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Alcohol Laws in Ireland

How to Enjoy Your Irish Drink Legally and Responsibly


A very expensive drink indeed ... seen in Dublin.

A very expensive drink indeed ... seen in Dublin.

© Bernd Biege 2014

When we think of Ireland, we tend to think of Saint Patrick, Irish Coffee, round towers, Guinness, 40 shades of green, Irish Whiskey and the long and winding Irish history. Did you notice how often alcohol crept up in this short list? "A drop of the good stuff" seems to belong to the typical Irish vacation like the Cliffs of Moher or Bunratty Castle.

But are you aware what the laws are regarding alcohol in Ireland? If you are not, here's a short run-down for you:

The Minimum Age to get Alcohol in Ireland

Unless you are at least 18 years old it is illegal to buy, attempt to buy or consume alcohol in Ireland. It is also illegal to obtain alcohol for anybody below the minimum age. So if you are under 18 or if you are pestered by anybody who is (or seems to be) ... don't even think about it!

What is the Definition of Alcohol in Ireland

This is easy - any drink containing alcohol in any quantity is "alcohol". Drinks with minute quantities like shandy and non-alcoholic beer are exceptions, as are liquor-filled sweets.

Where can I go for a Drink in Ireland?

Generally alcohol can only be served to the public on "licensed premises", the pub (short for "public house") being the most common place where to get a drink.

In recent years more and more bars and clubs have sprung up, concentrating on a younger, more sophisticated and/or seriously affluent market segment.

Restaurants may be licensed to serve alcohol, though not all are. You will usually have to order a full meal to get served drinks. There are also restaurants that have a wine license only.

What if I Want to Have a Drink in my Room?

A large number of shops are selling beer and wine with a so-called "off-license", most are conspicuously marked. You may also find a limited selection of wines in shops without a full "off-license". Many pubs also sell bottled or canned drinks for consumption off their premises.

Can I Drink Everywhere in Ireland?

Definitely not - drinking in public places is banned nearly everywhere in Northern Ireland and in more and more places in the Republic. These restrictions are laid down in local bye-laws that normally will be unknown to visitors. Look for signs and notice. If you can't find any you may play it by ear ... or stay on the safe side by not drinking at all in public places.

Note that there are no laws against carrying alcohol in cars, you may actually drive with an open(ed) container in the passenger compartment. But ...

The Law Regarding Alcohol and Driving in Ireland

The legal limit for alcohol in your bloodstream whilst driving is below 0.05 percent (in the Republic, in Northern Ireland 0.08 percent) - depending on body size and the strength of the drink you might be over this limit after only one drink.

Both the PSNI and the Gardai are rigorously enforcing the law and will breathalize suspect drivers. Should the alcohol level be found to be over the legal limit you will under no circumstances be allowed to continue your journey and a court appearance is (usually) mandatory. Avoid this by not drinking or having a designated driver.

Apart from the legal implications - driving as a tourist in Ireland while under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs can safely be regarded as suicidal.

Are There Any Restrictions on Enjoying Alcohol in Ireland?

No ... as long as you are enjoying alcohol sensibly. But if you are becoming a nuisance or even a danger (to yourself or others) the law might get involved. You might be asked by the police to shut up and move along - or you might (in serious cases) be asked to come along to the nearest station. It might be worth considering beforehand that nursing the grandaddy of all hangovers is child's play compared to spending a few hours in a crowded holding cell.

And Finally ... When Can You Not Get a Drink in Ireland?

Generally alcohol will not be on sale before mass ends on Sunday. On all other days you should have no problems getting cans or bottles from off-licenses between early morning and late at night. Pubs open near noon and close around midnight, clubs and bars may stay open longer.

There are only two days when you will be hard pressed to get any drink - Good Friday and Christmas Day.

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