After meeting an Irishwoman in London and moving to Dublin, Bill Barich?a “blow-in,” or stranger, in Irish parlance?found himself looking for a traditional Irish pub to be his local. There are nearly 12,000 pubs in Ireland, so he appeared to have plenty of choices. He wanted a pub like the one in John Ford's classic movie, The Quiet Man, offering talk and drink with no distractions, but such pubs are now scare as publicans increasingly rely on flat-screen televisions, rock music, even Texas Hold ‘Em to attract a dwindling clientele. For Barich, this signaled that something deeper was at play?an erosion of the essence of Ireland, perhaps without the Irish even being aware. A Pint of Plain is Barich's witty, deeply observant portrait of an Ireland vanishing before our eyes. While 85 percent of the Irish still stop by a pub at least once a month, strict drunk-driving laws have helped to kill business in rural areas. Even traditional Irish music, whose rich roots “connect the past to the present and close a circle,” is much less prominent in pub life. Ironically, while Irish pubs in the countryside are closing at the alarming rate of one per day, plastic IPC-type pubs are being born in foreign countries at the exact same rate.
From the famed watering holes of Dublin to tiny village pubs, Barich introduces a colorful array of characters, and, ever pursuing craic, the ineffable Irish word for a good time, engages in an unvarnished yet affectionate discussion about what it means to be Irish today.
All that the author, a California transplant, wanted was to find the perfect pub in his Dublin neighborhood, an easy task since Barich had "been in training for the job most of my life." What should be a breeze morphs into a countrywide pub crawl and journalistic investigation, as the author discovers that the romanticized Irish pub of The Quiet Man has become commercialized, while stricter drunk driving laws and Ireland's changing social dynamics don't bode well for the future of the places beloved by everyone from Joyce to the working class. Barich (Laughing in the Hills) also talks about the various aspects of Irish pub culture, from its music to its literary denizens. Barich crams in a lot of intriguing elements history, sociology, autobiography, travelogue, character study without deciding on a focus. Consequently, his effort feels less like a book than a collection of loosely connected facts and observations, which gradually languish as the author strays from the revelatory and informative (e.g., the nutritional qualities of Guinness; Ireland's attempts at temperance) for the quaint.