Good Friday—An Irish Holiday or Not?

Irish beer
Bernd Biege

Good Friday in Ireland, is it a holiday or not? The short answer being "Yes and no, it depends what you are thinking about, and where you are!" Because rarely has a day been beset by so many myths and misconceptions than Good Friday in Ireland. Which is no wonder, come to think of it. It is not a holiday in the staunchly Catholic Republic, despite being one of the most important days in the Christian calendar. And the general notion that "all pubs are closed" may be wrong (plus is set to change in 2018 anyway).

And depending on your status, you might even legally buy alcohol.

When Is Good Friday?

Good Friday is the Friday just before the 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. By the way—the historical Good Friday may well have been Friday, April 3rd, AD 33. An eclipse mentioned in the writings of the apostle Peter makes this likely.

Why Is Good Friday Celebrated?

You might say that without Good Friday there would be no Christianity—the Passion of the Christ (the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ) on this day created one of the most important remembrances in the Christian church. Without Good Friday, there would have been no resurrection, no Easter.

Why the Name "Good Friday"?

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.

Is Good Friday a Holiday in Ireland?

While it is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic church (meaning you are required to attend mass), the mainly Catholic Republic of Ireland has not declared it a public holiday. On the other hand, Northern Ireland has a public holiday on Good Friday.

By the way, on this site, you'll also find full holiday calendars for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

So Is Good Friday Just Another Day in Ireland?

Banks and a number of public institutions in the Republic are closed on this day (further confusing the issue), but the main retail businesses stay open. And: no intoxicating liquor may be sold on Good Friday. Which leads to panic buys in the days just before.

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.

A Totally Teetotal Day in Ireland?

No, you wouldn't expect that now, not in the land of Guinness and whiskey...some special events have been made exempt from the alcohol ban. And, traditionally, those travelling on this day were also given a bit leeway. 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. However, in recent years, a crackdown on this loophole has been initiated after station bars regularly overflowed with "passengers"—you'd better have a ticket with you as your credentials, and the cheapest local ticket won't cut the mustard.

So All the Irish Pubs Are Closed on Good Friday?

Well, that depends—if a pub is just an alehouse, there is no sense in opening. But if the pub serves meals, or is in a tourist hotspot, even opening without serving alcoholic drinks might make sense. Though it all takes on a somehow surreal feeling—as they say, there's nothing so queer as a pub with no beer. Having said that, we enjoyed some good pub meals on Good Fridays through the years...

And Finally—What Is 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 changed Northern Ireland you may safely visit today.

The agreement was signed in Belfast on April 10th, 1998—Good Friday. It comprised a multi-party agreement involving most of Northern Ireland's political parties and an international agreement between the UK and Irish governments.

Setting out a very wide-ranging series of provisions, the Good Friday Agreement 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.