No need to stock up, the pubs are open after 90 years

Tomorrow, for the first time in nearly a century, Galwegians can join their fellow Irish citizens and, if they choose, head to the pub.

Good Friday, once a day of traditional solemnity to commemorate the death and crucifixion of Jesus in many Christian countries, is now viewed commercially like any other day on the calendar year.

The change in licensing laws means tomorrow's Good Friday is being treated as nothing special - just another ordinary day that precedes a long weekend - a perfect reason to relax and party. And under the licensing legislation, pubs' opening hours can even be extended on application to the District Court - as if there were not enough hours to open in the remainder of the year.

In 1960 the ban on St Patrick's Day was repealed due to commercial reasons and so this year Good Friday suffers the same fate - the joy and celebration of our national day is now somehow equated with the death of the most influential figure in Christianity. Maybe it is a sign of our pluralist times, and yes, going to the pub may not exactly be the antithesis of the solemnity traditionally practiced on Good Friday, but even agnostics or atheists may simply appreciate a day, like Christmas, that is treated just that little bit different, that little more special.

Donall O’Keeffe, chief executive of the LVA, and former Galway publican and now senator, Billy Lawless, were both adamant the law needed to be changed - O'Keeffe stating the "very negative signal to tourists and visitors, who are left baffled and disappointed by the measure". How many tourists to Germany, New Zealand, the Middle East, the South Pacific may be left baffled by all kinds of restrictions that are placed on the sale of alcohol? In Chicago, for example, liquor licences are not permitted within 100ft of a library, church, school, hospital, or home for the aged, and certain precincts have been voted “dry” through a local option referendum.

In many countries Good Friday remains both a religious and statutory public holiday so schools, government offices and many businesses are closed. The change is another disintegration of tradition being driven for commercial reasons, and there will be a sense of sadness for some who cherish such traditions. Longer weekend holidays such as Easter allow time for family and communities to gather and hold events - such opportunities are becoming rare today.

Thus it will be interesting to see how the new laws are implemented by pub owners. Some may be under financial pressure to open; others in small areas may not see the benefit. Will we see an urban/rural divide?

If you were to ask a school child what is Easter all about, most of them would probably say Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny - such is the move towards a more secular society. We also know the pub has always held a special place in the social lives of Irish communities - in 1924 - 27 the ratio of pubs to people in England was one for every 415 of the population, in Scotland one for 695, and in Ireland one for 263. So there are some traditions that have not changed, and Easter, for so long the original long weekend, still remains so - pub opening or not.


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