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You might note, as you take your travels around this city and find yourself, over a pint, sneaking a listen to a group with a good variance of age, that there may occur a moment where two people at opposing ends of the chronological spectrum will be speaking about what they both believe to be the same Dublin pub. And you might notice that when one of the two makes a description of the pub, that it doesn’t exactly conform to the description made by the other. And if you’re just that inquisitive, you might think to yourself that these two people are speaking about two entirely different places. And you’d probably be right.

Where the pubs of Dublin are concerned, convolution is often the order of the day. There are dozens of cases of pubs in Dublin bearing a name which once adorned entirely different premises. And as you might have imagined, Nancy Hands falls under that remit too. Having been previously named as The Deer Park, the pub takes its current name from a pub in the Phoenix Park, The Hole in The Wall, which used to be called – you guessed it: Nancy Hands.

The name Nancy Hand’s, as it turns out, is no stranger to convolution when you consider that its biggest claim, arguably, is the references made to it in Joyce’s ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, what this author believes to be the most convoluted piece of writing ever produced.

The pub is traditional in its appearance, red brick and wood abound to create a beautiful interior. The most famous feature of the pub is perhaps one of its staircases, which was taken from Trinity College, where it featured in the film ‘Educating Rita’. But this certainly isn’t the only talking point of the pub which is awash with curios and bric-a-brac. We’ve read that some of the seating comes from a church in Yorkshire and that the decorative copper frontage was salvaged from a butcher in Wales.

We’ve visited a few times down through the last couple of years but a more memorable visit was on a solo run I made into the pub having found myself in the need of shelter from the cold, one early Sunday afternoon of a February. Having plonked myself at the bar and ordered a pint I began to take notice of a couple of aul lads at the end of the bar. I was witness to what was a fairly ordinary scene – four or five men gathered neatly at the end of a bar, attentive to a horse racing meeting which was been broadcast on a small TV. There was only one minor detail in this whole scenario that differentiated it from an entirely unremarkable one and that was that the fact that the horses on the television were not racing on turf or sand, but on a blanket of snow.

As you can imagine, this was high on the agenda for topics of conversation being considered by the locals. First there was a general round-table discussion on where everyone thought it might be. The Nordics took an immediate lead just after one of the men was ridiculed for suggesting that the meeting might be in France. And just as ‘up around Scandinavia and tha’ was about to surmount an impassible lead, the loudest of the group made an impassioned recital on why he believed that the racing had to be coming from North America and empty vessel or not, this lad was not without his backers. With that a consensus had been formed and most had agreed that these were north American horses that were being televised to this comfy corner of Dublin.

With this agreed, the troupe then began in their attempt to establish whether the pattern followed by American racehorses was the same as that in this part of the world. Horses race clockwise here, there was no disagreement there – but as far as making any semblance of a call on the direction followed by the gee-gees, stateside, was concerned, not one of the men dared put there neck on the chopping block for that one.

A relatively protracted period of silence followed only to be broken by the smallest of the men who then chirpily enquired as to whether “it’d be anything like the jaxxes over der?”. His perplexed audience reacted as such, affording him the opportunity to elaborate: “ye-no, de direction of the water, like. It goes the opposite way over there doesn’t it?”

There followed a short lesson on the hemispheres of the world as I bit my tongue and refrained from interjecting with a Simpsons reference. The next race started, and it was determined that these horses were in fact racing anti-clockwise and all were then in agreement that this had to be an American race meet that we were watching. “So, would them horses be right-hand drive, then?” enquired another of the lads to the gaiety of the others.

As if all this wasn’t entertainment enough, it was the last race which abides in memory the most. Not content enough with the distinctiveness of being an anti-clockwise, snow covered track; this meet had one last trick up it’s sleeve. As the camera began to concentrate on the jockeys readying themselves, the bar began falling into silence. The reason for this was almost certainly the fact that none of the jockeys had mounted their horses and were all busy attaching skis to their feet.

With that, they were all assembled at the starting line – each with a hold of a pair straps apiece, trailing from their respective horses . And before we could even gather our thoughts, they were under starters orders and were off – each being dragged, on skis, by a horse. Laughter erupted and it erupted in the truest sense of the word – violent, gregarious, unfiltered belly laughter filled the bar. Staff came bounding in from the lounge to find out what the noise was. Every person in the bar was laughing! Two tourists entered, went noticed by all of the laughing staff and left again.

The race ended. And wiping the tears of laughter from my cheeks I think I’d subconsciously become aware that the craic could never top that which had just happened. So i killed what was left of my pint and hit the road.

Dublin! It’s a city, if the annals of internet comment sections are to be believed, that divides opinion. And while pub-dwellers prone to over-romanticisation, such as ourselves, are ten a penny – there’s also a hefty cohort out there in the world who refuse to base their opinions of our native city on anything other than the darker end of the full spectrum.

Though our official line is one attesting to the craic and beauty being in plentiful supply, we’re not so ignorant as to equate Dublin to some utopia and even we like to take the road out sometimes in search of an atmosphere where urbanity doesn’t abound. Where settings are a little, if not a lot, more rural.

Thankfully when such pangs kick in and when time or money won’t allow – we can achieve something akin to a rural encounter without having to travel so far. Sometimes an experience bordering on bucolic can be had mere minutes from the city centre – we’re referring, of course, to a pub which rightly calls itself an authentic country pub in Kilmainham – The Old Royal Oak.

In researching the name of this pub, I can’t say with any great degree of confidence that we’ve managed to establish its exact origin. Some say that there must be a tie with the nearby Royal Hospital given its inclusion of the word royal, but in the course of our research we’ve come to establish our own particular theory. We have previously touched upon the genesis of some modern pub names in our post about The Deer’s Head and similar to that, we’ve found ourselves looking back toward our old colonial neighbour for answers. You see, it so happens that an abundance of pubs across in the UK have names containing any given permutation of the words royal, oak and old. And as you might imagine, there’s a good reason for this.

Way back in the 1600s during The English Civil War, Royalists and Parliamentarians were having a bit of a disagreement. And this disagreement was of such severity that it brought about the need for a battle in the town of Worcester. Possibly about governance, possibly about sauce, who knows? Anyway, King Charles, the king to be; not the dog, being head of the Royalists and a bit of a useless prick to boot – decided that he had scant chance of survival when pitted against Lord Protector and cunt of the last millennium – Oliver Cromwell, Ollie being head-honcho of the opposing side. Opting to hide away from all the bloodshed, Charlie sought refuge – and as the story goes, found it in the relative sanctuary of a big oak tree.

Fast forward a decade or so and the civil war is over, Chaz is back on the throne and is regaling everyone with the tale of the time he was shielded from danger by a big bastard of an oak tree. So Brits being Brits – they start writing songs and naming boozers after this Royal Oak, as it had been dubbed.

Let it be known that our guess, educated by the fact that The Old Royal Oak was first opened as a pub when British rule still reigned over this country, is that this pub took its name – as so many others across the Irish Sea did – from that tree in the middle of England. And if it didn’t then so be it. We still managed to get around to calling Ollie Cromwell a bollox in at least one of the things we’ve posted on this website.

The Oaker is a pub that would seem to espouse the principle that less is more – the bar, a one-roomed, undivided space, is characterised by its simplicity. Upon entrance you’ll observe low seating on your left and a medium sized bar to the right. Seating, while not in short supply, is limited and when the place fills up it fills up fast. We commandeered a few stools up near the bar just in the nick of time when we last visited. Decoration is made up of the usual cavalcade of ephemera you might find in traditional pubs – paintings and pictures of local landscapes and landmarks, old drink adverts, framed jerseys and a few flags on the ceiling too, just for good measure.

I’d made my first visit here in the company of Pintman №5, who rates this pub as his favourite in the city. My fears of disagreeing with him were quickly allayed as we settled in to a few pints and he pointed out an elderly lady perched on a stool at the end of the bar. Describing her as “a little dreamboat” he informs me that she is the owner, or related to the owner as it may be.

When the time comes to use the jaxx, I’m reminded by my companion to inspect the snug while en-route – and I’m glad that take this instruction. Peering through the unassuming door I find myself in a space that is more family – living room than pub-snug. Its cosy inhabitants, all of whom are glued to a match on the TV, react to my interruption with the same sort of perplexity you might to a perfect stranger wandering into your own sitting room. I return to the bar extoling the cosiness this snug to my companions before demanding of them that we sit in there upon our next visit. We will!

Pintwise, we’re in dream territory here €4.80 on our last visit (which was Nov 2018, way too long ago) and a decent skinful sunk with great pleasure. Pintman №5 indulged in a toasty on that occasion too and it looked the part.

Out and out this is a fine establishment. One I wish was in more of a convenient location relative to a northsider such as myself. The pub too is also a great lesson for all new and prospective publicans thinking of going for that big revamp. Simplicity can be effective, if the place is run right.

A month or two back I found myself in the fortunate circumstances to be chatting away to a ninety-five year old man by the name of Bill. Bill, as it turns out, is someone who spent sizeable portion of his life working at the St James’ Gate brewery. A man more than capable of spinning a yarn or two, he had me enthralled with all his stories of the antics and the goings-on in Guinness’ way back in the pre-Diageo days.

As you can well imagine, it didn’t take me too long of a time to get around to quizzing Bill on what pubs local to the brewery were like back in the day. His response to which, initially, was something of a disappointing one. ‘I couldn’t really tell ya’ he told me, before adding that he ‘seldom drank in them’. Having my suspicions that his response wasn’t one that was the result of temperance, I could only find myself able to respond to his answer with another question – why? So he proceeded to tell me the reason for his answer, and it’s a bit of a gem.

‘This Friday’, as he put it, ‘we were after arriving into work and finding out that one of the men had had his first baby, well, his Mrs did, that is. So we said we’d better go around and wet the baby’s head during our tea, y’see.’

Electing to head across the road to a pub by the name of Hannan’s, all the men present opted for a libation befitting of the celebration at hand, and it was when they began to drink these particular beverages that the trouble began.

‘So we fill-t the table up with plenty of little fellas’, said Bill, ‘because we were celebrating y’know. But no sooner had we started drinking, in walks God Number One and God Number Two – My boss and my boss’ boss. And the two of them gawking across the pub at us all drinking shorts – and this is eleven o clock in the morning, remember. So we said we better finish up and head off.’

So up they did finish and off they did head and no more was heard of it until Monday morning. It was then that Bill was called into the boss’ office, where the boss then proceeded to… lambast him, to use the appropriate parlance.

‘Ah he gave me an awful telling off’ Bill recalled, ‘since we were after getting him in trouble with his own boss and that, and d’ye know what he says to me?… He says to me that it wasn’t even that yis were all skiving off to the pub on your tea. It’s just that there wasn’t even a single Guinness product on the bloody table! Not even a bottle of stout between the lot of ye.’

Things have changed since then. The marketing tactics deployed by Bill’s former employers are a far more sophisticated affair and Hannan’s is now referred to McCann’s. Unchanged, thankfully, is the building’s purpose as a public house. And a good one at that.

A small one-roomed sort of shop, McCann’s has cosiness in spades. Exposed brick and natural wooden tones keep the vibe traditional at its essence. A large clock takes pride of place behind the bar – it being recessed into the structure while the seating is standard enough – high stools at the bar and couches and low stools around the low tables elsewhere. Walls are adorned with portraits of persons of Irish historical significance – JFK, Arthur Guinness, Behan and The Dubliner’s.

The drink isn’t as run-of-the mill as one would expect from the pub’s traditional appearance. Contained within, is a good amount of promotion and branding relating to a beer by the name of Kentucky – several variants of which are available behind the bar (their bourbon barrel ale being a fairly tasty sup) along with a good selection of beers from Foxes Rock. My suspicions were confirmed when I googled these together to find that they were produced by the same brewery – Station Works Brewery. The selection of whiskey isn’t too shabby either – there’s plenty of the Pearse-Lyons range on offer, as you’d expect with the pub being situated next door to the distillery. The Guinness is as good as it should be in such close proximity to the source and is priced agreeably enough too.

The far end of James’ St is not an area of town that we manage to find ourselves in all that often. And with cosy little boozers like McCann’s slap-bang in the heart of it, this is something we need to change, pronto!