Why most Irish pubs are named after people

This is the legal reason why it happens.

Click here to read the Spanish version.

It is a story that goes back more than 150 years. To a pivotal time when UK legislation would enact a law that would lay the foundations for this distinctive element of Irish pubs.

Beyond Guinness beer, St. Patrick’s Day or green as an identifying colour, there is something that also links most Irish pubs in the world. And that is the fact of acquiring the owners’ surnames, not by chance, but based on a rule derived from the ‘United Kingdom Licensing Act’ of 1872; which came into being while Ireland was under the rule of England, in an effort to regulate Irish pubs.

A historic legacy

In Ireland, before there were mythical pubs such as Sean’s Bar in Athlone, the kings of the 6th and 7th centuries were governed by the Brehon Law, according to which they had to have a local brewer who always had beer and food available for his subjects. A service they would end up finding in these establishments known later as Irish pubs. The monarchy would try to regulate these pubs, and even put an end to some of them, by repressing the home distilling that took place between 1753 and 1833.

In 1872, came the ‘Licensing Act’, which prohibited public drunkenness, among many other things, as well as obliging ‘all pubs to display the landlord’s name over the door’, says Elizabeth Stack in The Washington Post.

The idea behind this legislation was to increase the accountability of bar owners. If they broke the law, the police would know exactly who to look for. A regulation or tradition that would fade over time, but which many Irish pubs still retain and/or respect by titling their establishments with their names or surnames.