Stephen Mooney has been thinking a lot about banning mobile phones.
He’s already put up a sign over the bar of his pub, The Gingerman on Fenian Street, which tells customers: “We do not have wifi – talk to each other!”
“A traditional Irish pub is about conversation. You can’t really call it a traditional pub if it is taken over by technology,” he says.
He’s not the only publican to be wondering how to deal with the rise of smartphones, and how far the digital world should intrude into pubs. Several pubs in Dublin are trying to limit how distracted customers can be by screens.
Mooney says he is seriously considering whether he would install equipment which would block mobile phones from working there, as a pub in England has done recently.
Steve Tyler, of the Gin Tub in Hove, Sussex, explained that technology that blocks mobile phone signals is illegal there, so he had to make physical modifications to his premises.
He says this process was reasonably easy and inexpensive: it involved covering the walls with tin foil, and then covering that over with regular wallpaper; he also needed to hang wire mesh across the ceiling.
“Since we’ve done it, the response has been incredible, people are loving it,” Tyler says. He expected it to be more popular with the older generation, but says it has proved just as much of a hit with younger customers.
Tyler said he introduced the ban in response to the “predominance of people not talking to each other” that he had witnessed in his pub over the last ten years. He thinks other publicans should follow suit.
Back in Dublin, Mooney is seriously considering doing just that. “If someone genuinely needs to make a call, they can get up and go outside like a smoker does – we need to re-introduce manners in the way we socialise,” he says.
The lines between working and socialising have become too blurred, says Mooney. “You wouldn’t take a drink into the office, so don’t bring your laptop to the pub.”
No Phones, No TVs
How pubs deal with screens is not a new conundrum. The Brew Dock, Grogans, Against the Grain and the Library Bar — none have televisions.
Brian Murray, a regular punter in the Brew Doc, who is in his 30s, explained why he prefers pubs like these that don’t have TVs. “I come in here, or to any pub to chill out and have a few pints or catch up with my friends, I don’t want some telly on in the corner I just don’t think its relaxing.”
At Arthur’s Pub on Thomas Street, there’s no television either. “Television distracts people from conversation. If you remove the screen, people will naturally just talk,” said one of the owners, Sean McKiernan.
There’s no plan to ban mobile phones at Arthur’s, said McKiernan. But when he’s out with friends, they have their own way of dealing with it: all their phones go face down in the middle of the table, and the first one to look buys the next round.
At The Gingerman, Mooney says they have televisions, but they’re off unless there’s a major sporting event. That’s a more flexible policy than that of a another Dublin publican, famously.
During the Italia 1990 World Cup campaign, soccer fever gripped the country. Playing in their first-ever World Cup, the Irish reached the quarter finals, but one pub refused to bend its no-television rule. William Ryan, who at the time owned Ryan’s on Parkgate Street, refused to show the matches.
You might expect The Gravedigger in Glasnevin to be a candidate for a mobile-phone ban. There’s been a no-television, no-music, no-singing rule there since 1973, when the father of current manager Ciaran Kavanagh decreed it should be quieter. But Kavanagh says he has no intention of banning mobile phones.
There’s a lot of interest in pubs that offer quiet spaces, free of TVs or mobile phones or both, says John Geraghty, of Dublin pub guide publin.ie. “The attitude of a lot of people is that the pub is a place for conversation, not for texting,” he says.
But for many other pubs, the TV is a very important and welcome fixture, as people come to watch live sports, Geraghty says.
Jason O’Byrne a regular of The Living Room is one such customer. “I don’t have Sky Sports in the house, so the whole reason I’m going to the pub is to watch a match,” he says.
Geraghty supports the use of TV when big matches are on. However, he says, “Sky news on in the background can be a real atmosphere-killer, and we would support the TV being locked away when not in use.”