Famed around the world for Guinness and whiskey, Ireland has a well-deserved reputation as a place to enjoy a drink or six. Every town and hamlet has at least one pub, usually several, and a visit to one or more is the best way to get a handle on what makes the country tick.
The traditional Irish pub is often the hub of a community, whether urban or rural, a meeting place and venue for quiz nights and live music. What makes the Irish pub scene unique is the survival of the 'spirit grocery', a combined pub and grocer's shop that emerged in the 19th century when a growing temperance movement forced many pub landlords to diversify their businesses in order to remain solvent.
These places are found all over Ireland, and usually have a bar counter on one side and a general store counter on the other, a combination that has engendered the international image of the Irish pub as littered with old signs and bric-a-brac. There are pubs today where you can buy a bag of nails, a tin of peas or a pair of wellies as well as a pint, and others that encompass more unusual businesses, notably McCarthy's in Fethard, County Tipperary, which famously combines the functions of pub, restaurant and undertaker (motto: 'we wine you, dine you, and bury you').
In the last decade there has been a swing away from the big international brands – even Guinness is now part of the multinational Diageo drinks group – in favour of beers made by small, local breweries – so-called 'craft beers'. Many of these have their own pubs, or even combine pub and brewery in one place.