Good Friday in Ireland is a notable day, but it is not simply another holiday (and it is definitely not a public holiday). There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about what Good Friday means in Ireland, and exactly how it is celebrated. The truth is that Good Friday is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. It is usually a day of prayer for Catholics and others in the Christian faith, and it was traditionally a day when the sale of alcohol was completely banned in Ireland.
However, things are changing so here is your guide to Good Friday in Ireland:
When it's Celebrated
Good Friday is the Friday just before Easter weekend. The actual date changes (as it is tied to the lunar calendar), but it will always be in March or April. The date can coincide with the Jewish feast of Passover. Historically, it seems that the first Good Friday might have been on Friday, April 3rd, AD 33. An eclipse mentioned in the writings of the apostle Peter makes this likely. However, Christians in Ireland and around the world now celebrate Good Friday on the last Friday before Easter. In 2019, Good Friday is on April 19th, and it will be on April 10th in 2020.
What Good Friday Celebrates
You might say that without Good Friday there would be no Christianity— Good Friday marks the Passion of the Christ or the day that Jesus Christ was crucified and killed. Jesus Christ is central to the Christian religion and therefore Good Friday is one of the most important days of remembrances in the Christian church. Without Good Friday, there would have been no resurrection, and thus no Easter.
Why it's Called Good Friday
Because the day marks such a somber occasion, the name can seem confusing. There is nothing good about being humiliated, flogged, and finally put to death by crucifixion—the "good" in Good Friday refers to this day being holy.
Good Friday in Ireland
Good Friday is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic church (meaning you are required to attend mass), but the (majority Catholic) Republic of Ireland has not declared the religious day a public holiday. On the other hand, Northern Ireland has a public holiday on Good Friday.
In the Republic of Ireland, Good Friday is a bank holiday, which means that banks, schools, and other government businesses may be closed or have shortened hours. Private and commercial businesses like shops and restaurants, however, will probably be open.
In Northern Ireland, Good Friday used to be a total shutdown, but this has changed—more and more retailers fling open their doors, sometimes with reduced hours. Again, no alcohol may be sold.
The Old Alcohol Ban
Until 2018, Good Friday was one of two days in Ireland when the sale of alcohol was completely banned (the other day being Christmas). It might seem hard to believe in the land of Guinness and whiskey, but the day was completely dry.
That is, if you forgot to stock up yourself. Knowing that all pubs would be closed and the stores would be forbidden from selling any beer, wine, or liquor, the days leading up to Good Friday were usually notable for the rush of shoppers looking for large amounts of alcohol.
There were a few exceptions to the alcohol ban. For example, railway bars and restaurants could sell liquor to bona fide passengers. (Which might say a lot about the state of Ireland's railways, if you needed to fortify yourself before and revive your spirits after a journey). But for the most part, alcohol was banned on Good Friday in Ireland until 2018.
Pubs Are Now Open
In 2018, the Irish Parliament overturned the ban on alcohol sales on Good Friday. That means that pubs and bars are now open on Good Friday in Ireland. Some never closed in past years because they were still allowed to serve meals even if they couldn't serve beer and other drinks. However, it was previously always a surreal day to be in a bar —as they say, there's nothing so queer as a pub with no beer.
These days you won't find any shortage of pubs open on Good Friday anywhere in Ireland. Many people were happy to see the old ban overturned and go out to pubs in the evening, while others stick to the tradition of staying home for a quiet night.
The History of the Good Friday Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement or Belfast Agreement (in Irish "Comhaontú Bhéal Feirste" or "Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta," in Ulster-Scots "Bilfawst Greeance" or "Guid Friday Greeance"), occasionally also called the Stormont Agreement, was THE major political breakthrough in the peace process. It paved the way for the Northern Ireland you may safely visit today.
The agreement was signed in Belfast on April 10th, 1998— which happened to be Good Friday that year. It is a multi-party agreement involving most of Northern Ireland's political parties and an international agreement between the UK and Irish governments.
The Good Friday Agreement covers many issues, and affected the system of government in Northern Ireland, the relationship between Northern Ireland and both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as the rights of Northern Ireland's different communities. It also regulated the decommissioning of arms held by paramilitary groups and (in exchange) the release of (most) members of paramilitary groups from prison.