I was thinking about canals the other week. Not just in general – I had Dublin’s two canals – The Royal on the Northside and the Grand on the Southside on my mind. Now I’m not here to delve into the wider history of them, today, but that’s well worth looking into if you’re so inclined. But the canals are often, relative to this blog, foremost in our thoughts. Like so many, we use them as boundaries – deeming them to denote where the city centre of Dublin starts and ends. But, as I sat down beside Patrick Kavanagh on my lunch break during the week – I was thinking too, how their initial purpose, to be used for trade and commerce, is virtually eradicated now.
I was asking Paddy, whether he reckoned that his Canal Bank Walk poem might have been the thing that done it or at least heralded it. This change of the canal zeitgeist, as it were, to its modern form. The transformation of our consideration of this body of water to be a source of ecology, of nature and biodiversity and not solely a for-profit feat of engineering.
Paddy, being a bronze statue, naturally did not respond to me. But I’ll post his poem here, which – as you’ll observe, makes no mention of industry or logistics.
Canal Bank Walk
Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be proven.Patrick Kavanagh
Now it’s probably bad enough to be reading this if you’re Brendan Behan – because after me just mentioning one of his most vocal adversaries, I’m now going to move on to speak about the pub he was in when he collapsed and ultimately died in 1964.
Harkin’s, aka the Harbour Bar, is a pub situated on Grand Canal Place. And it could be argued that the pub and the street that it sits on are in direct defiance of the entire point that I made about the canals, above. Because, as one walks up Grand Canal Place, they might begin to notice that despite its name, there isn’t sight nor sound of the grand canal to be found anywhere. And if that leads you, as it did me, to curiosity – you won’t be long finding out that – just like outside The Lower Deck, there once was a Canal Harbour in situ near this pub. And this explains it retaining the name The Harbour Bar. And then you’ll look up at the grand vista of the Guinness Brewery and you’ll be very much reminded of the canal’s purpose as an artery of business and not a leafy lover-filled habitat.
Harkin’s, being so close to the historic harbour, and being the last standing of such harbourside pubs in this environs, now finds itself with the distinction of being the pub closest to The Guinness Storehouse. On the smaller side of the city’s public houses, it’s a one-room pub which exudes an intimate, cosy sort of charm about it. Being so close to one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, the staff have clearly had plenty of opportunities to work on their customer service given the warmth of the welcome we seem to always receive in the place. And it’s a good genuine warmth too, as opposed to the brand of Mid Atlantic faux-niceness you might get in other establishments.
Crowd-wise, it’s no surprise to say that the pub is not shy of tourists, but it also has locals aplenty and retains the feel of a proper Liberties boozer. There’s good craic to be had in the place. When last we darkened its door, we were delighted to bump into Mark, a local historian, who had us more than entertained talking about the history of our locality and sharing some old photos of it that he had on his phone. The barmen, however, on hearing we were from the Northside of the city, wasted no time in giving us a bit of stick – all being ardent Southsiders, themselves. (Check out Mark’s pages here and here)
Regarding the pint, you’d be imagining that the quality would be up to scratch – being so close to the mothership. And you’d be entirely correct in imagining as such. Pintman №2, №3, №9 and I, on the occasion of our last visit there, decided that the quality of the jar and its €4.90 pricetag (Late 2022) warranted us staying for two more pints than we had initially intended to.
There isn’t not much to be said about the pub regarding décor, function trumps form here and we’re not looking at anything too ornate. Our abiding memory of all of the structural elements of the building was the relatively long corridor that runs down to the gents. I had remarked to Pintman №2 that it struck me as the type of thing you see before you emerge out to the crowd in the mid-nineties tv show, Stars in Their Eyes. He preferred to liken it to the tunnel in Anfield.
As we alluded to earlier in the post, it’s a fact that this was the last Public House Brendan Behan ever took a drink in before his body succumbed to years of alcohol abuse. While not exactly a great omen – and morbid and all as it is to go there, I’d have to say that even though I’d have plenty of places further up in the queue for where I’d like to take my last pint, I wouldn’t be disappointed if it had to be Harkin’s in the end.