Lately, in thinking about The Deer’s Head, we’ve been considering pub names in a bit more detail than we usually would. Our reason for this is that we’ve decided that The Deer’s Head is part of an exclusive-ish club, speaking in terms of the confines of Dublin City. Along with another four somewhat similarly named boozers – The Stag’s Head, The Boar’s Head, The Brazen Head and; The Turk’s Head, this pub is a member of what we’ve decided to call The Headed Pubs Club. And recently we’ve become quite curious about the genesis of these peculiar names. So much so that we don’t actually get around to speaking about the actual pub until about 8 paragraphs in, feel free to skip ahead if you want. We don’t mind.
Previously, having visited The Boar’s and The Stag’s head, we were content enough to think that these types of boozers were named so in accordance with their prized pieces of taxidermy. But reflecting further upon this, and considering the lack of taxidermy in The Deer’s Head, along with a hypothetical angry Turkish lad or two, we’ve decided that we don’t really know that much after all.
Now most of you may already know or will have observed that pub names in Ireland tend to bear the name of the proprietor of the premises, or the former proprietor as the case may be. This is a result of the requirement to do so which was legislatively enshrined into rule by the Licensing Act of 1872. This act decreed that ‘Every licensed person shall cause to be painted or fixed, and shall keep painted or fixed on the premises in respect of which his license is granted, in a conspicuous place – his name’. Failure to abide by these directions would incur the hefty penalty of a £10 fine or a £20 fine in the case of repeat offenders.
This is all good and well, and certainly does explain the emblazoning of ‘O’Reilly’s’ upon the left-hand side of the façade of The Deer’s Head – but having completed an unfruitful search in the text of the aforementioned Licensing Act for the words Stag, Boar, Brazen, Turk and head, I can’t say any closure was given to our sense of curiosity. What followed this would be a sluggish wade through torrents of digital articles pertaining to the listing of ‘the top ten maddest’, ‘the world’s most memorable’, ‘Ireland’s weirdest’ and ‘Britain’s funniest’ pub names. Progress was slow! But eventually, we did find some material of substance.
Firstly, the point we need to make about the ‘headed’ pubs before any other is one that separates The Brazen Head from the pack. This is mostly because the genesis of The Brazen Head’s name falls outside the norm given that it stems from the occurrence of a nosey hooker falling afoul of an errant Williamite cannonball. But that most certainly is one for another day.
As for the rest of our ‘headed’ pubs, it would seem that these are so named with a hearty dollop of influence from the culture of the former oppressor. Yep, it seems that The Brits have had a certain propensity down through the years to name pubs in accordance to popular and/or local heraldry – heraldry being the act of attributing a coat of arms to your family name or bloodline, (very) broadly speaking. That, too, is not to say that people didn’t just name pubs after a boar that might have been moseying around the town, or a stag up in the park or the like. Pictorial symbols were most definitely the way to go back when the majority of your customer base was illiterate!
Overall though, it’s the sole inclusion of the head in each of the names we’re currently writing about that would leave us to believe that some coat of arms, while maybe not directly bringing it about, certainly influenced the naming of the boar’s, stag’s and deer’s head, or even a pub they were named after, or in the same vein as. And again, with The Turk’s head, we can say this with a higher degree of certainty, given that pubs of the same name are ten-a-penny across the water and are well-reputed to be named in accordance with heraldic symbolism that popped up during and after the crusades.
So that’s about the shape of it with regard to these pub names, enough to satisfy our curiosity at the least anyhow. And if you had asked us a few weeks ago, as we emerged from The Deer’s Head in a state of giddiness from what we had just encountered whether we’d end up writing anything akin to that which precedes this sentence – we would likely have rebutted your query with a response that was overwhelmingly laden with profanities. But still, here we are.
Having wandered in upon a whim following a couple in The Shakespeare we found ourselves greeted by a pub that we scantly remembered from our previous visit some years ago – not because of any renovations, just because of our substandard memories.
To walk into this pub at 10 o’clock or so on a Friday evening as the summer is beginning to wane is to experience working-class Dublin through multiple senses. The first is smell. Upon stepping beyond the threshold one encounters an aroma of feet and perspiration that starts with a degree of pungency before subsiding to a more minor consideration. The second sense affected is sight. No dress code applies here, snickers and steel-toe boots are commonplace and certainly go some way to explaining the smell. Scores of hardy men gather around wooden plinths dancing like teenage girls would do to pop music in their bedrooms, empowered by the knowledge that no one is looking at them. When there we rejoiced at a man in a full-length Hi-Viz jacket striding, Jagger-esquely, up and down the length of the pub accosting people with the lyrics of the song playing on the PA, which brings us nicely toward the third sense at play here – sound. What other band on this entire earth could possibly be responsible for such widespread expressive physical movement other than Madness! Twenty-one solid minutes of Madness, in fact. I’m even struggling now to try and remember if the DJ played any other artists than Madness while we were there, or if even he possessed copies of any other recordings aside from those released by Madness. Possibly not. And with the reaction of the patrons in the pub, who could blame him?
Other than the over-exuberant patrons, the appearance of the pub was fairly standard. Most seating comprised of couches and low stools with the option of higher seating around the aforementioned wooden, plinth-like structures and at the bar too. Colour-wise the bar is light enough, with white walls and green carpet taking dominance of most views. Pictures did hang about the wall and could have been displaying images of Tanzanian Ski Championships for all we knew – given we didn’t pay them too much heed to the other distractions about. It was noted, however, that there was no taxidermied Deer’s Head to couple with the name though.
The pint was a perfect pour and rounded in at an even more perfect €4.50 a pop. We had just the one as we were on a schedule at the time, and maybe subconsciously we were afraid as to what would happen if the DJ ran out of Madness tunes.
So for those of you who have stuck with us here and have read this whole thing all the way through – we’d like to thank you. And suggest that you take a visit to The Deer’s Head on one of these steamy autumnal evenings. The locals will ask you about baggy trousers ten times over before anyone even suggest a query on the provenance of the pub’s name. But it couldn’t hurt to know, now could it?