The pubs of Dublin, Belfast and other cities in Ireland have a somewhat different quality to rural Irish pubs. Many of Dublin's famous licensed premises date from the Victorian era, when the city was a hot bed of commercial and cultural activity, a little seedy perhaps in comparison to the days of its Georgian glory but with a population (including an English garrison) who needed places to mingle and drink. Notwithstanding its slums and notorious red light district, late nineteenth century Dublin was a relaxed and friendly place for the most part, whose inhabitants mixed freely within the doors of pubs and hotel bars. In this cosmopolitan city, with its witty and eloquent proletariat, the pub developed into a neutral ground where class distinctions could be dropped and good conversation indulged as an end in itself. Tom Corkery wrote about this tradition in his book 'Dublin' as he saw it continued on into the late 1950's.
"Yet the poet could and did share the same pub with the peasant and no man had need of looking up, down or askance at his fellow man. Patrick Kavanagh could be heard discoursing in McDaid's of Harry Street on such esoteric subjects as professional boxing, the beauty of Ginger Rogers, or the dire state of Gaelic Football in Ulster. Flann O'Brien could be heard in Neary's or in the Scotch House on any subject known to man, Brendan Behan could be seen and heard everywhere"
The Dublin pub of today may retain its Victorian roots, but is likely to have been restored in recent decades and to offer meals. Alternatively, it can be a modern or refurbished premises in pseudo pub Victorian, a unique decorative style which seems to have been developed specifically for the furnishings of Irish public houses. In the capital, and other cities, the streetscape has been evolving for many decades. The expansion of the cities into previously rural areas and villages over the last forty years has led to the restoration of older traditional pubs. Whilst these enlarged establishments, which have usually added a mixed Lounge to the older Bar and Snug, are more comfortable in their surroundings (and sometimes retain interesting facades), they lack the character of genuine old style premises, which are now much rarer than before. The traditional pub, whether in town or country, has an intrinsic artistic and cultural value of its own that makes it as important a part of the nation's architectural heritage as any other historical building.
A Few Examples of Great Dublin Pubs.
If there were a world centre for pubs it would be Dublin, which has up to a thousand within its metropolitan area. These range in size from small and simple working class pubs to huge modern mega premises with bars, lounges, discos and restaurants. Choosing a representative sample is a particularly difficult task because of the sheer number and quality of the capital's pubs. A good starting point might be Mulligan's of Poolbeg Street, in many ways the quintessential Dublin pub. The pub is quite old by Dublin standards, having first received its license in 1782. As it stands it is mainly a production of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, with a fine wooden exterior and an interior with three unspoiled bars and a large upstairs lounge. The pub started life as a local for the workers of the area, but became a favourite with other groups. In earlier days, when the old Theatre Royal was across the street, it was frequented by actors and a Music Hall crowd, hence the theatrical posters on its walls. The merchants of the old Corn Exchange, now demolished, made use of the posher upstairs area of the pub at lunchtime and after work. Finally, journalists from the newspaper offices in the vicinity (including several who are now world famed writers) would congregate in the nooks and crannies of Mulligan's and share conversations.
Many of Dublin's finest pubs are late Victorian in origin, undoubtedly the era when pub architecture and decor were at their best. Ryan's of Parkgate Street is amongst the finest unspoiled Victorian premises of the era, with a magnificent carved mahogany bar, brass beer pumps, snug and all the other trappings of a pub of the 1890's. It is rivalled by one of its near contemporaries, the Stag's Head in Dame's Court, opened in 1894. The building which houses this pub is a fine example of the brick architecture which was popular in Victorian times, whilst its red Connemara marble bar counter is a superb specimen, being of a type often seen in the best furnished Irish pubs of the age. The carved and decorated partitions that divide up the length of the counter were another common feature, intended to give drinkers at the bar a little privacy.
Doheny and Nesbitt of Baggot Street ranks with Kavanagh's as an above average example of the old style pub, although it started its commercial existence as a tea and wine merchant. The pub is surprisingly large behind its traditional shop frontage. The mirrored frame in the front window, advertising whiskey and other drinks, is a popular method of screening off the interior of pubs from passers by, whilst a long brass plaque beneath the window serves as a reminder of the premises previous business. Its situation in the midst of one of the city's more important commercial districts has placed Doheny and Nesbitt amongst the busiest, most cosmopolitan pubs in Dublin, and it is usually packed out even on week nights.
Across the road is O'Donoghue's, with its familiar black and white façade. This equally busy pub has a claim to be one of the most famous in Dublin, due to its association with the Dubliners folk group. The late Luke Kelly, perhaps the archetypal singer and poet of the Irish working classes, was a regular here. The walls of the back room are covered with photographs and memorabilia of other great musicians who have played in the pub. O'Donoghue's continues to be one of the best known music pubs in Dublin, sometimes with several sessions going on simultaneously.
The Bailey on Duke Street, now a wine bar and restaurant, has connections with several of the great Irish political and literary figures of the last century. According to tradition the upper room was used by Parnell and the Irish Party in the 1880's and was also a favourite meeting place of the Invincibles, the revolutionary group who committed the Phoenix Park murders in 1882. In the early part of this century the 'Bailey group', centred on Arthur Griffith, the first president of Ireland, included writers like Padraic Colum, Oliver St. John Gogarty and James Stephens. Around the 1960's the Bailey experienced something of a literary renaissance with a new generation of writers like Ulick O'Connor and J.P. Donleavy. McDaid's of Harry Street, with its brightly painted façade, is perhaps Dublin's other most important 'literary' pub. In the 1940's and 1950's it was the local of Brendan Behan, whilst the poet Patrick Kavanagh, the novelist Flann O'Brien and a number of other lesser known writers were regular visitors.
Davy Barnes on Duke Street, James Joyce's Moral Pub' in his masterpiece Ulysses, has undergone major changes since 1940 but remains a popular and interesting premises, although somewhat modernised, today it advertises gourmet food and is as much a restaurant as a place to drink. James Toner's of Baggot Street, a delightful traditional pub dating back to the 1830's, has perhaps the oddest literary connections of all the pubs in Dublin. It claims to be the only pub ever visited by W.B.Yeats.
In today's Dublin, a cosmopolitan city with a large population, the Victorian pub competes with newer premises many in a traditional style and also imaginative modern bars. This mixture is not unhealthy and the city's pub scene is as vibrant as ever, with a remarkable choice of good establishments.
Examples of great pubs in other Urban Areas in Ireland
The pubs of Ireland's other other urban centres reflect the cultures and attitudes of their own inhabitants as much as those of Dublin. Belfast's are influenced by its expansion during the 19th century from a small country town into a great Victorian industrial city. Kelly's Cellars in Bank Lane is probably Belfast's oldest premises, with a history that goes back to 1720. In the 1780's it was frequented by Henry Joy McCracken, the heroic leader of the Ulster United Irishmen, who once hid beneath the counter to avoid arrest by English soldiers. The downstairs of the pub, which has many other associations with famous citizens of Belfast, harks back to the days before the citys growth, when Kelly's was a simple country tavern. Hatfield House on the Ormeau Road is one of Belfast's hidden treasures. Founded in 1872, its many impressive features include a bar that may have been copied from one on the Titanic. Magennis Whiskey Bar in May Street is another genuinely old pub, which was once popular with traders in the nearby market.
In Cork, as in many other things, pubs are a law unto themselves. Murphy's and Beamish, the city's two home brewed stouts, compete with Guinness in the local pubs, which include a number of exceptional premises. The most architecturally interesting pub in the city is probably the Oval on South Main Street, which gets its name from the distinctive ceiling in its bar. The pub, which was designed by Scottish architects for the nearby Beamish and Crawford Brewery, retains much of its original fittings. The Long Valley Bar (Winthrop Street), opened in 1842, is one of Cork's most important pubs, with notably good old wooden interior furbishments and details. The Oyster Tavern and Restaurant (Market Lane) is even older, having been established in the late 18th century. Like many Cork pubs it was originally owned by one of the numerous brewers who were active in the city during the 18th and 19th centuries.
In Galway, Tigh Neachtain (Naughtons) of Cross Street has an interior unchanged since it was opened in 1894. The pub is situated in a fine old town house, which has much medieval work in its fabric. O'Connell's of Eyre Square was a grocery/pub until the early 1970's, it retains most of its original decor. Murphy's Bar in High Street is a small but very authentic old style premises. Sligo's most noteworthy old pub is probably Hargadon's (O'Connell Street), although today it incorporates a fine restaurant and has a wine shop at the rear of the premises. Peadar O'Donnells of Waterloo Street, with its attached Gweedore Bar, is one of Derry's best known pubs, this is one of the city's most popular music venues.
Limerick's many traditional pubs include Tom Collins (Cecil Street) and South's (O'Connell Street), which can boast a particularly impressive bar area with a partitioned white marble counter. This pub featured in the film version of Frank McCourt's 'Angela's Ashes'. Kilkenny is fortunate to possess two of the finest old pubs in Ireland. The Marble City Bar (High Street) is a gem of a small traditional pub, with a simple but striking red frontage featuring gold lettering. The equally distinctive blue façade of Tynan's Bridge House will be familiar to anybody driving into the city from the direction of Dublin. This exceptional bar was once a grocery and pharmacy as well, hence the lovely wooden drawers behind the beautiful old horseshoe shaped counter. Many pub lovers rank Tynan's amongst the best traditional pub interiors in Ireland. Waterford's old pubs include T & H Doolans, which was first licensed over three hundred years ago, the back wall of the Lounge dates back to the Middle Ages.