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.
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.
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.