancing and food.
More information: jfp.ie
The Brazen Head, 20 Lower Bridge Street, Dublin 8
You won’t find an older pub in Ireland than the Brazen Head. Originally, a coach house from 1198 in the heart of Viking Dublin. Over the latter centuries literary, political and musician giants enjoyed the homely hospitality. Within the thick stone walls, this quirky pub comprises a warren of small rooms to discover a seat and listen to the Irish traditional music nightly. Nourishment and Irish storytelling also served with confidence.
More information: brazenhead.com
Searching for Irish pubs of character and charisma along the 2,500km of the Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest defined coastal touring route was the easy part. Distilling them down to some of the most must-visit was the challenge.
Matt Molloy’s, Bridge Street, Westport, Co. Mayo
The Chieftains are one of Ireland’s greatest ambassadors for our traditional music. Matt Molloy’s flute playing has been heard on every continent and also in his pub in Mayo when he is not on a world tour.
Traditional music nightly entertains an international and local trade. Two of the keys to the pub’s magnetism is authenticity and intimacy. Matt has maintained the snug and cosy dimensions of the pub where everyone can feel like a local.
More information: mattmolloy.com
John B. Keane Pub, 37 William Street, Listowel, Co. Kerry
Few Irish writers have captured the parochial and the drama in ordinary folks’ lives from the last century than Kerry publican and playwright, John B. Keane. John B.’s son, Billy now owns the bar and John B.’s wife, 84 year-old Mary still works in and lives over the bar.
Her husband’s work is often performed in the very pub where it was written. A most magical time to visit Ireland’s Heritage Town is during Listowel Writers Week and the races in September.
More information: facebook.com/JohnBKeane
Gus O’Connor’s Pub, Fisher Street, Doolin, Co. Clare
O’Connor’s in Doolin, arguably is one of Ireland’s most famous pubs for Irish traditional music. Not surprising that music is played nightly, either spontaneous or scheduled.
The emphasis here is on authenticity, from the open turf fire to the celebration of Ireland’s music, song and dance traditions with workshops and weekends planned throughout the year. Nearby distractions are the Cliffs of Moher and the pier to the Aran Islands.
More information: gusoconnorspubdoolin.net
So many diverse pubs to choose from in Ireland’s Ancient East. From Carlingford to Kinsale with iconic monuments bearing evidence of over 5,000 years of history and settlers, set in a lush green landscape where even the stones vie with the locals as eloquent story-tellers.
J. O’Connell’s Pub, Hill of Skryne, Co Meath
Almost hidden beside an old church ruin near the Hill of Tara, four generations of O’Connells have kept faith with the essence of what makes an Irish pub special: serving a good pint and allowing conversation to flow on a high stool at the bar or on a bench beside the open fire, insulated by the wooden panelled walls.
The O’Connells have resisted trends and change, no television or radio to interrupt and distract. The only concession to modern times is a pool table. Many of us see the pub cloaked in snow on our television screens every December since 2003 in the Guinness Christmas advertisement; icons with icons.
More information: +353 (0) 46 902 5122
Giltraps Pub, Kinnitty, near Birr, Co. Offaly
The building began its tradition as a server of Irish hospitality when it was a village hotel in the 1600s. Now run by the Clendennen family, Giltraps Pub at the foot of the Slieve Bloom Mountains is a refuge for the diverse needs of the footsore hill walker or the guest attending a wedding at nearby Kinnitty Castle.
For those who just can’t bear to leave, the family offers Townhouse and glamping accommodation beside the pub.
More information: giltrapspub.com
Morrissey’s Pub, Main Street, Abbeyleix, Co. Laois
Crossing the threshold is a trip through time. Built in 1770 and served at times as a pub with a grocery, a bakery, an undertaker and shipping agent. Its past is echoed in the bric-à-brac, grocery memorabilia and the white shop coats worn by the bar staff.
A potbelly stove holds centre stage and is surrounded by timber partitioned areas adding to the intimacy and magic. Only in Ireland. Sláinte.
More information: facebook.com/morrisseysabbeyleixpub
Liam Campbell is one of Ireland’s most experienced wine writers. His work has been featured in the pages of numerous publications, most recently as the Wine & Drinks Editor for The Irish Independent, as well as in Irish Homes, Easy Food and The Dubliner magazines.
Besides writing, his involvement in the world of wine goes deeper: he’s an approved WSET educator and holder of a WSET Diploma, Diploma in Craft Beer & Cider, and he has worked as judge in international wine competitions and as a wine consultant.