It’s fair to say that we’ve made no secret of the fact that DublinByPub can sometimes be a Brendan Behan fanzine disguised as a Pub Blog. We adore the man – firstly for his literary genius, but also, and perhaps controversially (though unsurprisingly), for his stature as a renowned drinker and pub-dweller extraordinaire.
And though we’ve often thought of compiling a Brendan Behan pub crawl, it had always been evident to us that if you were to make a crawl of Dublin Pubs that Behan had been known to frequent – you would be creating both an unassailable task and a public health risk.
However, to mark the centenary of the great man’s birth this coming ninth of February, we thought we’d throw together something that that’s more of a pub walk than a crawl. Call it a ramble through Brendan’s Dublin with a few pints thrown in for good measure.
The walk does cover a fair bit of ground – notably the distance between the last two pubs – and though I think it’s certainly doable by foot – feel free to substitute foot for whatever means of transport is more preferable to you, where needed.
We’ve put a google map together, plotting out all the sites mentioned. Visit the link here, or use the window, below.
Stops Number 1 and 2: Glasnevin Cemetery and The Gravediggers
So just like Brendan himself, we’re going to start on the Northside and end up on the Southside. Our first stop is Glasnevin Cemetery – the last resting place of Behan and the site upon which he fired at members of The Gardaí in 1942, earning himself a 14-year sentence in Mountjoy Prison.
Some might view it as a little contentious to have the first pub on a Brendan Behan pub crawl be one that there’s no record of Behan having actually frequented, but Kavanagh’s (better known to Dubliners as The Gravediggers), we think, has earned its place in the story of Brendan. Being located a two-minute walk from Brendan’s grave, staff from the cemetery speak of how they often return pint glasses to the pub from the plot containing Brendan’s mortal remains, having been left there by thirsty pilgrims who have made the journey out to see the grave.
We could think of no better way to start this walk than by bringing a pint up to Brendan.
Stops Number 3 and 4: The Royal Canal
What Behan walk would be complete without including The Royal Canal. Through his association with the song – The Auld Triangle, and his being domiciled close to its banks on two separate occasions in his life, Brendan has arguably brought the man-made body of water more fame than any other individual ever has.
When you walk its banks, leaving Phibsborough and heading in the direction of Drumcondra, it won’t take long before you reach Stop 3, where you’ll be able to look upon the vista of Mountjoy Prison – where Brendan himself was incarcerated and the location he set one of his most famous works – The Quare Fellow. Continue to walk the canal and you’ll come to John Coll’s statue of Brendan which was unveiled in 2003.
Stops Number 5, 6 and 7: The Russell Street District.
The next street that crosses the canal after Drumcondra Road if you continue towards town is Russell Street, our fifth stop. Though demolished now, Behan was raised in a tenement house on Russell Street until the Behan family were relocated out to Suburbia (or Siberia as Brendan would quip) in the 30s – ending up on Kildare Road in Crumlin. As you come to the top of Russell Street, you’ll see an Italian Restaurant on the right – Asti, which contains a courtyard named Behan Square to its rear.
At the top of the street, on the left, you’ll see stop number 6 – James Gill’s pub. A pub that is synonymous with Brendan and indeed all the Behans – them all having frequented it in their day. The pub can be seen in the film Brendan Behan’s Dublin, which is thankfully on youtube. Unfortunately, Gills tends to only open on big match days when they occur in nearby Croke Park – so you could decamp to Hogan’s or The Hideout for a pint at this point if there’s no drink to be had in Gills. The aforementioned Italian restaurant is an excellent choice, should you want to fuel up with something more substantial for the walking ahead.
A short distance from Russell Street, you can find Shane Sutton’s astonishing mural of Brendan, painted onto the side of a dwelling on Richmond Cottages. (Hint: Be sure to also check out Shane’s nearby Joyce Mural up the road from this one)
Stop Number 8: The Abbey Theatre
The National Theatre, The Abbey has shown numerous productions of Brendan’s plays throughout the years. The theatre, itself, relocated to The Queens Theatre on Pearse Street after a fire for much of the time that Brendan was alive and in the public eye – but has long since been on Abbey Street. A large portrait of Brendan hangs at the top of the stairs as you walk up to the first floor of the Theatre. There’s a café in the theatre now, and depending on the time, you might find the bar open upstairs too. The pint is surprisingly decent.
Stops Number 9 and 10: The Palace Bar and McDaid’s
The Palace and McDaid’s could be considered the two pubs most closely linked to the post-war literary boom in Dublin. Behan was known to frequent both but was possibly more synonymous with McDaid’s which seemed to be the rowdier of the two, at the time.
John Ryan captures this in his memoir –The Way We Stood, when recounting a time RM Smyllie, editor of The Times, chanced his arm at frequenting McDaids:
Rumours of literary goings-on in MacDaid’s must have reached the master’s ear because Smyllie turned up there one night, having made the prodigious journey (of about half a mile) from the Palace. It was about the time that this pub was beginning its long history as a poetic glue-pot. A fight over the use of spondees was going on in one corner between two wild men in duffle coats, Brendan Behan was standing on a table bawling his rendition of ‘I was Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ and Gainor Crist, the Ginger Man, was getting sick, evidently into someone else’s pint. It was too much for the great man, who finished, in one vast swallow, his large Irish, gave a final, baleful owl-like glare at this frightening assembly, and waddled out into the Harry Street night and the ultimate sanctuary of the Palace as fast as his trotters could take him. He was never seen in McDaid’s again.
A brass plaque commemorates Brendan on the ground outside The Palace. In McDaid’s, various portraits of The Borstal Boy, himself, can be seen hung about the place.
Stop Number 11: Site of The Pike Theatre.
Not that you’d think to look at it, but the unassuming premises of Number 43 Herbert Lane, a coach-house/mews for its corresponding canalside residence, once contained The Pike Theatre. A provocative small-scale theatre which staged the world premiere of The Quare Fellow.
Stop Number 12: The Waterloo Bar
Though unrecognisable from how it would have appeared back then, The Waterloo was once a known haunt of Brendan’s. As a nod to this, the pub has named one of their snugs after him. An artwork on a street side cable cabinet outside the pub depicts himself and his best frenemy – Patrick Kavanagh, the two former kings of Baggotonia in a cartoonish form. See if you can spot it in the image below.
Stop Number 13: Brendan & Beatrice’s Home
Described as “my present to you” by Brendan, to his wife Beatrice. It was bought in 1959 when it had an asking price of £3,000. It was up for sale with an asking price of €1,200,000 in 2005.
Stop Number 14: Harkin’s – Harbour Bar.
I suppose we’ve finished this walk in as macabre a fashion as we begun. Harkin’s Harbour Bar, the pub now closest to The Guinness Brewery, is the last pub to ever host Brendan. Sadly, he collapsed here in March of 1964 before dying, aged a mere 41years, in The Meath Hospital several days later.
Last Thoughts / Summary
If you wanted to extend the walk from here, you could opt to next head out to Crumlin and check out The Crumlin Kremlin, as it was termed. 70 Kildare Road is the abode in which the Behans were resettled after they had to leave Russel Street. Obviously, in the case of this one, and 5 Anglesea Road in Stop #13, we’d urge you to be respectful – given that these are both homes belonging to people.
So, whether you do some of the walk, or all of the walk, or just enjoyed reading it – we’d urge you to raise a glass to Brendan on or about the 9th of February to mark the hundredth year since he was born. Ni bheidh a leithead aris ann!