When you’re living abroad, there’s nothing like a sense of the familiar to make you feel like you’ve got a piece of home wherever you are.
So it’s no wonder the heady smells, dark wood and brass décor and Guinness on tap - the hallmarks of an Irish bar - provide a welcome haven for Irish expats. Irish pubs are also the go-to hangouts for travellers and locals keen for a bit of fun, conviviality and comfort.
From Nigeria to China, Jamaica to Romania, you’ll find an Irish pub in most cities you travel to, whether it’s got sawdust on the floor and a cosy snug... or is bedecked with sparkly shamrocks and lots of neon signage.
“The Irish pub globally is almost always the first port of call for Irish abroad looking for a friendly face, but it also often acts as an auxiliary tourist office for Ireland,” says Colm O’Reilly, CEO of the 8,000-member strong Irish Pubs Global Federation.
“Many people worldwide often get their first experience of Irish culture in an Irish bar, and that’s why it’s important that Irish pubs adhere to a high quality of food and drink offering.”
The best thing about Irish pubs abroad (in our view)? Blow-ins (aka travellers and tourists) are ALWAYS welcome.
“Culturally in America, everyone’s Irish on St. Paddy’s day. There are 20,000 people on the streets outside the pub.”
Niall Hanley is kind of a big deal in the world of Irish pubs. Make that huge deal. A native of County Mayo, he’s been living in the USA for 27 years, first arriving in Boston and then moving to North Carolina 23 years ago.
He’s the owner of multiple food and drink venues, including the The Hibernian Irish Pub & Restaurant (which has two locations in Raleigh, NC) as well as the Raleigh Beer Garden, which holds the rather fabulous world record for most varieties of beer on tap. The Hibernian will celebrate its 19th year next May.
“The funny thing is when we opened it was hard to find out if there were a lot of Irish people where we were,” says Niall. “Sure enough, you open a pub and they come out of the woodwork.”
Although Niall is firmly rooted in North Carolina, he is still very much connected to Ireland: each year, J1 visa students from Ireland come to work in the pub, and Niall often travels back to the Emerald Isle for work or to visit his many siblings, nieces and nephews.
He also brings the best of local Irish culture to the pub when possible, from weekly live sporting matches (Irish hurling with County Mayo trying, and failing, to win the All-Ireland Football!) to flying Irish bluegrass group JigJam to the US to perform at the International Bluegrass Music Association Conference and Festival in Raleigh, which will see lots of Irish bluegrass fans make the pilgrimage to NC.
Niall also spreads his Irish influence to the local community, sponsoring local rugby and GAA teams.
“The funny thing about a pub is there’s all types of pubs all over the world, in every corner of the world. The beauty of an Irish pub is the people: the staff, and the people it brings in,” he says.
For Niall, Irish pub culture is all about building camaraderie and relationships.
“We’re responsible for hundreds of weddings and thousands of pregnancies, I’m sure.”
“I drank in bars in the city for 11 years and nobody asked me my name. The difference here is that people are asking.”
Irish pub owner Fergus Duffy has been living in Krakow, Poland, for the past 11 years, having also lived abroad in Spain and Corfu prior to that. He originally hails from the Irish coast 20 kilometres north of Dublin and opened his own pub, Duffy’s Irish Bar, about a year ago, having run bars in Krakow, Spain and Greece previously.
He describes Duffy’s as the “sort of bar I’d like to go to” and a place that “feels like home.” Located about 25 minutes from the city centre in Krakow’s Jewish quarter, Fergus built the 80-seater bar with himself and the local area in mind, rather than the stag and hen party set.
“What makes an Irish bar is that when people come to a city, they know someone will speak English in an Irish bar. I don’t care if you’re American or English or Scottish or Welsh - they do find us,” Fergus says, explaining that he often is a concierge of sorts referring tourists to the best restaurants and marking up local maps to give customers the rundown of the city.
Polish locals mix with the Irish, Scottish and English, and the pub’s cosy atmosphere - with a fire lit in winter, sports on the telly (with commentary in English) and live music three times a week - helps to make it a great meeting point for long-term dwellers and those just passing through Krakow for a few days.
When it comes to connecting back home, Fergus Skypes his mum every other day, and travels around to neighbouring countries to buy products for the pub which can’t be found easily in the city. Budweiser in particular is hard to come by...
In the past several months, Duffy’s has quickly become a real connecting point and community hub for foreigners in Krakow.
“For a while after the last Irish bar shut down in the city, people had no regular place to meet on Saturdays for the soccer or Sundays for the Gaelic football. For the expats, it’s a great meeting place.”
“A good Irish pub is a place where you can throw your whiskey glass after the guy who spilled his Guinness over your pie and then sing along with the band - without getting judged by the bartender who’s also your psychologist and best friend.”
“I basically carry the pub culture in my heart,” says Joanne (Jo) Simpson, the manager of restaurant and bar, The Drunken Leprechaun, in Bangkok, Thailand. She is the daughter of English parents and has worked in pubs in the UK and Switzerland before arriving in Asia. She uses social media apps to communicate with friends and family back home, sharing life’s visual moments via Facebook and Instagram. Jo calls her mother once a week to keep her updated on the latest.
“Thailand was never a conscious decision for me,” Jo explains. “I came here during my travels and made a decision to stay here. Three-and-a-half years later, I am one of only a few women managing a pub in Bangkok.”
For Jo, it’s clear that the combination of great beer, delicious comfort food, fair prices and Irish hospitality and friendliness is what makes the appeal of the Irish pub so universal. To get a sense of The Drunken Leprechaun, conjure up an image of a cosy, homely atmosphere, with catchy live music shows and some staple Irish decor touches to set the mood (think pictures of GAA stars and framed rugby jerseys).
“An Irish pub is a place where you always kind of feel at home, or at least never alone, no matter where in the world you are,” Jo says.
“Now, the reason why I love what I do is because I make people’s most valuable time, their free time, more fun,” she says. Here in Bangkok, I meet people from all over the world, rather than just locals like when I’m back home.
“My guests have so many amazing life stories and it is just wonderful to see how happy someone gets by finding a Guinness on the other side of the world!”
“We offer the warmth of home on foreign soil for all to enjoy.
For those wondering if the Irish pub movement has landed in the Middle East, it most definitely has. In the UAE, Dubai’s Fibber Magee’s is a favourite with financial industry expats as well as travellers passing through the city.
According to Justin Combrink, catering manager at the pub (and a native of South Africa), one of the keys to the pub’s success is its relaxed, authentic and inviting atmosphere, which draws an interesting clientele from all walks of life. That and the free Wi-Fi on offer - perfect for clients keen to connect to family and friends back home through WhatsApp, or for those who need to send a quick and easy international money transfer with a few taps on their phone.
Fibber’s not only caters to pub guests with tasty food and drink, Irish and international sports screenings and easy banter, it extends that atmosphere to the community beyond, sponsoring local schools and rugby teams with uniforms, kit and trophies.
The pub also showcases another important aspect of the Irish pub scene: trad sessions, where traditional Irish music is played live for patrons - expats, locals and tourists - to enjoy.
“The first Saturday of every month, Fibber’s invites any local Irish folk musician to come partake in a cultural explosion of traditional Irish music in our infamous jam session,” Justin says.
Sláinte! We drink to that!
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