The 1971 battle for real ale was won and we are building tourism with our pint!


A Campaign For Real Ale march in the UK in 1973.
A Campaign For Real Ale march in the UK in 1973.


By David Syms

IN 1971 I was living in London and being a Smithwicks drinker, when I went to the pub, I would opt for a pint of bitter.

My tipple of choice was mostly lukewarm Watneys Red Barrel, as it was the most popular pint of the day.

It was pretty awful stuff to be honest but the choice was very limited and the locals were restless.

They wanted change, they wanted real ale and so it began.

There were street protests and letters handed in to Downing Street, as the call for pint progression took hold.

It all came to a head on the British August Bank Holiday weekend, when there was a march from Trafalgar Square to Covent Garden, where there was a real ale festival, which paraded beers from small breweries from across England.

It seemed the voice of the micro-brewers was to be heard, but the time was not night – for the big brewers were too strong and owned too many pubs.  They shouted the little man down.

Life intervened and I spent my working life in Dublin drinking Smithwicks in my down time, not really giving much thought to the real ale debate, which had raged on in the UK.
Breweries were rapidly moving out of the industry and pubs closed due to a combination of price and drink-driving laws.
A traditional Irish pub: Maguires in Moville, Inishowen, Co Donegal.
A traditional Irish pub: Maguires in Moville, Inishowen, Co Donegal.
The companies that now owned the largest pub groups seemed often more interested in selling food than beer and lager had become the drink of choice by a new generation.
Lagers from Europe were becoming popular and it seemed the day of the indie drinker and brewer, would never come.
Those who wanted to stick to bitter were left to drink John Smiths as Watneys was long gone but that was not the end of the story.
In recent years beers were produced from micro breweries, suddenly springing up in the UK and Ireland.
There were even large breweries getting in on the act, with London Pride and Rebel Red coming on stream.
It seemed that these beers might fall by the wayside as more and more pubs closed and people began to ditch the pub to drink at home as recession took hold and supermarkets offered cheaper alternatives.
I, like many, was not a comfortable home drinker.
Wasn’t one of the main reason for enjoying a tipple – and of course not to excess – to switch off, relax in a social environment.
Think Cheers – Where Everybody Knows Your Name…they sure do at home too, but somehow, on an evening of ‘me’ time, the sofa and TV don’t have the same sense of fun.
Local pubs were disappearing from many landscapes, replaced by unsightly sports bars, blasting out the TV I had tried to leave at home, with the sofa.
Then there were the super-pubs, which preferred to boom loud dance music and serve curries.
Call me old, but the pubs, where I had joined my friends for a catch-up, were dying out along with the jukeboxes we had once enjoyed swaying ever so gently to on occasion.
TV and loud music was drowning out conversation and the revellers were becoming younger and younger.
I yearned for the days when pub food consisted of a sandwich, pork pie or a pickled egg.
Of course everything that was bad about these super pubs was blamed on the smoking ban which seemed to have knocked the pubs in England for six.
Pub owners were desperate, trying to find ways around the end of an era, and more importantly, their income.
In Ireland before the ban, everyone thought it would be ignored, but, of course, that theory was proved wrong.
Irish pubs enforced the smoking ban but provided places for smokers to go with cover and heaters.
The smoking ban was rolled out across pubs in the UK and Ireland.
The smoking ban was rolled out across pubs in the UK and Ireland.
And bizarrely, some loved the new danger of the ban, as new friends were made in these smoking dens and many a love story began.
And hey, our drinking intellect was growing with the death of the cigarette.
We could get cans and bottles of craft beers and there was an attempt to make proper beer on tap like Rebel Red.
Pubs started to brew their own beer, which not only kept premises open, but increased business as tasting events were staged.
Customers were shown round breweries for as little as €5, with a pint thrown in at the end of tours.
The tourists loved our new romance with beer and so did the locals.
Pubs were becoming pubs again, with real ale on tap and real people, asking for the TV to be turned off or even removed.
I now live in Baltimore, West Cork and my ‘local,’ Casey’s of Baltimore, is a hotel with the perfect bar.
Dominic Casey and his friends, Henry Thornhill and Kevin Waugh, came up with the idea of starting a micro-brewery in the basement of the pub, ready for the summer season, earlier this year.
It was a great idea and they now brew two beers, Roaring Ruby, a dark red ale and a pale ale, Sherkin Lass.
The local real ale fans are happy, but the tourists are also impressed.  And tourism is, after all, the lifeblood of this community.
Jobs have been created and profits increased with T-shirts, glasses, baseball caps etc on sale.
My own daughter’s partner, in Brisbane, Australia, will receive a T-shirt from the brewery this Christmas.
When the chips were down and the local economy was suffering, industrious people like Dominic Casey, took a chance and created something which brought something vibrance once again to a village, struggling in post-recession Ireland.
And Mr Casey is not alone.
There are a string of micro-breweries across the Wild Atlantic Way, running along some of the most beautiful coasts in the world, starting in Donegal and going down the west coast and finishing at the idyllic corner of Kinsale.
The route is more than 2,000 kilometers and there are so many breweries, and small, independent pubs, to see during our holidays.
The Wild Atlantic Way offers fans of real ale a tasty and scenic journey. No driving though!!!
The Wild Atlantic Way offers fans of real ale a tasty and scenic journey. No driving though!!!
Those of us who thought it was a grand idea to march for the Campaign For Real Ale all those years ago as Punk was born, and carried this romantic notion in our hearts, have won the battle in the end.
The UK and Ireland are united on this issue at least.  We are two drinking pals, buddies, who sit side-by-side in the Irish sea, representing the indie drinker and indie business.
So this weekend, hold your pint aloft and enjoy a chat with the fella or lady beside you.
Here are some of the micro breweries that you can visit on you trips down the Wild Atlantic Way:
Kinnegar Brewing, Rathmullan, Donegal.
Donegal Brewing, Ballyshannon.
The White Hag, Ballymote,Co Sligo.
Reel Deel,Crossmolina,Co Mayo.
West Mayo Brewery, Islandeady, Co Mayo.
Mescan Brewery, Westport Co Mayo.
Independent, Carraroe, Co Galway.
Galway Hooker, Oranmore, Co Galway.
Galway Bay Brewery, Ballybrit Upper, Co Galway.
Dingle Brewing, Dingle, Co Kerry.
West Kerry Brewery, Ballyferriter, Co Kerry.
West Cork Brewing Co, Baltimore, Co Cork.
Blacks of Kinsale, Kinsale Co Cork.

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