Tourists worldwide flock to Ireland to visit our pubs and experience having a pint while celebrities and even foreign heads of state name-drop loving a pint of the black stuff – but how did this culture surrounding pints become such a phenomenon?

In A Compendium of Irish Pints: the Culture, Customs and Craic, author Ali Dunworth explores just that. She delves into the origins of having a pint as the cultural institution that it has become. Starting with the birth of beer and travelling through Ireland’s unique journey from the Brehon Laws to invasions, Ali shares why ‘going for a pint’ means so much more.

The idea

“As a journalist and food writer, I felt I always wanted to write a book, but I didn’t ever feel it would be in the cookbook space – I’m not a recipe writer,” says Ali.

“It was a matter of finding a subject [for a book] that was something I loved and that I thought I had something to say about. However, ironically, the idea for this book came about over pints.

“I was at another book launch in Cork, JR Ryall’s cookbook Ballymaloe Desserts, and I was sitting with Kristin Jensen [publisher, Nine Bean Rows], and a few other industry people. The launch was such a fabulous occasion with canapés and Champagne and cocktails.

“Over in the corner of the room, there was a bar serving pints of Guinness. I made a comment, that sort of turned into a rant – about how it is always good practice to serve pints over in the corner because no matter where you are, you find all the fun people drinking the pints. I carried on my monologue about my love for pints, of people who drink pints… and Kristin said to me, ‘this is the book’.”

The culture

“I’m not a historian, but I’ve written a pint-sized history of drinking in Ireland in the book,” says Ali. “Having a pint has always been part of our culture, and it is so culturally significant to us. There are reasons having a pint in Ireland is totally different to England that date back to the Brehon Laws, when we had a legal obligation to be hospitable.

Ali Dunworth with her new book. \ Claire Nash

“One of the reasons I wanted to write the book is that the culture at the moment is pretty spectacular. In pubs across the country, you always find a mixture of young and old people. I wanted to capture that, as it is now, because it’s different than it was 10 years ago and it’s going to be different again 10 years from now. It’s unique at the moment.

“I also think the pandemic had something to do with the rise in popularity of going for pints because people realised that what we missed had nothing to do with alcohol – we could still drink at home, if we wanted – we missed the convivial nature of getting together. That massively helped the reputation of having pints, in a way.”

Gaelic revival

While we might have always appreciated the pint culture here at home, it has not been lost on visitors, including celebrities like such as Paul Rudd, Jason Momoa and TV personality Conan O’Brien all declaring their love of Ireland and having a pint, and often taking to social media to post about it.

“We’ve always had celebrities drinking Guinness and I have a chapter in the book about that,” says Ali. “It was really funny to research and see how many American presidents have come here over the years and had a pint as part of their visits.

“I do think social media has played a big part in spreading the love of pints. They are so delicious and, for example, a pint of Guinness is so aesthetically pleasing in a picture that everyone shares them. However, this all has to go hand in hand with the fact that Ireland is having its moment. Being Irish is cool right now.

“People are embracing their Irishness more. We’re having a Gaelic revival, from people wanting to speak Irish to a general sense of pride about our culture with pints being a part of that.”

Occasional pints

A Compendium of Irish Pints is split up into chapters that explore everything imaginable around pint culture, from etiquette to complimentary pub food, and from cans versus pints to all the occasions that we might associate with having them.

“The two main ones [occasions] that I think epitomise what the book is about are weddings and funerals,” says Ali. “I’ve never experienced those without a pint, nor can I imagine it. Maybe a funeral is less so, you might not always go to a pub after one, but when you do, they are some of my favourite pints.

“I don’t know why, but I think it’s because you’re sitting there talking about somebody who is gone and you’re celebrating them. You get to talk to a cousin or neighbour you haven’t seen in years. It’s really nice. Those pints are not about alcohol, or getting drunk, at all, they’re about being together to celebrate a person.

“Weddings are the same – there’s something about those first few giddy, celebratory pints of the day. You know that pint you have where, as a guest, you might sneak off before the church, or after the church, or the really sneaky in-between ones,” she says, laughing.

“There is something about those two occasions that is just so special and uniquely Irish. I’ve been to weddings in other countries and people wouldn’t necessarily stand around drinking pints, but in Ireland, it’s such a done thing. You can picture it.

“Another uniquely Irish moment at weddings is the bride and groom taking pint photos, or the bride and her father sneaking one in for a photo on the way to the church, which is so lovely.

“Pint photos with the bridal party or all the guests in a group photo and everyone shouting ‘cheers’ or ‘slainté’. I think it’s nice to see.”

While those are the two bigger occasions covered, Ali has also written about all the religious occasions. “Because we will use any excuse, for example, wetting the baby’s head, and communions and confirmations – you’ll always find places to go and have pints.

“Unplanned ones are definitely the best. If someone says to you, ‘Do you want to go for a pint?’ It could mean anything. It’s so open-ended. If you go for a pint, anything could happen.”

Popping up

Ali plans on taking the book on tour around Ireland and abroad. Illustrations are by Stephen Heffernan, aka Hephee and the two of them are planning pop-up events including Ballymaloe Food Festival, Beyond the Pale, All Together Now, and Theatre of Food at Electric Picnic. Follow Ali on Instagram to keep up to date with news of tour dates: @alidunworth.

A Compendium of Irish Pints’ by Ali Dunworth is published by Nine Bean Rows and illustrated by Stephen Heffernan. Available from all good bookshops and online at, €14.99

Ali’s perfect pub recommendations

Any of the 16 Victorian pubs in Dublin are an absolute must: These include Toners, The Palace Bar and The Stag’s Head

A pub with a view: The Tin Pub, Ahakista, Co Cork; TP’s in Ballydavis, Co Kerry; Moran’s on the Weir, Kilcolgan, Co Galway

A pub that feels like a living museum: Sean’s Bar, Athlone, Co Westmeath; O’Shaughnessy’s, Glin, Co Limerick; The Gravedigger’s, Glasnevin, Dublin 9

A pub grocer: Foxy Johns, Dingle, Co Kerry; The Seven Wonders Pub, Fore, Co Westmeath

Pub towns (because they are naturally built for a little pub crawl) –Dingle, Co Kerry and Ennistymon, Co Clare

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