With Liam Ahern, Garry Cusack, Bobby Blackwell, Vincent “Jasper” Murphy, and Dano Mackey; Written and directed by Alex Fegan; No MPAA Rating (not really for kids)
If you spend as much time hanging out in bars as I do, you probably won’t find many surprises in THE IRISH PUB, director Alex Fegan’s disarming documentary about this most venerable of institutions. You’ll also probably find it delightful.
Fegan’s approach is simplicity itself. Over the course of a year or so, he brought a single camera to twenty-three public houses all over the Emerald Isle. Conversations ensued.
Sticking to family-run businesses that have been passed down through at least three generations, Fegan engages the owners as they hold court behind the bar. You won’t see any televisions or jukeboxes here, just a lot of droll, oft-told tales and a beguiling spirit of community. While Boston’s most famous watering hole was where everybody knows your name, Ireland’s counterparts are wryly described by one bartender as “where you can go and not be interrupted except by everybody.”
There’s a lot of history here, and I’m not just talking about the centuries-old flagstone floors. We see the booth where Mary Robinson was allegedly persuaded to run for President, hear legends of everyone from James Joyce to Noel Redding of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and of course Brendan Behan stories abound–none of them ending well. A good deal of this may very well be blarney, but who cares when the yarns are delivered with such practiced panache?
Fegan favors straight-on shots from a patron’s point-of-view, occasionally interrupted by thirsty afternoon customers. It’s a relaxed, unassuming picture that breezes by in a slight seventy-five minutes, pausing once in awhile for a song before heading out for another pint in another town.
I suppose more could have been made about the darker side of the demon drink and a people stereotypically susceptible to it, but “The Irish Pub” just isn’t that kind of movie. It’s an endearing, affectionate snapshot of a fading way of life, of places where strangers from ages eighteen to eighty can still stop for a friendly chat on their way home from wherever, taking comfort in conversation and company.
“There’s enough things changing in the world,” explains one of the owners, “we’ll try to keep it the same as it was.”
Such nostalgia may be overly rosy, but given that I stopped off for a beer after the movie and found a tavern full of folks staring silently at their phones, the sentiment is awfully appealing.•••
Over the past fifteen years Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and RogerEbert.com. He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.