Alcohol and the Law in Ireland

How to Enjoy Your Irish Drink Legally and Responsibly

A bar with green and yellow facade and signs advertising beer; Dingle Town, County Kerry, Ireland
••• Peter Zoeller/Getty Images

The laws in Ireland regarding alcohol ... why should they feature in a travel guide? Well, because they might get you into trouble, both in Northern Ireland and the Republic. For a variety of offences, from underage drinking to drink-driving (never a good idea, whatever the law defines as a tolerance limit). And because when we think of Ireland, we tend to think in clichés like Saint Patrick, Irish Coffee, round towers, Guinness, 40 shades of green, Irish Whiskey and the long and winding Irish history.

Did you notice how often alcohol crept up in this short list?"A drop of the good stuff" seems to belong to the typical Irish vacation like the Cliffs of Moher or Bunratty Castle. Yet any laws governing the sale and enjoyment of alcohol are fairly strict. And are you really aware of these laws, what they actually say regarding alcohol in Ireland? If you are not, here's a short run-down for you: You can only drink when you are 18, and more than likely not in a public place.

What is the Minimum Age to Purchase and Drink Alcohol in Ireland?

Unless you are at least 18 years old it is illegal to buy, attempt to buy, or consume alcohol in Ireland. It is also illegal to obtain alcohol for anybody below the minimum age. So if you are under 18, or if you are pestered by anybody who is (or seems to be) ... don't even think about it!

What is the Definition of Alcohol in Ireland?

This is easy - any drink containing alcohol in any quantity is "alcohol".

Drinks with minute quantities of alcohol like “soft” shandy and non-alcoholic beer are exceptions, as are liquor-filled sweets. Though be aware that having a few brandy-filled chocolates might lead to a positive result in a breathalyzer ... which in turn can lead to a negative experience involving arrest and a blood sample.

Where can I go for a Drink in Ireland?

Generally, alcohol can only be served to the public on "licensed premises", the pub (short for "public house") being the most common place where to get a drink. In addition, in recent years more and more bars and clubs have sprung up, concentrating on a younger, more sophisticated and/or seriously affluent market segment. Restaurants may be licensed to serve alcohol, though not all are. You will usually have to order a full meal to get served drinks. There are also restaurants that have a wine license only.

What if I Want to Have a Drink in my Room?

A large number of shops are selling beer and wine with a so-called "off-license", most are conspicuously marked. You may also find a limited selection of wines in shops without a full "off-license". Many pubs also sell bottled or canned drinks for consumption off their premises.

Can I Drink Everywhere in Ireland?

Definitely not - drinking in public places is banned nearly everywhere in Northern Ireland, and in more and more places in the Republic as well. These restrictions are laid down in local bye-laws, that normally will be unknown to visitors. Look for signs and notices. If you can't find any, you may play it by ear ...

or stay on the safe side by not drinking at all in public places. Note that the "clever ruse" of covering a bottle with a brown paper bag makes you even more conspicuous, and will not save you from a fine. On the other hand, there are no laws against carrying alcohol in cars (unlike in many US states), you may actually drive with an open(ed) container in the passenger compartment. But ...

What Does the Law Say About Alcohol and Driving in Ireland?

The legal limit for alcohol in your bloodstream whilst driving is below 0.05 percent (in the Republic, in Northern Ireland 0.08 percent) - depending on body size and the strength of the drink you might be over this limit after only one drink. Both the PSNI and the Gardai are rigorously enforcing the law and will breathalyze suspect drivers. Should the alcohol level be found to be over the legal limit you will under no circumstances be allowed to continue your journey and a court appearance is (usually) mandatory.

Avoid this by not drinking or having a designated driver .Apart from the legal implications - driving as a tourist in Ireland while under the influence of alcohol, medication or drugs can safely be regarded as suicidal.

Are There Any Restrictions on Enjoying Alcohol in Ireland?

No ... as long as you are enjoying alcohol sensibly. But if you are becoming a nuisance or even a danger (to yourself or others) the law might get involved. You might be asked by the police to shut up and move along - or you might (in serious cases) be asked to come along to the nearest station. It may be worth considering beforehand that nursing the granddaddy of all hangovers is child's play compared to spending a few hours in a crowded holding cell.

And Finally ... When Can You Not Get a Drink in Ireland?

All over Ireland alcohol can be served in pubs and restaurants according to the license issued ... expect that to be generally from just before midday to just before midnight. Alcohol sales in shops in the Republic of Ireland are legal only between 10.30 am and 10.00 pm on weekdays, and from 12.30 pm to 10.00 pm on Sundays. Take note that Saint Patrick's Day is regarded as a Sunday for this purpose - early morning drinking rained on many a parade in years before. In Northern Ireland, the hours for alcohol sale in shops depend upon the individual license granted - generally speaking, on weekdays it would be legal from 8 am to 11 pm, on Sundays, from 10 am to 10 pm.

There are only two days when you will be hard pressed to get any drink - on Good Friday and Christmas Day.