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.
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.