Thursday 24 January 2019

Is the tradition of the unannounced house visit dying in Ireland?


There was a time - and it wasn't that long ago - when you could call to a friend's home unannounced. Stock photo
There was a time - and it wasn't that long ago - when you could call to a friend's home unannounced. Stock photo
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

There are a few of Irish traditions that are taking their last gasps.

We've all heard of old-fashioned names but what about names so old fashioned that they're teetering on the brink of extinction? According to, once-common names like Mary, Annie, Joseph and Patrick have plunged in popularity in Ireland over the past century.

Meanwhile, names including Herbert, Norman and Cecil for boys - and Sheila, Doris and Marion for girls - haven't been recorded in the last five years of Irish birth records.

There was a time when most Irish people had a family member called Mary or Patrick and an aunt called Breda, Bridie or Bernie. Nowadays, we prefer the softer tones of Mia, Amelia, Finn and Noah.

Traditional Irish names aren't the only cultural signifiers facing the threat of extinction.

Irish society is changing rapidly and even our most time-honoured institutions are slowly fading into obscurity. Here are a few of them...

The unannounced house visit

While it might sound as anachronistic as an avocado bathroom suite, there was a time - and it wasn't that long ago - when you could call to a friend's home unannounced. Stranger still, they were happy to see you. In fact, they may even have guided you into the 'good room' and given you a céad míle fáilte with their Waterford Crystal glassware. It sounds charming - and it was - but don't go getting any ideas. A house visit in modern Ireland requires a minimum of three days' notice and implies a maximum stay of two hours. Show up unannounced and you can be guaranteed at least one person will hide in their bedroom. As for the person unfortunate enough to have been spotted through the window when your car pulled in? They'll give you the same welcome they'd extend to a plain-clothes garda before affecting a long yawn and concocting an excuse about needing an early night (at 7pm).

The art of tea-making

One could land themselves in hot water for questioning the Irish love affair with tea, yet it's hard to ignore the proliferation of coffee chains, the glorification of baristas and the Clooney-fication of at-home coffee machines. While the flat white generation enjoy an occasional cuppa, very few of them are preserving the tenets of tea-making that have been passed down from generation to generation. They've invested in a Chemex but they don't own a tea pot (or a tea cosy for that matter). They know the characteristics of various coffee beans but they don't know the importance of warming the tea pot/cup before serving. Tea evangelists understand there is a Tae-te-Ching of sorts on these ancient rituals. The worry is that it isn't being passed down.

The full Irish

The ‘full Irish’ is no longer the breakfast of choice

It started with Eggs Benedict. Next came French toast with bacon and maple syrup. Then some smartarse introduced huevos rancheros. When it comes to breakfast fare, the Irish have developed more of a global palate over the last 15 years. This cultural shift is a boon for cafes with three avocado dishes on the menu. On the flip side, it sounds the death knell for the greasy spoon cafe, just as it spells the end of the days when being healthy meant opting for brown toast with your four sausages, three slices of bacon and double helping of black pudding. The egg-white omelette brigade are only too happy to see the 'full Irish' fade into extinction. Revivalists, however, would argue this classic combination of guilt, shame and overindulgence defines the Irish spirit and should be preserved at all costs.

Midweek pints

In the days before CrossFit, tag rugby and charity fitness challenges, Irish people preferred to exercise their debating skills over midweek pints in their local pub. Millennials are more abstemious. They still binge drink at the weekend - despite what reports on so-called 'Generation Sober' might tell you - but they have called time on the tradition of after-work pints (especially on 'Leg Day'). More health conscious than previous generations, millennials have #goals that aren't always in alignment with the empty calories of pints and salted peanuts. And besides, a picture of a vodka and tonic and Scampi Fries isn't going to gain much traction on Instagram...

Irish Independent

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