The ban on Good Friday sales is the latest in a number of legal changes made in Ireland as the country slowly steps away from a traditionally heavy Catholic influence. The prohibition dates back to 1927, and – in contrast to the alcohol-fuelled celebrations of today – originally included St Patrick’s Day. The St Patrick’s Day ban was lifted in 1960. Until the year 2000, there was also a ‘holy hour’ closing of bars enforced between 2pm and 4pm on Sundays.
The reaction to the lifting of the ban has been largely positive, though it had been the source of some amusement to locals, with its own unique culture. Supermarkets in Ireland were renowned for their alcohol queues the day before Good Friday, which is also a national public holiday for most workers, something that also led to the culprits being mockingly labelled for their inability to last a day without booze.
Being a long weekend, Easter has also long been a popular stag-and-hen party weekend for international visitors, particularly to capital Dublin, and many large groups touched down in Ireland’s capital unaware that they were stepping into a dry day. On passing the bill, ministers in the Dail (Irish parliament) cited tourism as one of the main reasons for the change.
There are, however, a number of other restrictive licensing practices still in place in Ireland that might be worth knowing for party-loving tourists.
Laws worth considering include the standard licensing laws for selling alcohol in a shop (holders of an ‘off license’, which means any company selling alcohol to be drunk somewhere other than where it’s bought). These rules prohibit the buying of alcohol except between 10.30am and 10.30pm in any shops, with that start time pushed back to 12.30pm, a definite boost for bars. There are some small exceptions, such as shops in Dublin airport, where bars also open even for early flights.
Nightlife, to the surprise of many tourists, is also fairly restrictive, with many pubs closing at 1am, even on Fridays and Saturdays, and the country’s club scene coming under examination as it struggles with varied but relatively early closing times, too.
Nevertheless, there are positive signs, with the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction, and Dublin’s whiskey scene undergoing a major revival. Just five years ago, only the Jameson Distillery – a historic museum rather than a working distillery – remained in the capital. Today, Teelings and Pearse Lyons are fully operational. The trend in the liberalisation of alcohol laws also looks likely to continue, though not always in directions many might consider sensible (one politician, for example, is notorious for his campaigning for the relaxation of drink driving laws, even comparing drinking to consuming a large meal).
You must be 18 to drink alcohol in Ireland, though it is widely accepted that 16-year-olds are allowed to drink a small amount in bars where the alcohol has been bought by their parent or guardian, and earlier in the day (youngsters will often be asked to leave after 7pm).
Drinking outdoors in public places is banned, though there are exceptions, such as pub gardens and smoking areas.