One of our favourite stories about the adaptability of the Irish pub and it’s centrality to Irish commercial and community life comes from 1970. A strike among workers in Irish banks threatened to make the processing of cheques, payment of wages, and carrying of cash a very difficult affair. The strike, much like the near contemporary oil crisis had the potential to bring the economy to a total halt, ensuring that regular commercial activity would not be able to take place. Enter the Irish pub…
The strike had possible profound implications for a country that largely operated on cheques to get. The country found itself in a bit of a dilemma. People were still getting paid (so long as their employer had enough paper cheques to last them), but they had no way of depositing it in their bank or of cashing large amounts at a time when everyone was trying to do the same.
So what Irish institution had enough cash reserves and regular income that they could cash a few cheques and effectively become the nations banks for 6 months? Pubs of course. As most people who came into pubs were likely regulars and had been subconsciously judged by publicans over the years of their patronage, it didn’t take much to deem whether a person handing over a cheque was of good moral character or trustworthy. Pubs all over the country collected these cheques over 6 months, giving out cash or credit for the pub on the understanding that once the strike ended and those banks opened up again, the pub would bring a sack full of them in and deposit months worth of trading in one go.
Pubs would hold possibly hundreds of thousands of pounds in cheques at one time. That might be safer in terms of robberies, but the possibility of losing several months take through an accident was higher. There’s a famous story of a publican having a heart attack when he came home to see his wife had lit the fire. He had stuffed a bag full of cheques in the chimney for safe keeping.
Some £3 billion went through pubs and other retailers in this fashion during the bank strike of 1970.
In the 2nd snug of the front bar in Doheny and Nesbitt you can see several framed cheques on the wall, a few keepsakes of that era. Credit to the person who had the foresight to keep a few of these cheques for posterity, knowing that they would be items of interest in the future. Either that or they were found in storage well after the banking strike, giving the punter a their cash and giving the pub a decorative item for the walls in years to come.
So sometimes a pub is not just a pub, they’re chameleons waiting to take on the form that their community needs.