Come as a surprise, Leixlip, Clonsilla. Dropping down lock by lock to Dublin. With turf from the midland bogs. Salute. He lifted his brown straw hat, saluting Paddy Dignam.

They drove on past Brian Boroimhe house. Near it now.

James Joyce, Ulysses, 1920

A hearse and mourning coaches stood empty outside the Brian Boru House waiting, while the mourners, their kinsman already buried, consoled themselves with alcohol.

James Plunkett, Strumpet City, 1969

It might be apt, that when you bundle together the two most notable quotes referring to The Brian Boru Pub from Irish Literature, that you realise they both refer to funerals. Some might, but we would never suggest that Joyce and Plunkett, both, had channelled their inner Nostradamus when they each set out to write their respective legendary Dublin novels – and even though we’d bet this week’s wages on it being a case of the latter tipping their hat to the former, there remains the shadow of some eerie prophecy about the whole thing.

For those not in the know, Hedigan’s Pub, better known as The Brian Boru or the Brian Boru House, is not long for this world. The long, long-awaited and often-doubted Dublin Metro Project has apparently gotten its act together at last and is gearing up to break ground. As part of the planned works, comes the demolition of the Brian Boru House and its replacement as one of the main stations along the route.

And, geographically it’s easy enough to see why that makes sense. The pub, as it stands is very much a landmark in the area – sitting directly beside the Royal Canal and being festooned with a colourful mural of former High King of Ireland, Brian Boru – who is said to have assembled some of his army on the site before The Battle of Clontarf, giving the pub its name – the pub is one you couldn’t but help use as a nodal point in any directions you might find yourself giving to anybody who required them and who would have to pass by on the way to, or from somewhere.

With the Gravediggers to the north and The Hut to the south, we’ll admit to a level of distraction over the years, leaving us to not give this pub the attention it duly deserves. It’s more of a labyrinthine building than its façade would suggest and seems to, at different parts of its interior, include all the elements of what one would anticipate in a traditional pub – wooden, tiled and carpeted flooring, a carvery bar tucked somewhere down the back, brass fixtures, ornate mirrors spelling the names of whiskey brands in gold leaf, and so on.

And while we’d love to spin you all a yarn about some interesting interaction we had there, during some visit or another, like we normally would try to in these posts, we’re not here to do this today. We wanted to put this post together simply as a marker: a marker that maybe we’ve suspended our long-held doubts that Metro North would ever break ground. And just as a marker to remember this ordinary, yet historic pub that has been on this site for over a century.

And if the above isn’t very clear about what this post is, let us be more direct about what it isn’t. It’s not a call to arms for the cessation of any planned works.

We’d have happily called for the cessation of some works down the years that have relieved this city of some of its pubs (here’s looking at you The Long Stone), but this is different. This is something that should benefit the greater good – no one needs to sell the idea of improving public transport to us here in this blog – a blog that follows the efforts of two driver-license-less pintmen to traverse the city and visit its public houses.

But there’s no reason that we can’t, in what will become our newly built heritage, tip our hat to our old built heritage. From our perspective, we would deem Dublin, and indeed Ireland to be behind the curve when it comes to recognising the fundamental part that public houses constitute in our shared culture and heritage. Well-known voices within the architectural community have already called for our pubs to be afforded UNESCO status, and such ideas are not mere virtue signalling, either – Berlin recently had their city’s techno scene added to a UNESCO cultural heritage list.

Some have called for the new Metro Station to bear a name that refers to the pub which currently sits on the site, and we think that this would be entirely fitting – so much so that we’ve set up a petition. If you happen to agree with us, please add your name by clicking the link below:

Name The Phibsborough Metro Stop After The Brian Boru Pub

Join the call to have Phibsborough’s Metro Station named after the Brian Boru Pub, which is a cultural landmark in the area.

On a September’s Friday evening, hardy drinkers have gathered into a quayside pub to mark the end of their working week. The pub, named in accordance with their customer’s and their customer’s forebearer’s profession, is in full swing as the last of the daylight is waning – cigarette smoke hangs in the air and aids in condensing the sound of song, laughter, and general merriment – all of which plays in symphony alongside the hiss of beer taps and the clanging of a busy cash register. 

Just as the evening is threatening to finally become night, the pub’s creaking front door swings ajar – and in what seems like an instant, a silence has spread itself through the entire pub – the way the arrival of a bridesmaid to a waiting crowd at a wedding ceremony might. Through the haze of the smoke and from the last of the evening’s natural illumination, steps a man into the pub. Emblazoned in a tailor-made reflective blue suit, the dull workwear-garbed patrons of the pub regard the man with an initial bout of bewilderment which eventually gives way, as most things do in Dublin, to indiscriminate slagging.  

I wasn’t there when this happened. I’m not even sure if I was alive when it happened, but this is a take on what it might have been like when David Bowie set foot in The Docker’s pub a few decades back. Recounted in Bono’s recent memoir:  Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story – the U2 lead singer alludes to how Bowie might have assumed the bar to be docker-themed, rather than docker-frequented, when he arrived there to meet the U2 lads for a few pints, a few decades back.  

It’s often said of Bowie that he was a futurist, and was ahead of his time, – there’s even a clip of him more-or-less predicting the forthcoming impact of the world wide web in 1999. So, we could argue that he was simply flexing his futurist abilities back when he met Bono and the boys for a few scoops, all those years ago. And I say this, because, if David Bowie were alive in the year of our lord: two-thousand and twenty-four, and well enough to frequent the renovated and reincarnated Dockers pub, as it is now – he’d have been absolutely correct in his estimation of it being docker-themed.  

That particular theme is demonstrated in the assortment of dock and docker imagery that adorns the walls of the pub and by the portrait that is printed on the wall and into the denim uniforms worn by the staff which depicts an older man – replete with flat cap and beard – presumably an old docker himself.  

Housing all of this is that well-worn faux-industrial style of pub fit-out we’ve all come to know and loathe – bare brick, exposed ducting and pipework all being par for the course. The ground floor is divided into two main atria: one of which houses a medium-sized bar and also provides the entrance to a smoking garden in the rear.  

When Pintman №2 and I arrived shortly before the after-work rush of an evening last year, we found ourselves being somewhat re-traumatized with memories of Covid-era drinking, when no sooner than we had stepped up to the bar, were we greeted by a member of the floor staff who had rushed to us and insisted upon seating us and serving us at the table, despite our preferences otherwise. Lovely and all, as this server was, her insistence on serving us in such a manner was made all the more perplexing when the 5 pm rush arrived and made table service entirely impossible. 

That 5 pm rush was an interesting sight to behold, from an anthropological point of view. It left us to wonder if, back when the docks were in their zenith, you’d be able to identify a drinker in a pub as being a docker on account of their dress or by objects they might have carried. This, we wondered, having observed this crowd of so-called Silicon Dockers that rushed in and noting a majority of them being laden with backpacks. And further so, when it was noticed that a majority of this majority simply left these backpacks on. Whether this was due to their reluctance to have their company-issued laptops therein, lost or stolen – or simply some sort of new fashion trend – we didn’t know – but it did amuse us to remark on their likeness to overgrown, pintdrinking schoolchildren. Not that we would condone the act of schoolchildren drinking pints, of course. But if this were a parallel world, where it was acceptable and beneficial for schoolchildren to drink pints – we’d wager, given our own experience, that they would be happy enough with the standard of Guinness here. But it would cost them €6.50 (Autumn 2023) of their pocket money every time they had one.  

Some who’d have little difficulty in shelling out €6.50 for a pint of something made up the river, are the pub’s incredibly famous former patrons. As suggested earlier, the pub has an affinity with the band U2 – who are said to have often drank there when recording in the nearby studios in Windmill Lane and Hannover Quay. The band even accepted a Billboard award by video transmission at a bar in the pub in 1992 and gave Phil Collins a bit of a hard time.  

But nowadays you’ll find no mention of the band within the pub. From all that we’ve seen and heard, the current proprietors don’t seem to be trying to trade on what we’d assume to be a relatively lucrative association. Granted, we are mere business-averse consumers who wouldn’t be able for a Junior Cert profit and loss account, but this seems like a missed opportunity.  

After all, what could be more of a perfect U2 pub than one that’s polished, expensive, commandeered by multinationals and not nearly as good as it was in the 1980s?  

In stoic defiance, they stand before me with their arms folded and their serious faces downcast. One of them repeats what the other has already said – but this time in a different phrasing: 

Look, it’s not happening tonight pal. You’ve had too much to drink. Just leave the premises, please. 

I think it’s fair to assume that a majority of the drinking population of this country have found themselves in this position before – being wrongly, or in my case – rightly, refused permission to enter a premises on account of what the gatekeepers have perceived to be intoxication. But what if I told you that this place that I was being refused from on this particular occasion wasn’t actually a pub or a nightclub? What if I told you it was, in fact, Connolly Train Station?  

You might be wondering, as most tend to do when I tell them this tale, how it actually came to this – what could I have possibly done to be disbarred from one of the city’s major transport hubs? Well, to figure that out, we first have to backtrack a few hours. 

It was, as these things often are, at the Christmastime of the year and your humble author was finishing up his day’s work and getting ready to set out for his debut appearance at an Office Christmas Party in the company he had started working in a few months prior. Being of a shy persuasion, it was a given that some Dutch courage was on the pre-party agenda and on foot of that I arrived at a very busy, IFSC-adjacent pub and found what felt like the last available pint-perch in the city that night.  

A few lip-looseners later, I was IFSC-bound and crossing the threshold of Lagoona. Wasting no time, I made for the bar and found myself behind a polished chrome standalone tap whose badge identified it as an experimental nitro pale ale. Hung upon this tap was a small sign denoting that this particular brew was the beer of the month, and as a result, was being sold at a discount –a bargain I could not ignore at the time.  

Lagoona Bar, itself, is not somewhere that’s ever endeared itself to me.  A perfunctory space set amidst the offices of the financial service companies who neighbour it, it has the sort of vibe exuded by certain spaces in Dublin Airport where beer and spirits are sold for pre-plane, open consumption. Exclusively bedecked with high seating and shiny surfaces, it’s not somewhere to cosy up into – it is precisely the sort of place that its granite, ground-floor of an apartment complex, frontage would lead you to believe it is. After-work pints and Christmas parties for companies who’ve left the booking a bit late are par for the course here.  

But, putting aside my indifference to its aesthetic, it was a perfectly fine and functional space for that Christmas party when I was at it – well what I can remember of the night – which admittedly is little, compared to some of my fellow attendees. It was after about five or so of these discounted nitro IPAs, I came to realise that their ABV was far higher than I had anticipated. From there on the evening, like the IPA itself, gets a bit hazy.  

The next major memory of the evening finds me in Connolly Station admonishing a member of the security staff there for not “carrying out his public service obligations” by refusing to allow me to travel on one of the late DARTs which had been specifically timetabled to ferry home drunken Christmas partiers. The man, who was genuinely concerned for my safety (fair play to him) eventually relented with a stern warning for me to not fall onto the tracks. I gave him my word that I would not, slurred and all as it was.  

I proceeded to board that late DART and by some minor miracle managed to notice I was on the wrong line. Disembarking early, as a result of this, I began some sort of Odyssey where I took a wrong turn and ended up in an unfamiliar part of a housing estate in Donaghmede and walked in circles for what felt like about three hours. The next morning revealed a Facebook friend request from a colleague – accompanied by a private message from them enquiring as to my welfare after I took ‘that bad fall off the bar stool’. Once I’d established this to actually be true and not a practical joke, I suppressed the associated mortification knowing that it needn’t be dealt with until late into Sunday. I then rose to wash and dress only to realise that I had lost one of my shoes at some stage in the evening.  

My apologies to anyone who came here to read about The Lagoona Bar and has made it this far through the tale of the greatest dose of The Fear I’ve ever had in my life. I’m sorry to not be able to report on the standard or the price of the pint, too. For more familiar readers of this blog, it will surely be no surprise that we’re not corralling groups to bound on up to the IFSC and check The Lagoona out. It’s a pub that is what it is – an after-work drinks spot, a work-leaving party spot, a cheeky lunchtime pint spot, a remind you of the reason you’re not employed in that company anymore spot and we’re absolutely fine with all of that.  

Update: Have been meaning to write this one up for a matter of years, but found out that the pub had permanently closed a mere couple of days after it was finally written. This is also why our image of the pub shows it while shut. So farewell Lagoona, as we currently know it.

Packed into the pub corner, the sweaty milieu are assembled with little regard for personal space. In various mixes of pork pie hats, belts, braces, polo, checkered and gingham shirts – they shake the foundations with their Doc Marten stomps. They move in deference to the refrain of the brass and in rhythm to the short sharp strokes of the tinny telecaster. Momentarily, when the timing is right, they swill at sloppy pints whose dark body and white creamy heads fit their two-tone devotion. They have work in the morning. We all have work in the morning. It’s a Sunday evening in The Foggy Dew.

Foggy Dew

Though it ain’t what it used to be, according to ageing ska heads I overheard in a nearby pub one day, and though you’ll hear other genres on the makeshift stage, therein, The Foggy Dew is one of Dublin’s best-known venues for the regular consumption of the live performances of Ska. Ska, a music genre and subculture I’ll admit to knowing relatively little about, has its roots in the Caribbean nation of Jamaica, and for the life of me, in my more naïve youth, I could never quite get my brain to comprehend the actuality of this exotic foreign music having established its home in a pub that takes its name, verbatim, from a traditional song about 1916 The Easter Rising that was written by a priest.

It was after I had made sense of that quandary above, that I came to wonder just how on earth I might succinctly explain such a realisation to you, the reader. But I wouldn’t have to in the end because Sinéad O’Connor managed to do that for me. When watching Kathryn Ferguson’s excellent documentary – Nothing Compares, in the wake of Sinéad’s sad passing over the summer – I was struck by a clip where she’s walking through what she describes as her favourite place in the universe – St. Mark’s Place in New York City. And as she walks along the pathway, she says the following to camera:

“All the Rastas live there and all the Irish people live here, which is why I like it. Cause Rastas and Irish people should live together since they’re both the same”.

It’s true that we Irish are terrible bores when it comes to harping on about the impact Irish emigration has had in places like America, England and Australia – but you don’t tend to hear much about the impact of Irish immigration into Jamaica. Though he’d hardly have envisaged it at the time – that prick of pricks – Oliver Cromwell, would ultimately come to alter the makeup of the Jamaican populous in no small way when he transported thousands of indentured Irish servants to the Caribbean in the wake of his attempted conquest in the 1600s. Today it’s said that 25% of the entire population of Jamaica claim Irish heritage and it is supposed that there was cross-pollination between the accents of the transported, the effect of which is still heard in the modern Jamaican accent, today.

With all of this Irish influence, and given that we are a musical people, it can only be fair to assume that all of this transportation had to have had an effect on the musical landscape of Jamaica. A musical landscape which would come to shape modern Ska, And, taking a large dollop of artistic license, that is why, in a very convoluted way, The Foggy Dew is a perfectly acceptable Ska Venue and that Oliver Cromwell’s only good deed was his contribution to traditional Jamaican music.

The Foggy Dew, though a pub associated with music, doesn’t at first glance exhibit the hallmarks that other such hostelries might. Inhabiting a primarily L-shaped space, which does contain a gangway on its longer side, out toward Crow Street – The Foggy Dew appears as a traditional bar with a few rocker flourishes. Set on two levels divided by a short set of steps – the lower of which is on the shorter end of the L, on the Fownes Street side, the pub is heavy on medium-toned wood, tiled and mirrored surfaces. As normal a pub as can be seen in Dublin, really. That is until you begin to notice the gold and platinum records, the framed guitars and portraits of long-haired guitar gods which let even the most casual of observers know that this seemingly traditional pub has another side.

With regard to the pint, I’ve always found it of good quality here. By no means showstopper stuff – but plenty drinkable. Price is maybe another thing – the pub being situated in the environs of Temple Bar. A mid-year (pre the August 2023 Diageo price increase) visit clocked a price of €6.40 a jar, which is painful enough on the pocket. Though obviously not as much as some nearby tourist-geared hotspots. But if you’re in there on Sunday evening soaking in the atmosphere and the music, you’ll find it hard to be too worried about that.

Even though I’m sure the men I mentioned earlier in this piece weren’t being untrue when they said that The Foggy Dew ain’t what it used to be – I think we do need to recognise that it’s certainly a lot more like it used to be than other nearby pubs. The fact that it hasn’t gone over to that diddly-eye-ified, tourist-trap dark side that so many in Temple Bar have succumbed to (Eamon Dorans RIP) is absolutely to be celebrated and embraced. It’s still a great pub, and long may it continue to be.

Upon the cobblestone streets built over basement dwellings which once made up the quarters of the lowest of the pauper class, Dubliners can still hear the clipping and the clopping of expensive leather as it makes its way up Henrietta Street.

In the past, it might have been an MP, fresh from his engagements in Grattan’s Parliament or a captain of industry arriving at his city townhouse. Nowadays it’s often a lawyer or a barrister, or one to be, at least. And usually, they’d be making their way towards the building which gives the pub we intend to write about here its name – that building (or set of buildings, even) is known as The Honourable Society of The Kings Inns – to give it its full title.

The Kings' Inn

A prestigious institute that sits in a James Gandon (he of custom house fame) designed building; this place is the foremost centre for learning the law in all of Ireland. And aside from giving the pub at the end of the street its name, it also affords it a few customers from time to time, as we’d found out one Christmas time. But let us come back to that.

The King’s Inn Pub is sat at the corner of Henrietta and Bolton Street – it was reopened under new ownership in 2018 after a spell of closure and has been well decorated on the outside and the inside. The inside of the pub, itself, is one entire space – there’s no separation of lounge and bar – but with that said, there are two distinctive sections, a main section with wooden flooring and then a raised section toward the back – resplendent with regal carpeting and, at the very back, sits the saviour of any cold or bitter day – an open fire.

Overall, the pub’s design spec does have a medieval, castle sort of vibe to it. This is helped in no small part by dark beams crossing the ceiling above. The ceiling, itself is painted in a contrasting brilliant white and much of this is overlayed with Book of Kells-style Celtic insignias. The odd suit of armour and church pew thrown in for good measure, complete the look.

One of the things that we enjoy most about the pub is the variety of drink on offer. You’ll get your usual mix of what would be expected in most traditional pubs, but you’ll also get some decent craft offerings too -Trouble Brewing’s Ambush, a personal favourite, being a constant offering! The Guinness is upper tier; always excellent and as of our last visit in Feb 2023, was a mere €5.20 a go!

Regarding the customer base here, and getting back to our Christmastime experience, mentioned at the outset of this piece – we’ve tended to encounter a wide variance of people here. There usually is, what appears to be, a core set of locals, presumably from the surrounding areas. There can, on occasion, be GAA sportswear-clad younger lads with accents from beyond the pale – possibly students from Bolton Street DIT (It’s not called DIT anymore, but I refuse to learn the new name just like me da who still calls FAS – which isn’t actually called FAS anymore, either – by the name it was in his day – AnCo).

But most interestingly for us, was not necessarily persons from the pub’s nearby namesake, but some of their prospective customers – who had arranged their Christmas drinks around a meeting one of them had attended with his legal representative beforehand. As usual, I was the first to arrive to the pub and settled in with a paper or a book over a pint while I awaited the arrival of some friends. A handful of men were sat in the section nearest to me and I had seen them and assumed them to maybe be a couple of work friends – perhaps drivers or tradesmen or factory workers out for a few Christmas jars – in the way people who are not employed in the sort of place that would have a formal Christmas party for all of its employees do. And I was kind of right.

I came to find it very difficult to concentrate on whatever it was that I was reading when I began to overhear one of these men explaining that he “has one rule on a job – get in and get out and I don’t care about anyone else. I do what I have to do.”

It wasn’t long before I realised that this was an office party for a troupe of petty criminals. Some of the things they said were in equal parts, hilarious and fascinating. I’ve included a selection of them below:

The cheapest shops are the hardest to rob from; you’d be out of Brown Thomas much handier than you’d be out of Penney’s.
• My nieces and nephews are the biggest shoplifters in this town. I taught them everything they know.
• Y’know Jane Doe? You know their ma? She’s 85! She used to be the best shoplifter in Dublin. The second she steps onto Talbot Street; she gets radioed all through town by the security.
• Smyth’s is getting ripped asunder now before Christmas.
• I have a friend in the Department of Social Protection, so I get free travel. I haven’t paid for a bus in ten years.

Beyond these nuggets, I was struck by how mannerly the lads were to their fellow customers and to those that were serving them – especially compared to a far rowdier group of law students, nearby. It was definitely interesting to have these two groups all together under one roof and that roof not being one belonging to a courthouse. It really affirmed our belief that the pub is the great egalitarian space in Irish culture where all different streams of society freely mix.

Anyway, The Kings Inn is a fantastic place: Traditional feeling, with all the right modern tarnishes – in the landscape of pubs in Dublin, we’d consider it a must!

Standing and sitting all around him, they gaze ahead, unemotionally, and in glib expectation of a continuance of the mediocrity that has so far graced the stage on this cold winter’s night. He has no light show, no backing band, and no bejewelled jumpsuit for to dazzle them with – he’s garbed in a nondescript t-shirt and the pair of brown cords that we always slag him about wearing. He’s singing into a budget microphone, over a synthesizer-heavy, cheap-sounding backing track. Though it’s all eyes rolling and lips pursing as they recognise his song choice, his timely deployment of a few hip swivels and arm rotations has them softened before the first chorus comes in.

Kenny's (James' St.)

By the time he’s dropped to his knees for the middle-eighth and pleaded with the nearest pensioner to “wipe the tears from your eyes” and “not let a good thing die”, he has them fully onside for the home stretch. Finishing the song, he takes his applause and joins us where we’d been laughing at him in the crowd, throughout. After enquiring with us as to where he’d left his pint, we all returned to our seats in the bar and rejoined the remainder of our friends and the prostitute who had since joined us at the table.

Numerous people within the population may disagree with sex work and more again may be anti-karaoke. But one could only surmise that only the smallest of subsets of even those people would argue that neither karaoke nor sex workers are entirely out of place in a public house. But what if we told you that this is no ordinary public house?

When those shots, arguably the most impactful ever fired in Irish history, had long finished echoing through the Cork countryside and Michael Collins had been put in the ground in Glasnevin; the task of governing the Free State was placed upon the head of a Mr William Thomas Cosgrave. Known to most of us as WT Cosgrave, he was obviously a man who didn’t fancy much of a commute to his work given that when he fought in the Rising under Eamonn Ceannt – he did so in the South Dublin Union – a then-workhouse, which now forms part of the St. James Hospital complex. And handily enough for WT – the South Dublin Union happened to be across the road from Burke’s pub – where he was born, lived, and also put the odd shift in. This pub, as observers of the plaque outside it will know – is now Kenny’s.

The reason we felt it important to emphasize, as we did above, about this being no ordinary pub is that our own impression of it was just that. There’s a relatively narrow bar on the left side of the building and, at the time we visited, the pub was ticking over with customers who all seemed to be local enough and enjoying themselves. Kenny’s is a good-looking traditional pub. One where the pint is fairly priced (€5 as of late 2022) and is well crafted by the bartenders who, on our collective visit, are full of chat and banter as they go about their duties.

Other than that inconspicuous plaque, there’s no blatant or obvious reason for someone who wanders into this pub from the street outside to know that it’s the birthplace of the State’s first de facto Taoiseach. Who, himself, fathered another Taoiseach. There’s no indication in the place that it was once raided during the Civil War and that the uncle of the State’s first de facto Taoiseach was shot and killed here. Passing from the bar of the pub into its expansive lounge and sitting amongst all the spectators of the karaoke, therein, you could never imagine that this building did bear witness to such historical events.

The funny thing is though, that places of such historical significance tend to be more solemn and reflective places. You’d hardly have your Aunty Margret up doing her best Proud Mary down at Arbor Hill, or Uncle Tommy giving My Way a good blast in the yard in Kilmainham Jail, now, would you? So, with that in mind, you can’t help but question the appropriateness of Pintman №3 crooning out his best Suspicious Minds in here, though, can you?

WT Cosgrave Plaque

But, rest assured, the more and more we’ve thought about it, the more suitable we’ve come to believe that it is. What you need to do to achieve such a state is to look at the lyrics of the song – not from the perspective of a paranoid lover – but from that of a combatant in a civil war. Cosgrave is the man who had to make the big decisions to steer Ireland out of the Civil War, post-Collins. It could be argued that it is he who is the quintessential civil war figure in Irish history. And given the alternatives available to him at the time, you could say that he was caught in a trap.

When you consider the threat of awful and terrible violence from the British war machine that hung like a Damocles sword over the head of the State’s first government, were they to not have settled the civil war, you come to realise that Cosgrave could not walk out during that violent time in Irish history where most of the cabinet and their families barely ever left government buildings for fear of execution. And all this because he loved you (i.e. the path to achieving a real republic) too much baby.

Cosgrave Shot

So, to us, there’s no reason why the performing of Elvis can be considered as a disrespectful act, on such sacred turf. It is also worth noting that, though they seem worlds apart, Cosgrave didn’t die until 1965 – at which point Elvis was already established as a global superstar. And who’s to say that the founder of Cumann na nGaedheal, anti-royalist as he was, didn’t have a soft spot for this particular King, were he to be played on Radio Éireann back when rock and roll was taking over the world?

As for the woman who had joined us, that – to us – was an unusual encounter in a Dublin pub. We had clocked her mostly-unreciprocated overfamiliarity with all of the men who were arriving into the pub as we were there, and we’d privately made a few guesses as to her profession being that which ranked as the oldest in the world on this basis.

When she did join us for a drink, and confirm our guesses to be correct, she didn’t opt to stay around for long when it was established that we were not prospective customers.

We definitely do stand over the case we’ve made for WT being likely to let a bit of Elvis slide on such hallowed, historical ground, but we can’t say with any degree of certainty that, given his endorsement of the closure of Dublin’s notorious red-light district: The Monto, the case can be made for Mr Cosgrave looking so fondly upon the solicitation of sex on the premises.

So, if you’re a blueshirt, a karaoke fan, a member of the vice squad, or all of the above – or if you’re just looking for a few decent pints, get yourself down to Kenny’s of James’ Street for one of the best nights you could hope for.

Epilogue: We do just want to make sure it’s clear that we are not suggesting that the management/proprietors/operators of this pub are involved in the provision of sex for sale. The sex worker we met in this pub was not affiliated with it or its staff. As alluded to above, this was a fairly unusual encounter – not only in Kenny’s (which we’ve separately and collectively been to a handful of times and not experienced) but in Dublin pubs in general.

When the war finally came and the sands around the city were raised by hellfire from above, Amani could hardly believe the calm that had washed over her. All through the previous weeks, nervous energy had clung to every street in the city like a foul smell from which there was no escape – she felt it intensely, thinking of little else as the men in suits on the other side of the world pondered her and her country’s fate. So, when the first troops arrived and the noise of the city’s traffic and its hurried inhabitants had given way to interludes of intense quiet which padded the thunderous cacophony of war, she couldn’t help but feel a conflicting sense of relief. Relief that, even though all had changed utterly, at least, for now, the waiting and the tension were over. 

Barn House

As the invasion advanced and Amani’s calm subsided, and she expected that it would soon become enveloped by fear. But as she watched and heard of events that unfolded, she instead had become stricken with anger. And not the prevailing shade of anger familiar to all, across the city, who heard it shrieked from the political leaders and the radical Imams, but an anger for those who had no regard for the sanctity of the artefacts of the past. She found herself incandescent with fury upon hearing of the looters. The selfish and the greedy – who took it upon themselves to pillage priceless relics from the nearby National Museum, while the city was on its knees. Equal, too, was her ire for those who just stood by and allowed them to do it.  

At that time and after it was apparent that forces belonging to her country and its invaders, did not share her views on the sanctity of the relics. Protection for millennia-old Mesopotamian remains or for pre-Islamic art was not evident. What was evident, however, was the interest that the invading forces had in protecting infrastructure and resources pertaining to the country’s oil industry. 

The above is a fictionalised account of an eyewitness report I read from someone who described their experience of the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. And even though it was definitely a bit indulgent of me to open an article about a pub in Dublin with that, I’m happy enough that it’s at least a bit relevant. If even just tenuously so. For the second time, The Barn House, the last pub before The Grand Canal at Dolphin’s Barn, had me thinking about US Imperialism the other week. I had first tied the pub to the topic a year and a quarter or so ago upon the occasion of my first visit to the pub. 

You know the way they say that smell is the sense that most easily triggers our memories? Well, I can attest to that being true because the main abiding memory that I have of The Barn House is of the pungent smell of kerosene. It was early in the year and a crowd of us were crawling toward Rialto. We all agreed that we could smell it, diesel or petrol we thought. Pintman №11 and his qualification as a mechanic of many years allowed us to dismiss these guesses and collectively agree on kerosene. So potent was the smell at the time, that one of us joked that it was just as well the Yanks didn’t know about this place, or else they’d be in looking for WMDs and ready to liberate us from an authoritarian dictator. There was even a readymade, media-friendly name for the offensive; Operation Barnstorm would look great in the papers, we all agreed. 

That conversation, a mere footnote in the day, a throwaway joke at the time, would come to gain new importance in the year that followed. Not personally having thought of that canalside pub for quite a while, or the jokes we made, therein, you can imagine how quickly it all came flooding back when, as I doom-scrolled through Twitter, I came to happen upon a picture of Chief Yank in charge himself: President of the United States of America – Joe Biden. It was during the time that Joe was on his official visit to the island and here he was, happily rolling along through Dolphin’s Barn on his way up to the Áras, or wherever, in his bulletproof limo. And in the background, none other than that kerosene-rich hostelry: The Barn House. Just as well he’s looking out the other side and that that thing is hermetically sealed, I thought to myself.

Thankfully Joe didn’t take any notice of The Barn House on this occasion, so he’d be no use to anyone who’s reading this to find out what the pub is like. So I suppose that’s where we step in. I’d be lying if I were to say that we got a great sense of the place during that first and only visit. Other than the smell of home heating fuel, there weren’t too many features that stood out. TVs aplenty and a few betting machines were noted. Dark carpet added to the overall dimness of the place.

Joe Barnstorm

We agreed that it was a local’s local. and it had plenty of youngfellas who were comfortable enough there to roar the house down as they watched Man Utd playing some inconsequential league tie.The staff were very accommodating and the pint was more than acceptable too (€5, early 2022).  But we would be lying if we said we didn’t enjoy Lowe’s before, and The Bird Flanagan after, more than we did the Barn. 

My thanks to all of you who’ve stayed with us to the end of this and my apologies to anyone who waded through all of it just to get some sparse information on The Barn House. And if you’re ever in the environs of Dolphin’s Barn and see the Chinooks and Black Hawk Helicopters coming across the horizon – you know the score! Grab your go-bag and head for your bugout shelter.  

Each and every June, they don their straw boaters and bedeck themselves in their finest Edwardian splendour. By foot, bicycle, and horse-drawn cart, they can be seen as they to and fro around that familiar circuit. They’ll be spotted alongside the fortifications of Sandycove, and they’ll be seen at the mouth of Westland Row. They’ll be seen on Stephen’s Green and in Merrion Square. You’ll undoubtedly see them out on the pavement of Duke Street as they quaff overpriced burgundy for to dull the sharp sting of the similarly overpriced gorgonzola that has just passed their lips. But one place you will almost certainly not see them is at Number 27 James’ Street. And for the life of me, I cannot begin to fathom why. 

I’m not sure if it’s just me. Still, every time that Bloomsday – a day I’ve heard referred to as Paddy’s Day for arseholes on more than one occasion – rolls around, I find myself a bit annoyed that all of the reportage from that day invariably centres around those familiar and picturesque vistas mentioned above.

I’m not trying to sound bitter, but having, as Joyce did too, a bit of a persecution complex, I’m always a bit annoyed that we rarely see images from the more working-class areas featured in Joyce’s writing. Areas like James’ Street and pubs like The Malt. 

The Malt

It’s unlikely you’ll find it mentioned in the literature that litters the lobbies of hotels around the country – but The Malt is a pub that features in that novel which has been called the most prominent landmark in modernist literature – Ulysses. Specifically, it appears in the Wandering Rocks episode where the reader follows Tom Kernan, a tea merchant, as he passes Crimmins’ Wine and Spirit Merchants at numbers 27 and 28 James’s Street – The Malt is the business that now occupies number 27. 

From the sundial towards James’s gate walked Mr Kernan, pleased with the order he had booked for Pulbrook Robertson, boldly along James’s street, past Shackleton’s offices. Got round him all right. How do you do, Mr Crimmins? First rate, sir. I was afraid you might be up in your other establishment in Pimlico. How are things going? Just keeping alive. Lovely weather we’re having. Yes, indeed. Good for the country. Those farmers are always grumbling. I’ll just take a thimbleful of your best gin, Mr Crimmins. A small gin, sir. Yes, sir. 

James Joyce, Ulysses

Long-time readers of the blog might be aware that our framing of a pub, relative to its minor inclusion in the works of Joyce has almost become a bit of a DublinBuPub trope at this stage. Knowing this, I initially sought to write this one without any such mention. But the more I tried, the harder it seemed to become. I just couldn’t escape the thought that a place like The Malt House – it being so brimming with working-class Dubliners, all at ease with themselves and others, in full flow of their peculiar Hiberno-English is precisely the sort of space that Joyce himself would have feasted upon for his own particular literary peculiarities. 

We would ask all readers of this piece, who seek to gain a rounded view of this pub to first allow our presence in four pubs immediately before the visit we are going to speak about here, to act as the disclaimer that it should. We will note that the pub had, during the course of that afternoon, come to be highly recommended when Pintman №9, an employee of a nearby manufacturing concern, the one that actually possesses a literal malt house, had set our jowls watering in anticipation when he spoke of the quality of the local brew that he had enjoyed there some months previous.

For fear that we’re going to lean toward another of our tropes, we won’t comment on what we really think about this. But, the first thing you should note about The Malt House is the fact that food is served. If the management in The Malt House wants to impress upon you: the customer, or you: the passerby, or you: the general member of the public – it is that they serve food.

test frame

The Sundial Mentioned in the quote above

And just like the commercial malt houses in the nearby expansive brewery, whose roasting of barley regularly engages the olfaction of the wider Dublin 8 postcode, en-masse, this particular malt house also happens to do so as well. Not with barley though, but with that aforementioned food offering. The patrons of this malt house are free to inhale the fragrance of their fellow customer’s dinners, as they emanate from the kitchen in the pub’s rear. And given that any Joycean worth their salt will waste no time quoting about sweet lemony wax, tang of faintly scented urine and, eh, Nora Barnacle’s… essence –  we’d have to make, once again, an argument for its inclusion as a Joycean touchstone. 

In the short time that we do spend in The Malt House, we find ourselves in conversation with two welcoming lads who waste no time in rearranging their table to make room for the heft us that have arrived and opted to sit at the table next to them. In the same spirit of nearby hostelries, they waste no time throwing a bit of slagging our way when they realise that we’re from the far side of the city. One of them is quick enough to enquire with regard to our League of Ireland allegiances – “Yis aren’t bleedin’ Bohs fans now are yis?” We manage to assuage any tension with a tenuous allegiance to St Pat’s by qualification of one of us having Inchicore parentage. 

And that is about all we can really report from our maiden voyage to The Malt House. It’s a straightforward pub. A St. Pat’s Pub. A Dublin GAA Pub. A pub with plenty of friendly and welcoming patrons. A pub with a great pint (€5 as of Late 2022). It’s a pub that this blog might, had it been writing about it just three of four years previously, have described as being typical of the area. But with the demise of Bakers, The Clock and Agnes Browne’s, The Malt House has lived to see itself start to become the exception, rather than the rule. So, regardless of whether this pub is just a common or garden local or a Joycean relic, or both, for all that is good and holy, be sure to get in and experience a good honest Liberties local while you still can.  

When boyhood’s fire was in my blood, you’d often find me – huddled with the rest outside the hall. Them all with their extra bags and tracksuit bottoms; and me, with no such additional accoutrements other than a note which had been begged from one of my reluctant parents the night prior. A note that would exclude me from the next double class of physical education.

The Bottle Boy: North Wall Quay


For back then, I was part of that underappreciated and misunderstood troupe of schoolchildren who resisted our school’s insistence that we go run and jump for up to 60 minutes at a time. Our reasons for such resistance were many and varied – but one of mine related to a particular disdain I had toward a particular type of exercise – arguably the most archetypal exercise of all: the press-up. Be it red-faced, so-called educators shouting for five more, or factions of classmates performatively executing them in a furore of hormone-fuelled competitiveness, press-ups always seemed to activate some sort of deep-set, multi-generational terror in me. And I was want to avoid them at all costs. 
 
Thankfully, though, nothing in this world lasts forever. And eventually, The Leaving Cert was sat and Ewan McColl’s words about schooldays were ringing true – and with no plans for a career in the defence forces or the fitness industry, I could be reasonably satisfied that the days in which I could be threatened by press-ups were well and truly over. Right? Well… no! Decades have passed since your humble narrator was dodging PE classes and all these years later, he has found himself battling, once again, against press-ups. But not as we had known them. 
 
It was in the fallout period from the global recession at the outset of the 21st century, that Dubliners began to notice things and to ask questions about places they were drinking, eating, or staying in. Questions like – Have I been to this pub before? Did I not have this exact same breakfast in the other place we were in? Is this not very similar to that other hotel I was in? And then eventually, the dots would have been joined and someone would say those two words. Those two doom-laden words… Press. Up. 
 
Yes. No longer associated with masochistic physical educators, the words press and up now have entirely different but equally terrifying connotations for the Irish pub-going public. Describing themselves as an Entertainment Company, Press Up is a chain of hospitality businesses. Having grown substantially over the last decade, PressUp now boasts a considerable and ever-growing portfolio of identikit pubs, hotels, and restaurants and, as you might have guessed – The Bottle Boy is yet another jewel upon the ever-shinier PressUp crown. 
 
It might have been entirely appropriate that I should call back to school-going times at the start of this piece because The Bottle Boy is a bit like you might have been back in school – devoid of any clue about what you were actually going to do in the world. Is it a restaurant? A local pub? A hotel bar? A cocktail joint? A Barbers? Why, it’s all these things and more. Previously Valence & McGraths, The Bottle Boy boast the honour of being the last public house on the eastern end of the north quays. The pub forms part of the newly developed Mayson Hotel, which towers above it. 
 
Entering from the street, the pub is pleasing to the eye. Timber-heavy and somewhat threadbare – it uses worn and undertreated wood as a dominant feature. The bar, itself, which runs along the right is somewhat Victorian in style, containing three large mirrors. Generic old-timey pub bric-a-brac and curios fill idle shelve space where needed. A snug-like section sits attached to the street-side end of the bar but owing to it having only the timber shell of a would-be partition and no door, it could be argued that it’s not a real snug, in the truest sense of the word.

It was all a bit sensory overload when first we visited the pub. It had an after-work crew, nestled into a corner, skulling pints and generally having a laugh. It had a couple of girlies who were glammed up to the nines and waiting for a few cocktails to come their way. It also had a few couples having three-course dinners. The barman, much to my disapproval at that time, would stop pouring drinks just so that he could greet people coming through the door in the way a Maître d’ in an American restaurant might – noisy and fake. It was hard to figure out exactly what this pub wanted to be. And that was before we even found out what was down the back of the place.  
 
Toward the back of the bar, there is a fire replete with cushioned surround giving congruence to the aesthetic set out in the previous parts of the pub. But, take a few steps more from here and all harmony begins to dissipate. It’s here that you’ll come to be in a larger expanse that opens to a courtyard. Where everything begins to feel more hotel than pub. To the right, beyond these few steps, there is a full barber shop behind a large viewing window – so that all your buddies have ample space to videotape you, as you pay a stranger €25 to give you a mullet, having drank eight to thirteen pints. And just as we mention pints, the Guinness here was in keeping with the standard usually experienced in the various PressUp pubs – more than acceptable, though not outstanding.

We’re forever ending the pieces we write on PressUp pubs on these philosophical open-ended, rhetorical questions – but they are always where we wind up when we speak about PressUp. Why can’t we speak about The Bottle Boy in the same positive fashion that we might regard the likes of The Ferryman with? After all, it’s not a bad pub. It’s definitely better to have it there than it is to have the derelict shell it was there instead.  
 
Is it a thing that our doe-eyed view of the past, when more pubs were family-run operations and our pining for such is just naïve? Are PressUp not just a modern incarnation of the Mooneys, and are we not just being cynical to be so dismissive of them? We attended a wedding in the hotel since our initial visits, and as a result of that we spent a good chunk of a day in that pub – we think of it fondly since then. And it was far better spending a day in there than it was in some plush ballroom out in County Meath. So maybe we’re just nitpicking. Maybe we should be glad that it’s an Irish outfit breathing new leases of life into these old derelict pubs and not the other shower from across the water? 

But I just don’t know. Ironically, in the way that some the very great pubs of this city seem to have some unknown quantity that makes them so, these pubs seem to also have an unknown quantity in the inverse. One that prevents them from being so. And with PressUp most recently having jettisoned Dollard & Co. – their go at a Fallon & Byrne style offering on Wellington Quay – opting to kit it out as a pub and rename it The Giddy Dolphin, it seems to us that the great PressUp debate is only really beginning. 


 

Looking back on it now, with the gift of hindsight, and decent software that chronologically catalogued all the photos from the year, I can see that we were fitting a lot into that summer.  

Leonard’s Corner

Big weekends like the one in question weren’t as abnormal as they’ve admittedly become. The body and the circumstances were better equipped for an action-packed Thursday to Sunday extravaganza with a full itinerary of very late finishes. It was at the tail end of one of these glorious weekends that I would first cross the threshold of Leonard’s Corner.   

It was a Sunday, nay – it was the Sunday. World Cup Final Sunday, and we were away to deepest darkest South Dublin to watch the fixture in a friend’s house. Yours truly was barely upright and still contending with the Charlie’s that had been consumed when the sun had already started to come up, a mere couple of hours prior.   

Having marginally survived the journey across the city, I located the nearest licensed outlet and immediately realized that, alike the 11 Croatians that were to be shortly lining out against France in Moscow, I was going to have to play this one tactically. 

Cans of stout would not be on the bill of fare for that afternoon. Nor was lager or any other such widely available beer that was for sale in the supermarket I’d found myself in. I had almost settled on cider, when, for some reason at that particular moment, it was obvious that several different variants of cheap sparkling wine were the necessary tonic required for reviving my ailing soul.  

A couple of hours later and things had improved exponentially. Now cured about three times over and with a few quid of French Sweepstakes money in the back pocket, I found myself in tow with some friends as we crawled our way out of Harold’s Cross and towards Clanbrassil Street. Naturally, it wasn’t long before we arrive at Leonard’s Corner.  

Leonard’s Corner, situated on… Leonard’s Corner is one of a unique set of intersections in Dublin that derive their name from a business that was once (or may still be) situated there. Though its name is in harmony with the name of the intersection now, the pub did go through a few different names in its past, previously bearing the name Carrs.

It seems that the original Leonard was a Mr Francis Leonard, who owned the building in the latter half of the 19th Century. And even though this 1894 edition of The Belfast Newsletter shows that he put it up for sale in that same year, the intersection still bears his name more than a century later.

Leonard’s Corner, the pub that is, is a traditional looking pub; L-shaped, due to the placement of the bar and its being on a corner, we found it somewhat dimly lit to an agreeable level on this first visit. On that occasion, having ordered a round and happily sat down at one of the low tables, we – being a bit boisterous with the day that was in it- found ourselves on the bad side of one of the barmen.  

Were we merry from the day? Yes.  

Were we of any harm to others? Absolutely not.  

Were we too loud? Almost definitely.

Leonard's Corner Full2

By pint number two, that barman had asked us to quieten down a few times. And in lieu of pint number three, we decided that we probably were ruining the ambience and opted to leave. 

When I next set foot in Leonard’s Corner, it was on the occasion of wanting a few pints prior to a Mary Wallopers show in the nearby National Stadium. To those unaware, The Mary Wallopers are what I would term a sort of nouveau Clancy Brothers – rollicking balladeers from Dundalk who have a fanbase as thirsty as their repertoire of liquor-laden folksongs. Unfortunately, for our friends in Leonard’s Corner, they were aware of none of this – the Mary Wallopers, their fans, or their concert didn’t exist as far as they were concerned. That is until they did. 

I’m sorry to say that I’m capable of being a petty, petty man. And I know this because of the sense of satisfaction I found in watching that same said barman – the one that had been so vexed with us those four years prior – as he battled against the unexpected hordes, five deep – on the far side of the bar that he tended. I’m sorry to tell you, reader, that I couldn’t shift that feeling of cosmic equilibrium as I gazed into the eyes of that man and saw that he was like a fox in the headlights, timidly asking another customer – ‘what time do them doors open up there’.  

I keep telling people to enjoy bartenders like this while they last, though. The old-school career bartender is becoming a rarer thing in the modern world. This man and his colleagues excelled themselves on that particular night – professionalism defined. They got everyone served in good time and dealt with a swell that would have engulfed the less experienced. And of course, the man was right and proper to throw us a bit of ire on that Sunday in 2018, we’d expect no less from the bartenders in our own local, were a messy group of outsiders to descend upon it on a relaxing Sunday night.  

I suppose we’ve only proven, in writing about our only two visits to Leonard’s, that we’ve never actually been there under normal circumstances. So, we’re definitely not the best arbiters of what it’s actually really like on a day-to-day basis. Then again, maybe we are – those two visits told us everything we need to know about the place and that is that it’s in great hands. I definitely have a grá for the place as a result of those two visits – and I can’t wait to get back there again.