Culture and etiquette
Ireland likes to describe itself as the land of Cead Míle Fáilte (“a hundred thousand welcomes”), which you’ll often see inscribed on pubs, and that’s essentially true for most visitors. In terms of general etiquette, wherever you go, you’ll encounter the standard Irish greeting – an enquiry about your health (“How are you?” sometimes just abbreviated to “About you?” in parts of the North) and it’s reasonable to return the compliment. Also, if someone buys you a pint in a pub, then an even-handed gesture is to pay for the next round.
Children are very well received, though few places, including cafés, hotels and many key attractions, are actually designed with them in mind. Baby supplies are readily available and most B&Bs and hotels welcome children, and an increasing number have cots. It’s usually fine to take a child into a pub during the daytime, though definitely not so legally in the Republic after 9pm.
Irish women’s economic and social status has much improved over the last couple of decades, with the Republic even outranking Germany and the Netherlands in terms of gender equality. Whether this progress has extended beyond the major cities is debatable, though, as rural areas often preserve entrenched sexist attitudes.
In terms of the travel experience, female visitors are unlikely to encounter problems. For all their charm and prodigious drinking, Irish men tend to be remarkably polite around women and the most you can expect is the odd cat call or drunken chat-up line. However, as with anywhere, if you’re travelling alone or to an unfamiliar area, it’s worth adopting a cautionary attitude, particularly when enjoying pubs and nightlife. In the rare case of experiencing a serious personal assault, it’s worth contacting either a rape crisis centre (t1800778888, w in Dublin, (t028/9032 9002, w in the North), or the Tourist Assistance Service (Mon–Fri t01/661 0562, Sat & Sun t01/666 8109, w), as local police forces are unlikely to be experienced in these situations.
The arrival of refugees and, latterly, large numbers of migrant workers over the last decade or so has undoubtedly shifted attitudes in the Republic towards those from other cultures and had a significant effect upon the population’s long-standing homogeneity. That being said, it’s still possible that black visitors will encounter racist attitudes at some point in their travels, especially in rural areas, but these are generally not threatening and usually the result of ignorance rather than intended to cause deliberate offence.
The situation is less optimistic in Northern Ireland where, especially in Belfast, Loyalist gangs have attempted to “cleanse” the city’s ethnic population, targeting mainly the Chinese and other Asian communities, and there have been several reported attacks on migrant workers across the region. Tourists, of whatever culture, are very rarely the victims of assaults.
Ireland also has its own recognized ethnic minority, the Travellers (widely known by a range of insulting epithets), against whom discrimination remains widespread, both North and South.
Gays and lesbians
Attitudes to gays and lesbians remain discriminatory amongst the general population (especially Northern Irish Protestants), and the gay community in Ireland keeps a low profile, the only “scene” largely concentrated on the nightlife of Belfast and Dublin. That said, in 2015 – 22 years after homosexuality was decriminalized in the Republic – a public referendum saw 62% of the Republic’s population vote in favour of the legalisation of gay marriage, with the law subsequently changed to reflect popular opinion. Away from the larger cities, however, public displays of affection may produce hostile verbal reactions, and many small-town and rural B&Bs will look askance at a pair of men wanting to share a bed for the night. Be aware that known cruising areas, such as Belfast’s Cave Hill and Dublin’s Phoenix Park, are often patrolled by the police.
The pub has long been at the centre of Irish society and the ready availability of alcohol has played a major part in the development of the national psyche and as a Muse to some of the country’s greatest writers (O’Brien, Kavanagh, Behan) and actors (Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole).
The Irish are amongst Europe’s heaviest drinkers, imbibing as a whole on average some twenty percent more than their continental European neighbours, and that’s despite the government’s heavy excise duties on drink. According to Alcohol Action Ireland, more than half of the population have harmful drinking patterns (40 percent of women and 70 percent of men) and binge-drinking, especially amongst the 18–25 age group, is a significant problem. Contrastingly, thanks to movements such as the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, around a fifth of the Irish population are teetotal.
However, consumption is gradually falling. Partly this reflects Ireland’s economic woes, which, in conjunction with the smoking ban and drink-driving legislation, have seen some 1500 licensed premises close in the last five years. The majority of these have been in rural areas, especially in the southwest, but towns and cities have suffered too.
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