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The introduction of the smoking ban in March 2004 marked the beginning of our golden age here in Ireland. We must be more like the rich and healthy Irish, said the rest of the world. For about four years.

You couldn't get into a pub around Ireland on the eve of the smoking ban. Even the smallest shebeen had a camera crew from Norway to record the most unlikely event in all of history: Irish people behaving like adults.

"Surely if Ireland can get its act together and ban smoking in pubs, it's only a matter of time before it happens in proper countries," said US reporter after US reporter. Locals responded to these patronising journalists by standing behind them and giving the camera a big thumbs-up. This did nothing to dispel the notion that we're a nation of eejits.

Everyone got in on the act. Non-smokers coughed and spluttered their way through a final fag in the hope that they'd make the nine o'clock news in Budapest. Never mind that the tone of the coverage was 'feckless, child-like race does the right thing'. We were just glad of the attention.

It wasn't long before we started to witness a new phenomenon called Fag Dating. That's where you follow someone you fancy out to the smoking area and ask them for a light. Smooth.

It remains hugely successful today. Chatting someone up is so much easier when you have things in common like emphysema and the prospect of dying young.

Some say the smoking ban marked the end of rural men enjoying a pint in their local. Others say it's nice to be able to have a drink in peace at home without listening to Mossie banging on about milk quotas. They would be the old lads who no longer have to maintain the fabric of rural Ireland. Finally, they were free.

Sunday Independent