It was the last pub I got to before the national closure. We weren’t even on the hunt for a pint. A dry, sunny Sunday afternoon, my better half and I decided to head into town for a wander, a pub lunch, maybe a peak in the impressive, new(ish)ly-furnished National Gallery, happily oblivious to how all our lives would change.
Neary’s came to mind for lunch. I knew they serve food and I like its atmosphere and soft furnishings. Yet as we entered its darkened lounge I knew we’d erred. You know those pub experiences where you grab a menu then realise all bar and lounge staff have no interest in doing anything to make your order a reality? Then as you wait in vain, nothing on anyone’s plate looks remotely appealing? We wanted something more meaningful than a sandwich, would involve chips but wouldn’t ruin dinner. The menu had no solutions. Before someone approached us we made our escape.
I had never been keen on Sheehan’s. My only memories are of a wooden, hardened décor and overbearing busyness in the run-up to Christmas. Yet we were quite hungry by then and the notable red-black exterior beckoned us in. The staff attitude was the opposite. The barman responded enthusiastically to being asked for a menu. His colleague came over to our table to talk us through the options. You could get a sandwich with soup or chips, and the lady said the menu options could be superseded if someone wanted chips in a different combination. The sandwich, the chips, the coleslaw and the crisps were as positive as the customer service. It was sufficiently quiet to chat, look at the screen showing rugby or daydream into the distance.
Most times I’ve been there I’ve sat upstairs. After lunch, I instinctively went to the top floor Gents. I’m not sure if it was the Sunday afternoon pace or the post-sandwich fulfilment but half-way down the stairs my eyes were arrested by the most surprising of pub features. On the stone wall facing the stairs hangs the largest map of Ireland I’ve ever seen. The glass-framed map of the thirty-two counties, each neighbouring county shaded a different one of three colours, almost looks like it’s drawn. For five minutes I stood spellbound gazing at its detail and ‘Explanation’ (legend): name of parishes; towns and villages; cities and boroughs; post towns; churches; types of parish; ‘Ancient round Towers peculiar to Ireland’; boundaries of provinces; counties; baronies and the ‘subterranneous course of Rivers’.
A New Map of Ireland, Civil and Ecclesiastical, by the Rev D.A. Beaufort, a member of the Royal Irish Academy, was presented to King George the Third. The print is a second edition from 1797. It made me think about how long the county framework of Ireland has endured, how long the same boundaries have defined much talk and emotion in every pub across Ireland. ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Who’s going to win on Sunday?’ Why is this map here, I asked myself as I finished my decent. Who gave it to whom? Who thought of hanging on the wall, where it’s probably unnoticed night-in, night-out by the great and the good?
When all pubs’ doors are re-opened, and you’re strolling through town with need of lunch and time, consider Sheehan’s. And drink in the map.