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If you were to happen upon the scene of a very recent murder and inadvertently disturb evidence there and then find yourself, as a result, in police custody and subsequently charged with a murder you did not commit and then, after all that – find yourself at trial, convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment whereupon you end up in an overcrowded prison cell, drinking a primitive sort of alcohol brewed from fermented scraps of fruit foraged from bins and canteen floors, you’d be spending the same amount of money, but having ten times the craic as you would be if you were drinking in this glorified Cromwellian monument.

Keavan's Port

Have some respect for yourself and walk up to J O’Connell’s, instead.

At the very outset of this post, I first want to offer you, well – future you and your team, some information that will undoubtedly aid you in answering one of the questions in a pub quiz. The question will centre around the Olympic Games and will most likely ask something along the lines of – in what year were the 2020 Olympics held? And you will know that this is a trick question and that the answer is 2021. All because you came to read the ramblings of this pub-obsessed headbanger.

The Bleeding Horse

Now, none of this really has any real correlation with the pub about which I intend to speak. But let me be honest with you and admit that this year’s delayed Olympics was the first where a Modern Pentathlon had cause to leave me in thought of a Dublin Pub.

Yes, it was of course in the midst of one of those irksome Monday hangovers when I was putting in the longest of my working hours. I was listening to the radio and heard the far-too-cheery hosts discuss a German Olympian: who had met the ire of the internet when she was found to have punched her horse during the equestrian section of the Modern Pentathlon event. “Was the horse bleeding?” asked the host at one stage. Immediately I was transported to that awkward junction at the top of Camden Street.

A cavernous pub set out on multiple floors, The Bleeding Horse has the distinction of being one of the few Dublin Pubs which retains the name it held prior to the 1872 Licensing Act, which required the proprietor to affix their name to the premises they ran. It should, however, be noted that the pub’s name was changed to The Falcon Inn for a period in the middle of the 20th Century, and having done a bit of archive digging on it, I’ve found that most mentions of the name in the media are to lament it having been changed in the first place – one such article being humorously headlined: What’s bleeding wrong with the old name?

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The definitive genesis of the name itself is unclear, though there does seem to be two front-running explanations. The first of these relates to the claim that there was once said to be a farrier on-site at the premises, who would carry out the practice of bleeding horses for supposedly beneficial reasons. And the other, of which there are a number of variants, relates to a riderless horse entering the pub having come from a battle, further afield (some say during the Cromwellian invasion and others say during the United Irishmen’s 1798 rebellion). In each telling of this version of etymology, the horse is said to be bleeding upon entry with some going as far as to say that the horse dies on the floor of the tavern. One of the sources I checked even alluded to the pub being haunted by the spirit of the dead horse and mentions that strange, unexplained noises can sometimes be heard in the pub after close. But this author would argue that this is more likely a result of the kebab shop across the junction.

Pintman №3 and I were recently chatting about The Bleeding Horse and immediately we were in agreement that it was a pub which we both certainly liked. Its abundance of differently shaped, sized, and lit spaces give it a wide appeal and its historical chops are, of course – an advantage. Not only does the pub have age and name at its disposal to pique history gluttons, but it also has plenty of ties to Literature – James Clarence Mangan is said to have frequented the place and it gets a mention in the grandest of Dublin texts – Ulysses. It’s also cited in Donleavy’s Gingerman.

Speaking some more about the place, we did note one feature which we’d mark the pub down on and that was the expanse of the large, centre-located bar. Mulling this over, we compared it to Synott’s of Stephen’s Green – their’s being the most extreme example of over-allocation of bar space. Though we were in agreement that The Bleeding Horse wasn’t that far gone. Naturally enough, after that, chat mutated to talk of large bars in general. We wondered if our unease with them related to some subconscious awareness of longer beer lines and their inherent susceptibility to the production of poorer pints, in comparison to their shorter counterparts.

We also pondered the phenomenon of larger bars not usually increasing the speed at which you could obtain a pint, suggesting that there may be complex mathematics at play behind the scenes there. But that’s definitely one to work out over a pint and with a few betting slips and bookie’s pencils.

The Bleeding Horse really is understated in comparison to some of the pubs in our city, whose owners (or PR agencies) are only too happy to fabricate some bespoke bollocks to tie in with their “image” and sell you sugar-laden, low abv cocktails. The pub is a good one, and an infinitely better choice to drink in over its newest neighbour. And while we can’t speak for the quality or the price of the pint at this minute, given the gap between present times and our last visit, we certainly would have no hesitation in returning to suss this out. And we might just.

Post Script: And just might, we did. A recent visit to the pub gave us the current price (late 2021) of €5.50 for a pint of Guinness, and a more than acceptable one it was too.

Jaysus lads, let me tell you now that Dublin By Pub isn’t always an easy affair. It’s a Wednesday afternoon and I’m back in work after the weekend. The voice isn’t back yet, the head is still twingeing and I’m still having flashbacks of all the Buckfast sodden debauchery we’ve been up to at the weekend while we were out of the capital for a bit. I don’t even, in the slightest, want to be thinking about alcohol, nevermind writing about it. But duty calls and here we are. So you might forgive any decline in quality for this time around. Cheers.

The Lower Deck: Portobello Harbour

The Lower Deck is a pub that’s evaded me for years and years. Sneakily hidden around the corner from The La Touché Bridge which facilitates those wishing to traverse the canal from Portobello to Rathmines (or vice versa), it’s a pub which it turns out I’ve had plenty of time to find. The online authority on Dublin history – comeheretome, reckon a pub is on the site since the 1830s. A good snoop around online has brought up a couple of images of the pub where it has been named both McDermott’s Harbour Bar and Michael Ryan’s. Interestingly enough, the concrete space out the front of the pub, often frequented by skateboarders nowadays, isn’t there in the picture of the pub as Michael Ryan’s – instead it’s filled with water seemingly having been a part of the canal itself at one stage. And by the time that the pub is named McDermott’s it’s after been filled in and used as a carpark.

Edit: The body of water was known as The Portobello Basin or The Richmond Basin. Another view here and here

So in its current guise, the pub is known as The Lower Deck which does fit in with the pub’s proximity to the canal but is also a good euphemism for the part of the body where all the action happens. It’s a reasonable-sized boozer and houses a music venue in its basement called The Bello Bar. We arrive of a recent Saturday afternoon when there was a touch of summer in the air and made straight to the bar.

The pub is a decked out (yes, decked) in a traditional enough style with upholstered couches, high and low stools around the place. The bar sits as a rectangle in the centre of the room with the space around it divided up. Raised sections sit upon the left as you walk in and as you make your way to the further side of the bar there’s plenty of low seating on offer too. It’s a pub you could get cosy in easily enough – and one with an immaculate jaxx by the standard we’re used to.

The pint was a good one too, no complaints were heard around the table and not even on the price which fell below the fiver mark. Nothing short of a miracle around this particular part of town.

My favourite part of our visit to the pub though was to take in this aul lad who was perched with a pint and a tablet (the electronic kind, nothing small and blue to see here) on a table upon the periphery of one of the raised sections toward the back of the pub. He was the sort of man that reminded me of my own father insofar that he had the look of one of those aul fellas that treated advances in personal computing with nothing but persistent reluctance. That is until one day they were made aware of the advantages these technological feats had bestowed upon the experience of the watching of and gambling on horse racing. This man, however, seemed to have taken things a step further than my own da and had set up in the pub using his silver surfing credentials to dispense all necessary information lacking from an immediate proximate bookmaker. I think he was even taking bets. Fair play to him.

The year is 2053 and the end is nigh! Global warming, nuclear warfare, global pandemic, zombie apocalypse – picture it however you see fit. I was thinking about how certain subcultures would get on in some sort of apocalyptic scenario there the other day and ultimately I came to realise that the first set of the general population to start to see rapid attrition, aside from the infirm, will ultimately have to be the hipsters.

The Bernard Shaw: Richmond St. South

My hypothesis is based on two main ideas – firstly the veganism. Now I’m not for a moment going to knock vegans – fair play to them! Especially those who do it properly. But the type of fad veganism that hipsters tend to have a proclivity toward can’t be good for the system – taking all of that iron out of the equation just to look cool can only mean one thing– anaemia. And the anaemic are certainly at a loss when our plague-stricken sun-scorched, sea-swelled, radioactive night of the living dead doomsday scenario plays out.

Secondly, and this is something a chiropractor or a spinal surgeon might easily school us on, but it seems to me that the variety of mismatched, rigid and antiquated seating one tends to happen upon in The Bernard Shaw and its contemporaries just cannot be the type that leaves your spine in a better shape than it would have been prior to use. I’m near-on certain that we’ll have a good cohort of grey-haired hunchback hipsters knocking about the place telling us how they collected their pensions before it was cool come 2053. And lord knows that they’ll be ripe for the pickin’ when all of the looters and the undead come rummaging around the gaff at end of days.

So, The Bernard Shaw. Name after Portobello’s most famous Nobel Laureate (who, himself, shortened his name by dropping the George at the start of it), this pub is one held in the same regard by the hipster class as St Paul’s Cathedral would be by subscribers to Catholicism. It’s a boozer which tends to be revered by cooler kids than I for its exterior rather than its interior. We’re told that the beer garden is extensive and that there’s a double-decker bus somehow involved in the whole setup. Unfortunately all of this is a bit lost on me – my take on al fresco drinking being that it is better done on grass and through the thriftier means of cans. And as for drinking on a bus, personally, I wouldn’t want to risk a Vietnam flashback of some of the things I’ve seen on the 27 down throughout the years.

As with all pubs, our concern lies mainly with the interior.

More Cockney flower girl than toast of London, the pub is comprised of three main sections – the front bar, triangular in its layout, screams twenty-minute lunch rather than six-pint session – although there is something to be said for its purpose as a prime people-watching real estate. Closing in acutely, this section leads toward a small set of steps that bring you to the lower area of the pub – this, in turn, houses a larger seating area complete with DJ box and the third section of the pub – a tiled corridor, in essence, sits at the back of the building. The aesthetic of the place is standard hipster chic – rough and ready – characterised by mismatched minimalist furniture and perpetually changing artwork.

Pint-wise, the main complaint is to be made in relation to the price. €5.70 is the sum charged for a Guinness – which, in fairness, was a bit of a majestic drop. Along with the stout – and as you’d expect from such a place – there’s a wide range of craft on offer too.

It was always unlikely that we were ever going to come to extol the virtues of this place. At best for us, it’s a decent lesson in subjectivity – people love it! And we’re fine with that. But with that said, our likelihood of return is probably most appropriately summed up with Shavian parlance – “not bloody likely”.