Filmmaker Alex Fegan travels the country, interviewing people on either side of the bar, to find out what makes the Irish pub so darned special.
Now that I think about it, it is fairly incredible that no-one has come up with this idea before. The Irish pub is a staple in most major cities, and when friends come to visit me in Dublin, many of them want to see a proper pub – or as we call them; ‘old man pubs’. So what is it about the pub in Ireland that makes it so special?
The Irish pub has been in decline in recent years – blame the recession, the smoking ban, or the price of a pint – and it seems as though it was this that spurred filmmaker Alex Fegan into examining this institution and mainstay of Ireland. Each of the publicans interviewed tell stories from their – and the pub’s – past, and in their own way, they contribute to a tapestry being woven on screen, a tapestry made of stories, laughter, nostalgia and love.
Inspired by the book, The Irish Pub, by James Fennell and Turtle Bunbury, Fegan obviously spent years researching and making his film, and what emerges is the mindset of the publicans, their deep love for what they do and respect for the people they serve, and the seeming knowledge that they are a huge part of Irish culture and history.
The publicans tell their best anecdotes and stories on screen; the best prompting roars of laughter from the audience at the screening I attended, as well as reveal the history behind the premises – many pubs have been in the same family for generations. Some of the tales are heartbreaking, such as the publican who believes he is just ‘caretaking’ the pub for his father who has passed away, and the man who knows he lost the passion for his work, but is striving to reclaim it.
What comes to light is the actual significance of the pub in Ireland; the fact that, in the past, it was often the place where deals were made or broken, it is often still the focal point of a community and a place where people can meet and talk. Yes of course the drink is all part of this mix, and the better a pint is, the more likely the pub is to be busy, but Fegan reminds us that often the pub and the church were the only social meeting places in an small town and now, in 2013, many still want to find a pub that is filled with conversation, rather than music and noise.
Fegan’s documentary could easily have become a twee examination of all things ‘Oirish’, aimed at the American market and almost designed to irritate the Irish (and adopted Irish) among us, but rather than looking at Ireland through the lens of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, Alex Fegan has captured a microcosm on screen, which feels like a true representation of Irish culture, people and humour, even if it is a little biased toward stories of the ‘rare auld times’, and less about the struggles that come with running any business.
The Irish Pub is filled with nostalgia, laughter, sadness and love. Alex Fegan has taken a look at an institution that many of us in Ireland visit every week but rarely think about. The publicans showcase the best of Irish humour and storytelling, and chances are if you have been to a pub in Ireland, you may well see it on the screen here, which only serves to add to the warmth that is on show here.