Gentlemanly regulars are nested in the snug, reading papers or betting on horses. Gaelic football is playing on the TV but the volume is low, so the conversationalists won’t be disturbed. Irish pubs know that you can't be in a place where it's too noisy to talk, because the talk and the drink go together. The requisite Guinness taps are on overdrive. Locals buying rounds for the entire table; everyone waiting patiently for their Guinness as bartender attends to the almost-sacred two-step pouring process that requires time for the beer to settle. The hum of Sláinte (pronounced: SLAWN-chuh), accompanied by the clink of glasses, rises up over the trad musicians playing in the corner. It is a balanced ecosystem until late when the crowd gets rowdier and periodically you can hear the uniting celebratory roar when a pint glass slips and breaks.
People visit Ireland to experience the pubs. People visit Irish Pub to experience Ireland.
A social meeting place for happy, sad and all occasions, the pub is the epicentre of activity. They are the original community center in Ireland and, personally speaking, cheerful Irish pubs are also the source of solo traveller anxiety.
There is a gendered difference of the pub experience. I’ve always been envious that a bloke to rock up to a pub and have a solitary pint while watching the game, refusing to be stifled by pesky social anxiety. Contrarily, a lot of us women are nervous about heading out to a pub for drink all on our lonesome. And honestly, who could blame us? Not when there's a heavy stigma involved when you shows up without the typically entourage. All eyes are on you and within minutes, third-party spectators will have stamped you as either: 1) a developing alcoholic 2) a desperate mid-30’s female on the prowl for romance 3) a socially inept loner — or all of the above. Or so we think...
I am determined to be able to joyfully partake in Irish pub life without my friend-flock security blanket. Take that FOMO! Being a scientist at heart, I decided to do an experiment: Exposure Therapy... like they do people who are afraid of snakes where they put them near a lot of snakes in order to overcome their anxiety. I am going to visit pubs on my own until I no longer felt awkward – surrendering my liver as a sacrificial lamb in the process.
Phase 1: Go to pub in the middle of the afternoon when they aren’t teeming with drunken strangers. Easy enough, right? I started at this beginner’s level pub exposure therapy in Dublin last weekend following my pity party about traveling solo. Famed for its legendary Irish hospitality, heading to a pub with a cozy, relaxing vibe to chat with a few locals seemed like a great cure for my sense of “alone-ness” while in Dublin. I put on a brave face, sat triumphantly at a high-top table in the corner and ordered a pint. People always caution that as a woman alone in the bar you should expect to be approached endlessly by men so I was prepared but something much worse happened: everyone left me alone entirely.
Phase 2: After my trivial success last weekend – I'm acknowledging the baby steps that even though I didn’t talk to anyone, I did GO to a pub on my own) – this weekend I adopted the opposite philosophy in my pub exposure therapy treatment plan: jump in the deep end. Armed with my super festive Kerry-green skirt from the charity shop (score!), I’m taking on St Patrick’s Day in Galway – all by myself! Eek!
I’m pretty certain the only people at the St Patrick’s Day parade who were undeterred by the pouring rain were tourists... or local parents with wee kids marching with their hurling teams. Technically, I think “parade” is on overstatement; at best it’s a “community march” since it’s mostly community groups walking without costumes, music or floats. Not unexpected since prior to the millennium, Paddy’s Day was never a big deal in Ireland. In fact, up until the 1970s, Irish law prohibited pubs opening on March 17 as a mark of respect for this religious day that marks the fifth-century death of Ireland’s beloved patron, St Patrick. The modern razzmatazz was invented by ex-patriots around the world looking for an excuse to celebrate their Irish roots. When I needed reprieve from the rain, I ducked into the shopping mall only to discover that’s were all the Irish were actually celebrating Paddy’s Day.
My definition of St. Patrick's Day: the one day of the year when the 2% of the world’s population that is Irish gets the other 98% completely shitfaced. By mid-morning, all the traditional pubs in Galway were swarming with obnoxious tourists (the worst kind) and I wandered aimlessly trying to get enough courage to venture in on my own. After lunch, I poked my nose into one but the floor was already covered by shattered glass and I overheard an American tourist complaining that the beer hadn’t been dyed green. (This lady clearly did not understand how seriously the Irish take their beer). So I spun on the spot and hastily made my way back to the entrance convinced there was a better option. I set off in search of the Galway Bay Brewery chocolate milk stout that I tasted on my beer and whiskey tour in Dublin. Following the beer never leads you astray I ended up at the Salt House which is just across the Corrib river, which is slightly outside the common tourist radius.
I woke up the next morning feeling immensely proud of myself for surviving – and enjoying – Paddy’s Day on my own. I will keep you posted on my solo-pub-going prowess but until then, let’s raise a glass! Sláinte!
Nice to meet you...
I'm Andi (hence the blog name). I'm a travel aficionado, passionate eater, tireless explorer of internet rabbit-holes, and amateur thinker. Join me as I give it all up (ok, that's a bit of an exaggeration) and go around the world on a mid-career "soul sabbatical" & year-of-learning to figure out what to be NEXT when I grow up. Won’t you grab a cup of chai and stay a while?
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