If you’re Irish come into the parlour – ★★★
Alex Fegan has travelled the length and breadth of the country interviewing publicans in an effort to capture the essence of what makes Irish pubs so special. All the owners are interviewed so you won’t find any chains here and the pubs are three generations or more old. Fegan was obviously a fan of Ken Wardrop’s fantastic documentary His & Hers from 2009 as The Irish Pub follows a similar vein as it allows the people to tell the story. Denis Clohessy also composed the music for His & Hers and is used here by Fegan to similar effect.
Originally a solicitor, Fegan certainly has an eye for cinema. The way he composes or blocks the shot is fantastic, almost painting a picture in some instances calling to mind the work of Edward Hopper. He has some brilliant canvases to work with and has selected the country’s most unique pubs. Grocery shops on the other side of the bar, funeral homes around the back, snugs and thatched roofs will all be found within.
It’s a pity the film comes so soon after the advent of Arthur’s Day when people aren’t looking too fondly on the drinking culture or its producers. The film at times does come across as an advertising campaign for Guinness with barely a shot passing without a pint of the black stuff being consumed. However we must take Fegan at his word when he informs us how he simply went around the country asking could he interview the proprietors and that no one, bar his family and friends were aware of the project.
The Irish Pub is a great achievement if only for the fact that it captures a range of Irish characters that so many of us will recognise. A whole raft of society has been committed to the annals of history. It could perhaps have taken a look at the more serious side of pub life. In rural communities the pub is a lifeline for older people, especially men and with the enforcement of the smoking ban it has seen their numbers dwindle. The fact is that with tough economic times most people are opting to stay at home drinking with friends, only frequenting the establishment at the end of the night due to expensive pub prices. There is no mention either of our unhealthy relationship with drink, thus giving a slightly rose-tinted view of the pub culture in Ireland. This is of course the director’s prerogative and having listened to his Q&A he seems like a very positive upbeat individual.
The director either intentionally or unwittingly catches a number of somewhat washed out looking souls staring off into the middle distance perhaps lamenting a misspent life. Shots like these give a glimpse of what the documentary might have been like if some of the meatier issues with drink were tackled, but I suppose if that is what you are looking for just go and watch Garage again.
Released in Ireland on October 4th 2013 at the Lighthouse, Movies at Dundrum and select cinemas nationwide (click to see where at irishpubfilm.com)