Look of the Irish changed for the better

O' Neill's
O' Neill's
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Seems they’ve stopped engraving a shamrock into the head of your Guinness at O’Neill’s of late – a development which must come as a relief to us all.

I mean, it’s not as if this once ubiquitous finishing touch ever tended to over-much resemble said leaf.

Nine times out of 10 one wound up staring down at a bunch of cherries or an explicit anatomical doodle.

Happily, along with binning this reflex empty gesture, the Friargate pub, and presumably the whole O’Neill’s chain, has also (when I don’t know, being at best an intermitent visitor) jettisoned the attendant (and similarly vacuous) trappings of pantomime ‘Oirishness’.

Put simply, no more must every surface flat enough have a poster of a Guinness advert from 1925 slapped over it. A toucan squawking ‘Guinness is good for lumbago!’ at a flushed elderly gentleman sipping stout in a bath-chair, or similar.

Put another way, there’s still a bodhran in there – only now it’s out for playing rather than screwed to the wall.

Always a curious phenomena, to my mind, the mainland ‘Irish’ chain pub. Could never quite work out exactly who the target audience was.

After all, more or less every English town has historically had an Irish population large enough to sustain a pub or two with a sufficiently Irish clientele to be known as an Irish pub.

The Railway Hotel in Butler Street, for example, has been an Irish pub long as yours truly has been drinking in Preston, and presumably many years before, without once – to my knowledge – feeling the need to suspend a Celtic Harp from the rafters.

Barring GAA at weekends (and this only in the age of pub telly), all that once marked out the Irish pub was a good jukebox, a nice way with Europe’s finest black ale and a welcoming atmosphere (largely down to the heroic levels of stout consumed, it being a preparation prone to inducing much sleepy bonhomie).

In every other regard they were pubs. Just pubs. Like the pubs in Ireland. Pubs.

So who were the stereotypical interior design tics of your Waxy O’Connors, O’Neill’s, et al actually aimed at?

Irish holidaymakers?

Search me. In any case, what remains at O’Neill’s, with such nonsense cleared away, is a pub.

A decent pub. Comfortably dim, relaxed, cosy, ace rooftop smoking area, sport in some rooms, music in others, friendly staff, decent grub offer...

And a decent pint of Guinness.