If you've taken a few minutes to read the "About Us" section on The Story Teller's Pipe home page, you know that our family has traveled a bit over the years. We believe that exposing ourselves and our children to new environments and other cultures provides a better understanding and more rounded education of the world and of ourselves. Our children loved these adventures ... especially the trips overseas. So much so, in fact, that our oldest daughter traveled throughout England, France, Switzerland, and Germany on her own as a high school graduation gift and our middle daughter traveled throughout China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, South Korea ... and even briefly ventured into North Korea! ... on her own while in college. Needless to say, Michele now has more gray hair than she should as a result.
However, despite all of the interesting places we've been, we've always felt most at home in Ireland. There's something to be said about the atmosphere, the ambience, that laid-back "at home" feeling you experience while having a meal and a pint (or 2 ... or 3!) in an Irish pub. While the decor may change from pub to pub, the warm hospitality and "kick back and relax because you're at home now" attitude is a basic staple of every Irish pub we've visited ... which is to say, a LOT of pubs!
There is a rhythm to pub life. The hearty welcome as you walk in the door and grab a stool at the bar. The loud, boisterous, friendly banter and laughter. The sound of glasses and dishes clinking. The aroma of the catch-of-the-day cooking back in the kitchen. The juxtaposition of the sun streaming through the front window and the dim lights over the bar and tables. Irish songs playing in the background or, if you're lucky enough, on stage right next to you. And, above it all, weaving this craic all together, is the lyrical, musical sound of traditional Irish Gaelic spoken over a pipe while the "regulars" catch up on the day's events.
As an American ... conditioned from when we're knee-high to a grasshopper to run and work almost non-stop ... the slow, laid-back pace of an Irish pub is foreign. But, deep within the recesses of our DNA, it is home. And, we feel it. We innately know this rhythm we feel in an Irish pub is how life should be.
On our family's last trip to Ireland a couple of years ago, we were enjoying a fine meal at a pub in County Mayo after a day of hiking and sightseeing. During our meal, an Irish family situated themselves at the table next to ours and, as most families do over a meal, they began the ritual of catching up with each other on events in their lives. The family's grandfather was with them on this occasion, and, when asked a question, he would reply in Gaelic. This didn't please the rest of the family and they chastised him to speak in English, which, much to our delight, caused him to scowl something fierce. At one point, the grandfather pulled a pipe from his coat pocket to enjoy a bowl of tobacco before the meal. However, his family told him he wasn't to smoke and to put the pipe away. Of course, this garnered another fierce scowl from the elderly gentleman.
It seems the younger, current generation of Irish prefer to speak English and have little interest in learning or speaking the traditional Irish Gaelic tongue. Which, in our opinion, is a grand shame! It's fascinating to hear English spoken with an Irish lilt. But, it's another thing altogether to hear Irish Gaelic spoken by an Irishman. To say the spoken language is like a beautiful musical sonnet does it no justice. If you ever hear the angels sing, it will probably sound like Irish Gaelic. But, as with many beautiful and grand things, traditional Irish Gaelic as a commonly spoken language is becoming another relic of the Irish culture.
However, it's not just Ireland's traditional Gaelic that's being lost. In 2007, Ireland led the European charge and implemented a country-wide smoking ban in all workplaces and enclosed public places. Sadly, this put an end to the days when "regulars" could belly up to the bar and enjoy friendly conversation over a pipe and a pint at their local pub. These days, pipe and cigarette smokers alike must enjoy their tobacco outside. On the rare sunny day in Ireland, that's no so bad. However, Ireland averages 30 - 48 inches of rain annually and most days include some rain or heavy mist. Suffice it to say, it's not the most pleasant or best weather to spend outside smoking your pipe.
In the U.S., 30 states and countless cities have implemented smoking bans in workplaces, restaurants, and bars. And, this begs the question: while everyone's health is important, should government have the power or authority to regulate an industry in a way that completely removes its citizen's choices and inversely impacts the country's culture ... especially when that regulation is based on misinformation and is most assuredly being implemented as a means to increase tax revenue?
This has been a sore spot for a long time. As adults, should we not be free to make our own choices -- i.e., whether or not to frequent a bar or restaurant where smoking is or isn't allowed? If we want to have a meal in a smoke-free environment, shouldn't we be free to choose a restaurant where smoking is not permitted. On the other hand, if we want to have a drink in a bar where we also can enjoy smoking a pipe, should we not be free to go to a bar where smoking is permitted?
This is where government regulation becomes over-reaching and eliminates freedoms for some in order to cater to others and take more of our hard-earned money to give to special interest groups. In essence, these smoking bans eliminate the freedom of pipe smokers to enjoy a bowl with a pint at their local pub -- unless they want to stand outside (in the rain, if you're in Ireland) -- simply to appease non-smokers and to generate a revenue stream for their pet projects.
Don't get me wrong ... I have nothing against non-smokers. I have a lot of good friends who don't smoke. I do, however, have a lot against governments that disingenuously use misleading statistics to take my money under the guise of "protecting children." Here, I am referring to the CDC's 1990-1994 "U.S. Smoking-Related Mortality by Cause and Age of Death" report used by President Clinton and Congress as the basis for increasing tobacco taxes and recouping health costs. The CDC's report claims that smoking causes more than 400,000 premature deaths each year. However, when you look at the CDC's breakdown of mortality and causes, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that 60% of the mortality is among individuals over the age of 70. Regrettable? Yes. Premature? No. 35% (approx. 150,000) of the mortality caused by smoking is among individuals aged 50-69. Premature? Maybe. When compared to the mortality rate of individuals due to alcohol (88,000/yr), obesity (300,000/yr), car accidents (34,000/yr), and suicide (47,000/yr) where the average age is 39 at death, it's not hard to see how federal and state governments are discriminately targeting smoking as a means of increasing tax revenue.
However, it seems to me there is a middle ground that is being ignored in every government's rush to grab and consolidate power and generate more tax revenue through regulation. And, that middle ground allows citizens their freedom of choice and accommodates establishments to allow smoking. In other words, why can't there be restaurants and pubs that allow smoking as well as restaurants and pubs that don't allow smoking ... so every citizen has a choice as to which they want to frequent? Is that so hard?
As with the grandfather in the County May pub, we fiercely scowl at legislative tunnel vision and the impact it has on every person's freedom and its destruction of a society's culture. Culture is a tradition ... an identity ... for its people. When a society loses its culture, it loses its identity -- those differences that make it unique and set it apart from other societies. For example, the 1746 outlaw of Scotland's tartan kilts and bagpipes following the Jacobite Rebellion was almost the undoing of that nation until the ban was repealed in 1782. Without those cultural icons, Scotland would have been nothing more than an extension of the northern part of England. Try to imagine a China without rice fields or an Egypt without pyramids and you'll understand the significance of the cultural symbols of the Irish Gaelic language and pipe smoking to Ireland.
So, the lesson learned in that Irish pub is that we must remember history and fight to preserve all of the cultural differences that make us unique.