Every Saturday night in Dublin, hundreds of young locals and tourists from Dublin’s myriad hotels go looking for the craic. What’s craic, you ask, and where can you find it? It seems like so many other answers to questions posed to Dubliners, no one can fully define it. To some it’s having fun. To others it’s music. To still others it’s both. But whatever it is, it’s a time-honored Irish tradition.
Mighty craic — that’s the good stuff — can usually be found in one of the 700 or so pubs, or public house in Dublin. The level of craic varies according to the type of pub you visit. Good craic is always social. In the local pub, the focal point of each Irish community — the secular counterbalance to the church — you’ll find a comradery that seems to be made more for the Irish, themselves, than for outsiders. Irish pubs welcome everyone, including children. Each has a family atmosphere, unlike bars in other countries where children aren’t allowed.
The focus of the local pub is a pint of Guinness, the traditional Irish brew that’s been around since the mid 18th century. And don’t think that Guinness is Irish just because it’s brewed in Ireland. It seems there’s a direct connection to St. Patrick, the country’s patron saint. During the 5th century, St. Patrick used the water from a series of wells in his rituals. The one called St. James’s well fed into the Grand Canal which later became the source of water for Guinness. It was this pure water that many believed to be the secret ingredient in Guinness stout.
Arthur Guinness opened the St. James’s Gate brewery in 1759 at the age of 34. He must of had a sense that his brew would become popular because he signed a 9,000-year lease for the building. To learn more about Guinness, visit the Guinness Storehouse, a museum devoted to the company’s history. Here, you’ll learn how Guinness is brewed. That’s important if you want to enjoy an evening of good craic. You’ll also learn what ‘pulling a pint’ is all about. In the world of Guinness, that’s an art.
Craic may have begun one day when Sir Hugh Beaver, the Managing Director of Guinness in the 1950s., went bird hunting and missed his shot. Later that evening he got into a discussion as to which game bird flew the fastest, which gave him the idea of compiling a book of facts that would serve as a definitive reference book, the now famous Guinness Book of World Records. This book has helped settle debates raging in over 81,000 pubs scattered throughout Britain and Ireland. Ironically, the editors of the first edition left out the fastest flying game bird.
While the local pub is the neighborhood hangout for Dubliners, it’s the dozen or so singing pubs scattered throughout the city, and near to many Dublin hotels, that provide the best craic — a night of great entertainment. Your feet won’t be able to stop tapping well after you leave one of these establishments. Each features one to three singers and musicians, playing guitar and violins, who perform folk songs and ballads after 9 P.M. and on Sundays from 11:30 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. in summer. You’ll hear songs like ‘Molly Malone,’ and ‘Evergreen,’ the two most popular. Admission is low with no surcharge on drinks. Some of the top singing pubs include the Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest, dating from the 17th century, O’Donoghue’s, Davy Byrnes, of Ulysses fame, Slattery’s, and the Auld Dubliner. All get crowded, so you’ll have to book your seats in advance.
Before settling in for the evening’s entertainment at one of the singing pubs, you may want to do a pub crawl through Dublin’s Temple Bar district, a maze of narrow winding streets on the south side of the city center that run up from the bank of the River Liffey on what was the site of a 10th-century Viking settlement, named after Sir William Temple, the provost of Trinity College in the 17th century. Initially planned as Dublin’s cultural quarter in the 1980s, today it overflows with trendy restaurants and pubs. Here, the craic is mighty.
End your tour at the most Victorian of all the pubs, The Stag’s Head, opened in 1770 and refurbished in 1895, where the warmth of wrought iron chandeliers shines through bottle-glass windows. Cozy up in a booth with red leather seats and enjoy a pint or two.
No matter how you look at it, craic is having a good time and that’s something Dubliners know all too well.