Eric Roth,
with Eileen McNamara,
The Parting Glass:
A Toast to the
Traditional Pubs of Ireland

(Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2006)

I haven't spent enough of my life in Irish pubs.

I don't mean Irish pubs in America, particularly not the chains that produce cookie-cutter establishments or the folks who try to capitalize on an Irish name without a clue what an Irish pub is really like. ("What Irish beers do you have?" I once asked a waitress at a local "Irish" pub, O'Halloran's. "What's an Irish beer?" she replied? "We have Coors, Bud, Miller Lite...." The closest she could find was Killian's Red, a faux amber made by Coors. Sigh.)

And I don't mean pubs in Ireland that have been built or remodeled to cater more to tourists than to locals. When I'm in Ireland -- I've visited seven or eight times so far, which isn't nearly enough -- I try to avoid the trendy and stick to the timeless joints where the local people go, where you're still likely to find a session in the corner, where the food is simple but hearty, and where the Guinness is pulled with pride.

Eric Roth, a Boston-based photographer, pays tribute to the "real" Irish pubs of Ireland in The Parting Glass. Of course, there are thousands upon thousands of pubs to choose from, and the book had limited space, so after exhaustive research (read: going to lots of pubs) he picked 43 representative establishments to capture on film . Eileen McNamara, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe columnist, went along for the trip and provided the text to support Roth's images.

Of course, I have my own favorite spots: Gus O'Connor's in Doolin, County Clare; the second floor of Oliver St. John Gogarty's in Temple Bar, Dublin; Tig Coili in Galway; Furey's Sheela Na Gig in Sligo -- the list goes on, and sadly, they're not included here. And yet, of the 43 pictured here, I've been to only a handful, and they ALL look a delight!

The book includes numerous large, colorful photos of pub facades and pub interiors. Too, you'll find distinctive pub signs and unique pub decor. Better yet, you'll see people manning taps and hoisting pints, who make up Ireland's traditional pub scene as much as the Guinness-stained tables, peat fires, live music and pleasant conversation.

There are city pubs and country pubs, ornate pubs and plain, crowded and empty. There is, after all, quite a lot of diversity among Ireland's pubs, although there is an invisible thread connecting them all.

Roth's photos are gorgeous, rich in color, detail and personality. McNamara's narrative is equally colorful, historically informative and evocative of the pub experience. Combined, they create a desire to dive through the pages, take a seat and order a pint. This volume is as satisfying as a deep draught of the black -- although I wouldn't say no to having both book and beer together.

by Tom Knapp
11 March 2006

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