RESEARCHERS from an English university will spend a year studying the Irish pub.
The study is funded by the Vintners Federation of Ireland, which is worried by the closure of 1,100 pubs in the past five years, many in rural communities.
The team, led by Dr Ignazio Cabras, the real ale-loving son of an Italian vineyard owner, wants to explore the role village pubs play in local communities and find ways of halting their decline.
Dr Cabras (34), a lecturer in economics, business and management at York University's Management School, has already spent six years conducting similar research on the state of English country inns.
"Rural pubs are in serious decline," he said. "However, they often have a vital role to play in both the social and economic wellbeing of a rural community.
"From providing an outlet for the sale of local produce, to a meeting place for a local sports club, to a focal point for a charitable activity, rural pubs are often at the heart of the rural community.
"Pubs are also important generators of part-time and casual employment. This is often more important in rural areas where work opportunities for some categories of people, such as students and women with families, are frequently reduced."
But Dr Cabras said the business in Britain and Ireland is very different. "Pub companies are the main players in the UK and own the majority of public houses," he said.
"In Ireland, 90pc are independently owned. The majority of pubs are still family-run, one-bar operations, although the recession has forced many businesses to reduce their opening hours and staff.
"This situation may have caused the closure of many village and rural pubs, which experience less custom compared with those located in urban areas."
His findings – and those of a separate 14-month study into rural pubs in England – will be presented at the Beeronomics Conference next year at York University.
The Vintner's Federation believes that on top of recent closures, a further 800 pubs are in serious financial trouble, putting 4,800 jobs at risk.
Padraig Cribben, chief executive of the federation, which represents 4,200 publicans, said 20pc of its members are at crisis point.
"It is intended that this study will quantify the real benefits that pubs bestow in rural areas. Dr Cabras and his team have great experience and expertise and we hope to have quantitative and qualitative data that will allow us to further demonstrate the importance of the pub in the local community."
The drinks industry is a major employer and contributor to the economy. According to the Drinks Industry Group of Ireland, whose members include producers, distributors and retailers, it supports 62,000 jobs, generates over €2bn in tax and makes €1.25bn in export sales annually.