Mr. Barich, a writer, spent much of his adult life in California and set several of his books there, among them the horse racing classic “Laughing in the Hills.” But for the last eight years he has lived in Ireland, and the Kinsale felt like familiar turf.
“A great many pubs in Dublin would look like this,” he said, noting the numerous TVs tuned to soccer and the piped-in music.
In fact, Mr. Barich has been in a great many pubs in the last two years, researching his new book, “A Pint of Plain” (Walker, $25), a rumination on Irish pub culture, if not a travelogue by way of the barroom. The book, his eighth, grew out of Mr. Barich’s own search to find a good local pub near his home in Dublin, a personal goal that might seem to rank low on the difficulty scale in a country that has nearly 12,000 pubs and where Guinness was once promoted as a source of nutrition.
But finding a pub with the same low-key atmosphere and traditional décor as Pat Cohan’s, the country pub in John Ford’s film “The Quiet Man,” proved elusive.
An early candidate, R. McSorley & Sons, had “a musty dignity that spoke of permanence,” as Mr. Barich writes, and antique bric-a-brac on the walls. But soon after he became a regular the pub was sold and given a slick makeover by new owners, who told Mr. Barich that the old decorations were phony anyway — purchased for nostalgic effect.
And so it went. Some pubs were unresponsive to foreigners, or “blow-ins.” Others doubled as pickup spots or resembled sports bars, with 24-7 TV coverage replacing the joys of idle banter.
Mr. Barich’s fascination with what he calls “fairy tale Ireland” surely complicated matters; the interior of the fabled Pat Cohan’s, which for many represents the quintessential Irish pub, was built on a Hollywood soundstage. But his hunt also revealed how Irish pub culture is changing with the society around it.
In years past, a pub was a family-run business, and the publican more than likely lived upstairs — an arrangement that created an intimacy across the bar.
“A good publican is a person with character, concerned about the welfare of patrons,” Mr. Barich said. That a barman could aspire to one day own a pub himself made for a system of dues paying that also resulted in better service.
But with trophy pubs now commanding as much as $8 million, a shift has been made to partnerships or corporations that may own and manage several bars. At the same time, more Irish are drinking wine, and drinking at home or in restaurants, chipping away at the social relevance of pubs.