Saturday 24 February 2018

Why the good weather gives us all an excuse to enjoy a drink al fresco

After a week of brilliant sunshine, Liam Collins urges you to enjoy the ambience, the view and the tipple

PASSING THE TIME: Liam Collins and his daughter Mia enjoy the sun and the ambience in Dublin city centre. Photo: David Conachy
PASSING THE TIME: Liam Collins and his daughter Mia enjoy the sun and the ambience in Dublin city centre. Photo: David Conachy
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

It was a sunny afternoon and we had over-dosed on the music at Lisdoonvarna so we headed up the winding road through The Burren until we came to O'Donoghue's pub in Fanore, a mythical place looking over the sparking Atlantic with the Aran islands in the distance.

In those days pubs didn't do 'outside' the way they do now - people just moved bar tables and stools out into the forecourt to enjoy the sun. A combination of red skin and alcohol emboldened two over-excited members of our company to strip off and jump on the back of a passing tractor. The farmer turned, smiled at them and said, "a great shpell of weather, lads" patted his Collie on the head and kept on driving with the two nudists for company until they hopped off and came back to rejoin their pints.

A really good Irish pub suffers a bit of an identity crisis when the sun shines. Many were built to be cosy and dark for the regular Irish weather, but others have that special something that makes them a pleasure to sit outside on a good summer's day. But quite often the two don't meet.

Indeed drinking outside was anathema until fairly recently. Irish bars were for men whose wives stayed at home minding the children. Serious drinkers didn't advertise their habits or let other people know their business. When I sit outside Canton Casey's in the Market Square in Mullingar these days I often reflect on when I first went into the pub back in the early 1970s, it was dark, almost covered in a layer of dust with a few sullen old men drinking their pint in a desultory fashion.

But it all changed and like the Irish weather, pub life changes when a few good days run into each other.

Deprived of sunshine for much to the year it only takes the temperature to get to about 15c for the Irish to strip off, leave work early (or some may abandon it altogether) and head for the pub to sit or stand, basking in the glorious weather watching the passing parade, which seems to improve in appearance with every degree it increases.

The thing about us is that we need an excuse to drink . . . good weather, bad weather, a wedding or a funeral, it doesn't really matter. But there is something splendid about sitting in the sunshine sipping a beer. In some ways the sunshine 'scene' in Dublin has shifted to South William Street in Dublin on one side of the city and around Baggot Street and Ballsbridge on the other.

Grogan's, the haunt of the arty crowd is now at the centre of trendy bars and cafe bars where sitting outside is part of the lifestyle. Possibly the smoking ban has also led to more people sitting outside, especially when the weather is any way tolerable, which is most of the time.

The other great thing about sitting outside is the view.

I remember one memorable afternoon sitting outside the old Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore in Co Waterford, with Michael O'Reilly. It wasn't the drink, because he doesn't drink for a start, that made it memorable; it was just looking over the bay and on to Dungarvan Bay in the distance from what was then a ramshackle garden that seemed to literally fall off the cliff.

Or McDaniels in Brittas Bay on a summer's afternoon, with half of south Dublin slumming it, or Stoop Your Head in Skerries, on the other side of the city, not to mention the trendy bars of West Cork like O'Sullivan's of Crookhaven, and the Glandore Inn among the many amazing places to drink and pint and enjoy the sun.

There is also a whole other pub life by the side of the canal, whether it be the Hatch Bar in Hazelhatch, Furey's further on in Moyvalley or MJ Henry in Cootehall. All along the length of the Shannon, from Keenan's in Tarmonbarry up and down the river different people have different favourites.

The thing about pubs is that they are both local and personal. Most of us relate to the one's we've enjoyed, whether they be in Cork city or far-flung Donegal, or in some small village in the midlands where you chance to stop. They don't have to be in the guide books or even have the traditional look about them. After all when the sun shines you want to be outside, not inside, so it's the ambience that's has been created by the publican and the customers that counts, more than the authentic 'pub' interior.

Of course among all the joys there is one drawback, it's a bit like Christmas. The sun brings out what a friend of mine calls "the amateurs" and some of them don't know how to handle their drink or when it's time go home, the people he says "who spoil it for the rest of us" because they get loud and raucous, they think they own the place and you'll probably never see them again.

This is not a pub guide, or a guide to the best place to soak up the sun and a few drinks - everybody has their own favourite way of doing that. There are so many places that shine in Ireland with the sun, but unfortunately whenever I have been to Connemara it has mostly gone from dull to the clouds literally sitting on the heather.

My own favourite 'sitting outside' experience in winter or summer is The Blue Light, half way up the Three Rock Mountain above Stepaside in Dublin.

I cycle up Kilgobbin Lane and walk up the old sun-dappled track veined by ancient roots from the towering old cedars and beech trees of the Fern Hill estate, to Barnacullia.

You can walk as far or as near up the mountain as you wish and when you get back to the pub and the sun is shining invariably there is a crowd.

Bono or Paul Brady or Ruairi Quinn could be having a drink, but nobody really notices, because that's not what it's about. What it is about is the enjoyment of the day, and apart from the panoramic view over Dublin you could be anywhere in Ireland.

So when the sun shines today don't spend it in a car trying to find some elusive mythical place to enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. Walk or cycle, you'll feel better off and your conscience will be clearer; it isn't just about the drink, it is about a well-deserved rest after your exertions.

Sunday Independent

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