Monthly Archives: September 2013

Stout with the old…

It's not you Arthur. It's us.

It’s not you Arthur.
It’s us.

GUINNESS is Irish?

Pull the other one. The other tap that is. The one that contains lager.

Because the stout is off.

If, as predicted by some, drunken hordes stumble around Dublin tomorrow most won’t be fuelled by the black stuff.

Most of them will be putting back lager and/or wine. Or vodka. Or a cocktail of the above.

They’re less and less likely to be sinking pints of stout.

Which is why, in a roundabout way, the country’s spent the past week getting very animated about Arthur Guinness Day.

Diageo, who own Guinness and pack a hefty marketing punch, want to reverse the drinking trend.

For the past five years they’ve sponsored music events around the world, a commemoration based on a ruse based on the Guinness founder’s birthday.

This year’s no different, except there’s more outrage in the mix.

From doctors to folksingers, Government ministers to irked pub regulars, the backlash has been considerable.

A lot of ungrateful Irish are refusing the invite to Arthur’s birthday bash.

Nonetheless pints will be raised at 17.59 tomorrow, and A&E admissions will, it’s claimed, rise by a third this evening.

All a-board? Pic: Dean Molyneaux

All a-board?
Pic: Dean Molyneaux

Then, glasses washed, tills cleared and hangovers underway Ireland will rise tomorrow and get on with it.

The to-ing and fro-ing surrounding Arthur’s Day will peter out in the coming days, as most discussions of Ireland’s drinking do, until the next crisis is reported.

And Guinness will resume it place as the top of taps, as planned. Right?

Yeah right.

Whether or not we see Arthur’s Day again, or a variation of it, the stricken love affair between the Irish and their ‘national drink’ is unlikely to be repaired anytime soon.

Sales of Guinness in Ireland were down five per cent in the year to June last and are expected to fall further. “Another very tough year,” is the official Guinness line.

Pub-owners in Ireland might describe it in less charitable terms. Sales in Ireland have been falling since 2008 and show no signs of stopping.

The Guinness Storehouse may be Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction but most of the 40m pints Diageo plans to pump out each year at the adjacent St James’ Gate facility won’t be sipped anywhere near the Liffey, they’ll be sent abroad.

The brand remains a behemoth in Ireland, no doubt. One in three pints sold here is a Guinness.

Calling time? Guinness drinkers in its heyday.

Calling time? Guinness drinkers in the stout’s heyday.

But the problem – for Diageo – is that the Irish are drinking less and less of these pints, and frequenting less and less bars.

A generation have done the once-unthinkable – they’ve called time on the Irish pub. Bars here closing at the rate of almost one a day, according to the drinks’ industry.

The Irish haven’t stopped drinking though. We’re just doing it at home. And not with Guinness.

If Arthur’s Day continues – despite this year’s controversy – it risks becoming more and more of an anomaly – a rare day when Irish pubs are actually full of drinkers.

In a decade’s time the occasion may be seen as less of a public order or health menace and more a quaint reminder of the way we used to do things, way back when.

Arthur? Who was he?

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What a dead Romantic taught me about running

Percy Shelley. Not known for his jogging prowess.

Percy Shelley. Not known for his jogging prowess.

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like an exhausted jogger,
Dodging dog deposits on Amiens Street.

Percy Shelley didn’t write those last two lines. But his Ode To The West Wind is just about histrionic enough to cover most runners’ reaction to the gusts that blew through Dublin earlier this week.

Which one of us, buffeted with the breeze while dodging the wing mirror of a passing bus, hasn’t lifet out face to the heavens and proclaimed:

Thou dirge of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might
Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!

No? Maybe it’s just me.

A summer of relative jogging calm came to a breezy end this week when the arrival of the first winds of Autumn, something I dread.

O uncontrollable!

O uncontrollable!

Hail? Fire? Black rain? I’ll take all of that – anything but wind. And much of my running is done near the coast, meaning I get the full, squally whack of it each morning.

This has transformed the gentle draughts of summer to blustery, gait-wrecking bursts. It’s a breath of Autumn that lingers through winter to Spring. And sometimes beyond.

It chills the bones (and more), adds minutes to my times and, over 10k, helps deliver rain to every last crevice.

But, like Canute manically ranting at the surf, shaking my sweaty fist at the latest passing Atlantic low pressure is pointless.

Shelley, not noted for his jogging prowess, nonetheless has advice.

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share
The impulse of thy strength, only less free Than thou, O Uncontrollable!

In others words run with the wind.

Who said the Romantics have nothing to teach us in the post-industrial age?

Next week – Wordsworth’s top five stretching tips.


Postscript: He may not have been a runner but Shelley’s outdoor pursuits, combined with the wind, eventually proved his undoing. Three years after he wrote Ode To The West Wind his sailing boat encountered a storm in the Ligurian Sea, off northern Italy, in July 1822. The poet and two companions were drowned.

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My one-off culture diet? It was mainly Bacon

Stepping out. Art installation, O'Connell Street, Dublin. Pic: Lisa Jarvis

Stepping out. Art installation, O’Connell Street.
Pic: Lisa Jarvis

I WONDER what the Dublin I came to as a young student in the 1990s would have made of Culture Night.

The city of 1995 had a different attitude to public displays of culture than nowadays.

It was a town where you didn’t stroll around Smithfield at night; if you did you weren’t seeking out an exhibition space.

Culture may have been abundant but it certainly wasn’t public. Or at least I don’t remember it that way, unless you counted the raggle taggle leftovers busking their way to obscurity on Grafton Street.

The idea of 190 venues throwing open their doors to all and any comers for the night was unheard of. Maybe that happened in New York but not in pre-Celtic Tiger Dublin.

I mean, who’d go to the pubs then?

Maybe I did wander into a gallery from time to time back, if only to warm up my shivering student bones in winter.

When I hit the town in those days it was usually to the Mean Fiddler or the Buttery Bar in Trinity College with whatever student cash I could muster.

Times change, of course. The arrival of the Celtic Tiger meant some parts of the city were cleaned up, if not completely rebuilt.

Places like Smithfield were now, at the very least, lit up at night, meaning a trip to the The Cobblestone didn’t involve an encounter with wallet-grabbing youths.

I moved on likewise. One too many Mark E. Smith shows can have that effect.

So did Dublin.

Upwards of 160,000 people turned out on Culture Night last year, we’re told.

If you walk around the city centre next Friday night you’ll encounter many of these people again, outnumbering the usual nightly mix of tourists, pub-goers, shift workers and the homeless.

I joined the Culture Night hordes for the first – and only – time in 2010, when a date and I visited, among other venues, the Hugh Lane Gallery.


A taste of culture…and romance. Francis Bacon’s Three Studies.
Pic: Tate, London

I nervously tried to impress her as we chatted beneath the gut-wrenching violence of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies For Figures At The Base Of A Crucifixion.

There are more romantic places to hold such conversations I’m sure.

I haven’t stepped out on Culture Night since.

The event has obviously gone from strength to strength in my absence though. This year will see a concert orchestra perform in Meeting House Square, an event which risks being upstaged (in my mind at least) by a clown choir in Blanchardstown.

There’s food in The Church, or of tea at the house of The Dead, among dozens of other options.

Throw in standing in the rain for a Nightlink bus and you’ve covered about everything Friday night Dublin has to offer.

As for me I’d planned to hit the Culture Night trail again last year but it clashed with another major event – I was getting married that day.

And the girl who stood beneath the Bacon that night?

She was my bride.

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Death of a conversationalist

My one and only encounter with a Nobel Prize winner involved a glass of red wine, a newspaper and ten minutes of complete silence.

Non distube. Seamus Heaney. Pic: Simon Garbutt

Non distube. Seamus Heaney.
Pic: Simon Garbutt

What’s more, I doubt my presence even registered with Seamus Heaney.

This brief brush with literary greatness occurred when the poet walked into the Swan Bar on Aungier Street on a summer evening three years ago.

We tell visitors that Dublin is the sort of city where you casually come across giants of world literature sitting in old pubs.

Of course this hasn’t been the case since Brendan Behan keeled over in the Harbour Lights bar half a century ago.

That’s what made this night unique – there I was sitting minding my own business beside Seamus Heaney, sitting minding his own business.

Not a word was exchanged. Perhaps Heaney was deep in thought grappling with issues of metre or rhyme. Or opting for cheese and onion over salt and vinegar.

A cascade of tributes to the poet in the past week mentioned his humility, his approachability and open nature.

I encountered none of this. But I didn’t encounter the opposite.

I didn’t strike up a conversation about the weather or dig out a pen for a hasty autograph.

The Swan Bar, Aungier Street, Dublin. Pic: Google Maps

The Swan Bar, Aungier Street, Dublin.
Pic: Google Maps

He didn’t remark on the front page story or ask about the merlot dwindling in my glass.

I wasn’t really that interested in chitchat and neither was the Nobel Prize winner.

And so Heaney sat quietly, arms folded, heels on the floor, awaiting the arrival of friends, while I perched, shuffling newspaper pages and clockwatching, until the time came to meet a pal.

The nine o’clock news broke the silence, probably.

And that was it. My face-to-face encounter with a giant of modern literature.

And the least enlightening Seamus Heaney anecdote you’ll read this week.

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