Anyone with an interest in Irish history, culture or drink need look no further than Alex Fegan’s (Man Made Men, Sliced) delightful documentary The Irish Pub.
The film itself is like the pubs it portrays—simple and unassuming on the outside, but warm, jovial and full of good craic (aka “fun”) once the door is opened. It begins with the famous lines of William Butler Yeats, “There are no strangers here, only friends that have not yet met.” By the film’s conclusion, the audience, too, may well wish not only for a few good pints, but for the company of these wonderful friends not yet met on the other side of the screen.
The Irish Pub captures the true essence of pub culture in Ireland, or perhaps what it used to be more in days gone by. The drinking is nearly secondary to the camaraderie found within the cluttered walls, a sort of liquid punctuation to the stories and songs shared between friends and families.
The film focuses on more than a dozen traditional historic pubs across Ireland, giving viewers a comfy seat as the individual stories unfold before them. As the publicans themselves tell it, these quaint drinking establishments are becoming more few and far between as time goes on and the modern world closes in. Yet the ones that remain are stubbornly faithful to keeping things exactly as they have been for generations, from the iconic corner “snugs” to the lack of TV sets or stereos mounted on the walls. Viewers see some of the old pubs that still operate small grocery stores, or even mortuaries, on the side and how they interact with the ever-present parish priests. It all stems from the tradition of small communities, and the very first interpretations of what a “one-stop shop” could be.
The Irish folks interviewed, both patrons and publicans, are the very epitome of what makes up this charming, colorful and witty culture. They tell stories and politically incorrect jokes, they sing songs and give each other a hard time. Luckily for most non-Irish viewers, the thicker brogues are subtitled for easier following.
What Alex Fegan has achieved so beautifully with The Irish Pub is the sense of ease it has with itself. The documentary reveals the traditional pub culture in Ireland to be more than how it is perceived in kitschy imitations all over the world. It shows pubs as they are, unfiltered, a bit dusty and brimming with history, life and love.
The film had a limited theatrical release in Ireland last fall, and has since been on the festival circuit in Australia, Canada and the U.S. The Irish Pub has been well received across the board and will undoubtedly have a long life on DVD and, hopefully, a solid TV distribution.
Director: Alex Fegan
Writer: Alex Fegan
Release Date: Oct. 4, 2014 (Ireland, limited)
After spending several years in Ireland, Maryann Koopman Kelly now lives with her husband, kids and border collie in California, where she continues to write freelance and blog about life as she knows it. You can follow her on Twitter.