The Storyteller, Grand Canal Street Lower, Dublin 2

For months I cycle past the scaffolded building every week, green mesh covering the bars and planks that denote a major job on a once-large public house. I used to live around the corner from Becky Morgan’s but my excitement at moving into an area with a ‘local’ within walking distance was short-lived. It always felt empty and brought little life to a gloomy interface between town and the Silicon Docks.

Then one day, I notice the scaffolding is gone and a new pub is emerging from the chrysalis. The Storyteller, it’s called. I’ve never heard of any other pub named so. Every man, woman and child in Ireland is a storyteller; every pub’s stool, chair and couch an auditorium. Perfect.   

Early evening, one weekday in late February, I notice lights on as I cycle home from work. There’s no red carpet outside or loud music, just the sight of people inside and outside (on its long, well-covered veranda out front). On Friday of the same week I lock my bike outside it on the way home, excited at witnessing history in the making, or more objectively, a pub in action on its inaugural Friday night.

I watch a young chivalrous continental man open the main door for several women he’s arrived with, heralding the weekend, perhaps a romance kindled by a Friday night telling stories of near and afar. I think of when Becky Morgan’s opened in 1880 and how the men who worked in the nearby docks perhaps adjourned to male-dominated pubs on payday. In the siliconised, part-virtual docklands of Dublin 2 and 4, it’s important that blended workers have somewhere to interact beyond the cyber, their desks or the office beanbags.

To my amazement the pub is heaving. Young bar staff are busy keeping patrons in snug semi-circular enclaves. The crowd is young and old, with the first-floor bar filled with a younger crowd. Tasty-looking food comes down a traditional dumbwaiter before being carted away to an excited table. The pub’s interior is black – all walls are black – and has a modern look to a traditional Irish pub feel.  

One of the barmen has a pub proprietor’s look: always surveying, wanting to know, a smile and a word for all. I ask him if they opened during the week. Yes but with no fanfare, he tells me. He was happy for the pub to open quietly and nothing go wrong than a big bash with something inevitably going wrong. Family and friends congregated for the opening. Jack’s his name, one of the owners. I introduce myself. ‘Steve, do you want another?’ he asks me when my drink is finished, and remembers my name again as I say farewell. I can’t rate the beers, my drink was only soft. I’m on standby for the arrival any day now of our second child. I’m surprised they don’t serve coffee.

A week later, I drive past The Storyteller. It’s much later on a Friday this time, yet the lights are still on and the signs are that it’s had another busy Friday. I wonder again about the chivalrous young man, and all the others, who’ve graced and will grace The Storyteller to begin a Friday night. Where do their stories begin and end? I’m on my way home, my head swirling with images of our newborn’s arrival, several hours earlier, in the maternity hospital three blocks away. May he always have places in which to tell his stories. May his and The Storyteller’s life be long.   

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Brickyard Gastropub, Dundrum

London has loads of them but Dublin doesn’t: pubs right beside railway stations. I remember being in the bar at Heuston Station years ago and feeling completely underwhelmed. Balally Luas station, near Dundrum, has one, and on a recent Friday night I spent half an hour at one waiting for deliverance – not by a train but a friend. He was putting his kids to bed, a perfection-less art where time has little meaning.

For the first part of the half hour I sent all the texts I never get around to sending, checked a few things online, considered moving inside to watch the rugby but all the bar’s large recentangular tables seemed fully occupied. It was a mild, windy evening and the comfortable terraced area offered the chance of fresh air after another ‘blended week’. Phone put away, I simply inhaled, exhaled, observed.

Most captivating was a group of four friends sitting near me at two barrels. The three lads and a ‘gal looked early twenties. They talked in calm tones, never rising to a laugh only stretched mouths when sarcasm briefly entered the conversation.  

What do I know about people half my age, I asked myself. The only snippets I get of their world are people talking on the LUAS. When they talk to me at work it’s usually on the terms of those, like me, approaching middle-age.  

In a fit of early middle-aged panic I rose and approached them. ‘Sorry, would you mind if I joined you for a drink? I’m stuck here waiting for the next train and it’s not till midnight,’ I said in attempt at joke.

‘Of course,’ said the cap wearing girl, deadpan. ‘We’re inter-railing and are waiting for the next train to Prague. We’ve been sitting here for three years.’

I warmed the four of them up as vigorously as I could, asked them what they did. They’re studying in UCD. We shared stories about studying Arts. We ended up talking about music and what recent gigs they’d been to. I hadn’t heard of any of the bands but they looked at me as those I understood their culture. We returned to the topic of inter-railing and though I travelled the continent when Eastern European countries still checked passport numbers against those in telephone-directory sized books of black-listed numbers, we shared solidarity in discussing what cities are worth visiting.

I’m young! I thought with relief. I know what young people do and feel and think, and I’m not that different! Until I mentioned the immense range of beers. ‘We don’t really drink,’ said one of them though their glasses looked frothily full. Two others nodded. I’ve heard this endlessly but still was somehow surprised that in a pub on a Friday night with about forty beers to choose from, four hot-blooded Irish people in their twenties wouldn’t let themselves go on one or two of them.

‘Well, nice meeting you guys,’ I said, ‘I’m gonna go and check if the midnight train has arrived early.’ They laughed. ‘Just messing, I’m gonna see what score it is in the rugby.’ I left with sideways handshakes (they still do them, phew!) and texted my impunctual friend to say be careful not to get side-tracked on his way in by youth !

Well… that actually didn’t happen… I just day-dreamt it as I waited. But I did notice that that they were drinking beer amidst the sea of crafty beer choice. And I felt some inter-generational solidarity despite all the talk of how that generation barely drink at all. The logic extension of the change in habits is that Irish pubs will change.

I hope Brickyard Gastropub stays the same though. During my long wait I lost myself in the drinks menu, looking at all the names, strengths and prices. When my friend, followed by another, arrived we tried a few of the commendable options. The pub’s website (and offshoot for ordering beers online) suggests the owners’ immersion in the world of craft beer. A number of micro breweries are supported. In partnership with 57 The Headline (on Clonbrassil Street), it’s got an online beer store through which you can collect craft beers at the pub or have your beers delivered anywhere across the country.  

Their commitment to craft beers got me thinking about the scale of this highly visible yet somewhat subterranean world of brewing. Despite the fact that it feels like the range of Irish-sounding, craft beers has exponentially expanded in our pubs and off-licence/supermarket shelves over the past decade, the craft brewing sector accounts for only 3-3.5% of the Irish market, according to a recent newspaper article. About 125 micro-brewing companies were operating in Ireland in mid-2018, according to a contemporaneous study, with about 60% of them independent production microbreweries. Whilst the number of production microbreweries grew massively in the ‘teens’ – from 15 in 2012 to 75 in 2018 – there has been an increase in the number of failed companies. Seven microbreweries failed between mid-2016 and mid-2018. Before the pandemic, the rate of output growth had slowed dramatically and Irish microbreweries still hadn’t made inroads into export markets. In 2018, the sector supported 425 full-time equivalent jobs, with each of those jobs supporting at least one in the wider economy. 

As a Friday night pub, Brickyard Gastropub is vibrant. It has just been refurbished, replacing a somewhat bare, hollow-feeling interior for a far cosier, intimate one, suitable for dining or drinking. Its exterior, with its sloping canopies, is an inviting set-up for mild days or nights. For choice of beers, the pub is to be praised. And there is something nice about the thought that its owners are supporting an important sub-sector of the brewing industry, giving us a range of beers with distinctive flavours, and mass production not a key ingredient. You could do worse than miss the next train at Balally. It’s good to be young.

Stairway to helles (a 5% ABV larger stein) €6.00

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The Traveller’s Rest Inn, Grasmere, Lake District

An open fire just just inside the front door greeted us. The barman – fifties, tall and dressed semi-formally and all in black – let his Northern accent (I’m guessing Cumbrian) come through as we discussed the crisp options and payment by card. Four or five draft beer options presented themselves but Loweswater Gold won it. It’s in the name. Then into one of the snugs in the one of the two rooms for patrons, where nothing distracted us from the view of the mountains we’d just conquered, the slow peace from the beer and our own easy chat amidst a backdrop of low burble from the other tables.

I can’t offer much other information about the pub except that the menu looks good (e.g. Hunters Skillet of pan fried chicken livers with Rich Jus for starters, £9.95; Scallops and Pancetta Linguine for mains, £17.95). There are separate dining areas for evening meals and for the ten letting rooms’ lodgers (presumably for breakfasts). Either side of the building has an expanse of beer garden with appealing views. After one pint, we left with hope of return.

Something about the pub I couldn’t put my finger on gnawed at me for a few days. There was something strange about the atmosphere. On the evening we got home from the pub I couldn’t find the water bottle from the walk. That gave me a reason to go back to the pub.

The last day of the holiday brought biblical rain levels – volumes often seen in those parts. Dripping wet, I ran in at Friday lunchtime. The open fire was even more inviting and this time I thought of more than one. I realised what was strange. It was the atmosphere of a pub with no locals – none of the easy banter that emanates from patrons who know each other, staff and a place well. The pub’s architecture doesn’t help. But located on the main road, an unpleasant walk at night from the village, it’s only surrounded by farms. The pub can’t do anything about that. But it can keep providing rest, for an hour, for a night, for a week, from the rain.  

(Two pints of Loweswater Gold and two packets of crisps: €13.28, current converted)

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In praise of the ordinary…

We’re dating again, after two barren years. First it was parenthood, then the pandemic. Nights out for dinner and drinks, or cinema weekends in the winter, were replaced with a baby monitor, a lack of babysitter and a cityscape of pubs and restaurants oscillating from closed to open until the bedtime of a baby.

On our escape from the house we bump into neighbours living two doors down.

‘The cinema’s closed, we were going to go see Belfast,’ they tells us. We’d spent the week deliberating between cinema or a meal. We knew the flicks would completely absorb us, bring us out of a Venn diagram of parenthood and pandemic, a world devoid of time or distinction since a time we can barely remember. We’d eaten together every night for two years, had talked to each other till talked had talked itself to death. In the end the choice was made for us. Now we understood why we couldn’t book tickets online. 

‘We went for Tapas in the end,’ they explain. But the service was bad: a ten-minute wait for someone to take their order; a disappointing something or other; an overpriced something else. Ah, the old music of Irish complaint. I’ve missed this. Yet I haven’t missed that shared experience of being eluded by the twins customer service and value for money.

Despite the enforced enclosure every night for two years, the meal out together feels like a first: a bottle of wine in a dimly lit room; low music filling our ears; a candle; someone coming every five minutes to check we’re okay and fill our jug; meal options that are simply not available for delivery, or when they are, inevitably cold on arrival. There are new things to talk about as our plates get emptier and our bottle fills with light.

The clock is always ticking in our new, parental world. After dinner, we’ve forty minutes to be home to relieve the babysitter. My better half is happy to go home but sees that perpetual pint glint in my eye. We head to the nearest, local though we wouldn’t consider it our local.

The term local has all changed since we were last here. During the shutdowns we heard impassioned calls for people to shop locally, to remember that spending money locally keeps people we recognise in a job, keeps places we know open. Since we last drank here many bar staff have endured torment. Their work places couldn’t stay open. Many rural pubs have now folded. I look up at the barmen and wonder how much greyer they are. 

‘A pint of Beamish please,’ I say giddily to the lounge girl. The young staff have lost out big-time too. How delighted she must be at earning enough for a night out, at being able to have a night out again.

All changed drinks-wise too. There are signs everywhere for Guinness Zero. Do lounge girls even drink on a night out, I ask myself. I asked a barman recently about the new, blackless stuff. ‘It’s like the real stuff, alright,’ he admitted with a nod, ‘but it doesn’t have the soul of Guinness.’

I could write an essay on the difference between Guinness and Beamish. My friends know my views. I’m glad the latter has emerged on the other side of the dry spell, is holding its head up in the battle with the zeros and all-conquering gins. I gulp deeply and soulfully. No lifetime of cans could compare with this.

The Friday burble feels normal. There’s nothing glorious about this pub. This pub could be everywhere and anywhere. Tonight, this Friday night mundanity, in a place people call a local, is extraordinarily ordinary.

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The Thursday Tipple: Bar Rua, Clarendon Street, Dublin 2

The walk towards the pub feels a lot different to the walk in February to the last pub I reviewed. That was a cold, optimistic night (aren’t they all optimistic in hindsight?), an homage to a pub on the verge of closure. Little did we know then they all were.

Chatham Street on this dark, mid-December Wednesday is busy with volunteers and homeless gathered on either side of a table distributing soup and provisions to sustain rough sleepers. Pedestrians, including me, observe them from behind our face masks. The masks, the crowds, the darkness: it all feels medieval.

In this very different year it’s fitting that the moment of meet-up feels unreal. We have to queue five minutes though we’ve reserved a table. I have to give name and mobile number. Then the second of the two friends I’m meeting for an outdoor pint and meal arrives without a mask. You need one to walk to your seating, and in and out of the pub to go to the toilets, the staff member at the entrance tells him. He’s apologetic but firm. They’re the rules.

‘How can you go into a shop to buy a mask if you’re not allowed in to a shop without one on?’ I ask my other friend existentially. Yet the other friend returns successfully.

Even the ordering is jerky. We tell the staff member serving us that we’ll order drinks but wait to order food when our friend returns. He doesn’t understand and walks away. Another waiter does the same. My phone can’t read the QR code to read the menu. To avoid touching phones my friend has to WhatsApp me the menu.   

A review of an outdoor pub experience in winter doesn’t seem valid. Perhaps I should be reviewing the culture of al fresco pints in any weathers. As a perpetually cold creature I didn’t think I’d survive. But I do (like the outdoor coffee culture). I’ve dressed up warmly, braced myself. After several pints, as the temperatures of my body and the December night drop, I put on a hat. Towards the end, I resort to a hot port (non-descript). We’ve all become resourceful.  

All pubs have had to adapt and Bar Rua has done so reasonably well. Patrons are relatively well spaced out. The outdoor area is comfortable. The menu is good. The food is promptly served and tasty, a vegetarian  burger in my case. The pints taste good, though I declare a conflict of interest: that could be the novelty after all this time. The beer choice, however, could be wider.

Despite the unreal experience (like that any pub visit I’ve had since the big change) the timeless experience of a drink with friends in a pub returns. The taste of beer meeting the sound of a friend’s laughter or familiar sentence comes quick enough.

Chatham Street is quiet as Bar Rua disappears behind us. The helpers and the homeless are gone. For all the wrinkles of an outdoor Christmas pandemic pint, perspective is needed. May everyone be safe and comfortable this Christmas.

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The Thursday Tipple: Sheehan’s, Chatham Street, Dublin 2

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.

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The Thursday Tipple: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Dundrum Road, Dundrum

It’s Friday night and we’re all nearly 40. At nine we meet, uncharacteristically punctual. Perhaps it’s the rarity, perhaps thirst, perhaps because partners, kids and other demands have applied the reins of time management. Meet on time, enjoy the pints but don’t overstretch your stay or thirst. Tomorrow won’t forgive.

The headcount dotting the lounge’s bar counter and fireside seats is higher than I remember for a Friday night. There’s a buzz. There’s plenty of sport and politics on people’s agenda over the weekend. People have plenty to discuss.

The lounge of Uncle Tom’s, with its clean and fragranced smell and abundance of pink upholstered nooks, hasn’t changed since school friends and I first started coming here about 15 years ago. We were looking for a mutually convenient meeting point, somewhere tamer than pubs we’d frequented. I still remember hearing the pub’s conspicuous name for the first time.

Since then, this sizeable but always near-empty pub has been our spiritual drinking home. It’s here we’ve had vigorous debates, listened to each other about some of our best days and worst. It’s through walking in its double doors, the lounge staff station and sill of neatly spread newspapers coming into view, that we’ve discovered through attendance or absence where others in the group were at in life. On its long lounge benches and outdoor beer garden I’ve been reassured about friendships and loyalties. Here, I tested my groom’s speech on my best man, that night and others in Tom’s reaffirming why I’d chosen him.

And through it all the white shirted barmen with ties have remained unswervingly polite, the lounge staff always nice though idle. Their movements after last orders’ lights flicker has never been too zealous. Their pint of stout? Black gold.

Yet all good things come to an end. The 0.8 hectare site, which includes a car park, is in prime suburbia. Like a bolt of lightning one of the lads told our WhatsApp group he’d been there one night and told it was closing the following week once developers took ownership. Tales of other suburban pubs in Dublin should have been a portent.

The pub heaved for its dying nights. A dead pub serving was resuscitated. Locals crawled out of the woodwork. A major hoolie with music took place on its putative final night. I sorely regretted not paying my respects. Then apparently the developer owner gave the pub a reprieve of a week, then another. Then we heard nothing more.

At ten o’clock, I go up to the bar. Musicians have assembled near the fireplace for the monthly trad session. Tonight’s crowd definitely seems higher. The locals sing along. The small, dark-haired barman smiles as he approaches me. Between the lounge and the bar (that we’ve inexplicably never graced), he’ll be ticking over tonight.

‘What’s the story about the future?’ I ask.

‘No change for the foreseeable,’ he says, seeming comfortable about talking about it. ‘The owners are putting in planning permission but that could take a year or a year and a half to get, so we’re fine for the moment.’

A few weeks later I read about recent developments. The Collins family, whose name is etched on one of the front windows, bought the site 130 years ago. They’ve been selling pints and facilitating people since then. The family of Tony, the 89-year old proprietor, sold it last year to a developer.

As I walk home by Dundrum’s Luas bridge I glance back at Tom’s iconic pink neon sign and think of its legacy. How many friendships within a circle like ours have been part sustained and cemented there since 1890? We’re into our third decade there. Did I mention we’re nearly 40?

There’s a novel to be written about a pub that never did well until it was bought and faced closure to enable development. Locals who hadn’t drank there in years (or ever drank at all) flocked in night after night to pay tribute. The pub began to thrive. The property marked slumped. But the locals had learnt their lesson.


Prices (07 February 2020)

Pint of Guinness: €5.20

Pint of lager: €5.70

Pint of ale: €5.20

330ml bottle of lager: €5.00

Measure of Irish whiskey: €4.70

1/4 bottle of wine: €6.00

Soft drink: €2.80

Bottle of water: €2.90



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The Thursday Tipple: Johnnie Fox’s, Glencullen, Co. Dublin

A biting wind assaults us as we make our way with visitor from house to car to the dark depths of mountainous south Dublin. It’s the penultimate Monday before Christmas and the American wants to hear some trad. Narrow, dimly-lit roads define the journey from the end of suburbia, where the roads climb and the capital hands the baton to the Garden of Ireland.

In summer, Johnnie Foxe’s car park is jammed and offers views of Dublin’s eastern coast. Tonight, it’s near empty and the view is like the one on the old postcard of Cape Cod at night. The wooden benches outside are abandoned. Only several smokers loiter.

Nine o’clock it starts, the barman told me on the phone earlier, but all the stage shows is an abandoned guitar and mike. Has it finished early due to lack of visitors or the indifference of the East European family lining the bar? The effigy of an old Peig Sayers lookalike, poised near a stove and wearing a Christmas hat, shows more enthusiasm than anyone else.

A man in his late thirties or early forties with a benign smile appears, surveys the barren landscape, and mutters something I can’t hear amidst the chatter of the neighbouring table of diners. He starts strumming his guitar then singing. The first song is almost unnoticed, yields hardly any clap. He sings another and again it’s as though none of the three dining tables have their hearing aids turned on. He sings and sings, smiling, graceful, sometimes barely pausing as he moves from one ballad mindful of the oblivious crowd.

‘Give him a clap of encouragement,’ my dad whispers to me, and the balladeer nods in gratitude as he slips away for a break.

The conversation has subdued slightly when he returns and looks out at his lonely kingdom. Then he lifts his head and voice and sings as though his life depends on it.

I don’t know if you can see

The changes that have come over me

And these past few days I’ve been afraid

That I might drift away

I’ve been telling old stories, singing songs

That make me think about where I come from

And that’s the reason why I seem

So far away today


Till almost eleven he fills our heads with ballads young and old, from the last century, the century before and the one when this pub became a home for drink and stories. There’s an intensity to the listening by the end that tells me the crowd recognise his talent. A thunderous clap meets the end.

As we drive home along the dark roads and look down on the twinkling nightscape of the capital I think about how lucky we were. The pub does well, has a phenomenal pull for tourists, Irish and foreign alike. It must make commercial sense to have a nightly offer of music. Yet not many places are reliable in offering decent music from a bustling summer Saturday night to the quietest, coldest Monday nights in December and every night either side. A capital city needs places with a consistent cultural offering, where above and beyond the marketing and the merchandise, there’s always art to be found. Johnnie Fox’s labels itself the highest pub in Ireland. In praise of its offering, I’d recommend the climb.

Let me tell you that I love you

That I think about you all the time

Caledonia you’re calling me

Now I’m going home

And if I shall become a stranger

No it would make me more than sad

Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had


Prices (16 December 2019)

Pint of Guinness: €5.50

Pint of lager: €5.80

Pint of ale: €5.50

330ml bottle of lager: €5.40

Measure of Bushmills: €4.95

1/4 bottle of wine (187.5 ml): €5.90

Soft drink: €2.90

Bottle of water: €2.95

Soft drink: €3.20


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The Thursday Tipple: Brannigan’s, Cathedral Street, Dublin 1

In Dublin 1, they’re hidden until you know them. For many working and socialising in Dublin city, life brings you into the labyrinth of side-streets and alleys off O’Connell Street less often than the corresponding maze off Grafton Street. Yet someone tells you about or brings you to a pub you’d never even heard of. You try it and a new world opens up.

A quiet Monday night introduced me to Brannigan’s on Cathedral Street. Eight of us arrived, ordered pints, found a table and colonised it in the pub’s decent sized room in which most space for patrons is along the walls. Its open plan works. You and the white shirted barmen and lounge staff know where everyone else is and what they’re doing, who is or isn’t looking at everyone else. The pints are good. The music and TVs are unimposing. This is exactly what you want for a drink following a film, a play, a course, a day or week’s work, or whatever else.

By the front door a rifle and a bison’s head hang on the wall. It wasn’t always the Bovidae animal family in this area. Cathedral Street used to be called Elephant Lane. About three hundred and fifty years ago Dublin’s first elephant lived there. It was brought across the river every day to Parliament Street, where people would pay to see it in a viewing booth. The viewing booth caught fire in 1681 and with it the animal. The owner sold its remains to Dublin’s Royal College of Surgeons, whose doctors undertook the first recorded anatomical study in Ireland or England of an elephant .

The draught beer choice is standard, includes Dublin Blonde, O’Hara’s Pale Ale and Nitro. On another visit here, those tucking into evening meals (served from 3pm until 9/9.30pm) such as burgers, hot roast beef sandwiches and Irish stew look pleased. From my perch at a small square table in the middle of the room the clientele look like they’ve popped in here before. Tourists, easy prey for the pubs on O’Connell Street located near hotels and coach stops, are few.

It’s only after my visit that I learn of another dimension to the pub: the GAA. Tommy Moore, a famous Kilkenny hurler after whom the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Club Championship is named, owned the pub from the 1930s to the 1970s. For decades the All-Ireland hurling champions (inter-county) stopped at Moore’s, as it was then known, on the start of the thirsty journey home. Many GAA fans pause here for a pint on a Croke Park Sunday.

Moore was chairman of Faugh’s GAA club in Dublin for decades and allowed the pub be used as a makeshift clubhouse. For anyone with associations with a GAA club of insufficient means or size to have its own clubhouse this detail brings a familiar image of a man determined to do what he could to bring people and their dreams together. Images of Summer Sundays and people sidling into Brannigan’s for a pre or post-match pint seem a fitting tribute to his memory.


Prices (30 October 2019)

Pint of Guinness: €5.00

Pint of lager: €5.40

Pint of ale: €5.00

330ml bottle of lager: €5.80

Measure of whiskey: €4.80

1/4 bottle of wine (187.5 ml): €5.90

Soft drink: €2.90

Bottle of water/fruit juice: €3.00

Soft drink: €2.90

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The Thursday Tipple: Cocina Pura Vida, Carrer del Camí de l’Atall, Alcossebre, Spain

Good evening from the Cocina Pura Vida. Where?? It’s an outdoor bar in Alcossebre, Spain, where we’re joined at the other side of the table by the Mediterranean. It’s Wednesday evening and for the second time this week we’re here for a beer and the view past the bending coastal road beyond the table: a cobalt blue sea garnished with a cloudless horizon.

The idle barman catches our eye, smiles, remembering us from a few days earlier. He weaves his way between the dozen low, outdoor tables, all carpeted by the arid Spanish earth. Though there’s only one other occupied table in this predominantly outdoor bar and restaurant he doesn’t seem bored. The other night he tiptoed his way between his laptop at the bar (made from a disused trailer) and the kitchen at the back of the tented area. Summer tunes play quietly from speakers (think Ibiza). Those at the other occupied table that night had ordered from the menu of organic pizzas and tapas. His detailed preparation of their tapas looked like his life depended on it.

‘A small draught beer again?’ I ask him. He’s in his thirties, Spanish, though he looks like a tanned American surfer.  My hand gestures help identify that I’m after a 500ml glass.

‘Your small is our large,’ he smiles.

‘And what was the name of that herbal beer we had the other night?’

‘With rosemary?’

‘That’s the one.’

La socrarrada is a bottled artisan beer with rosemary and honey. Deep brown with a thin line of froth, its taste is unique for a beer and divinely delicious.

Where is Alcossebre, you ask? I too hadn’t heard of it until a few weeks’ earlier when friendship and circumstance led to an invite. Perched along the Castillion coast, Alcossbre is a small town with a beautiful June climate of 20 degrees plus by day, dipping by only a degree or two at night. The town and its fringe have two or three small, clean beaches and a good choice of family restaurants and tapas bars.

A beating sun dominates the sky all day, warming the sea sufficiently by mid-morning to invite swimming. At night, the fragrances from the pine trees along the coastal path come alive to invigorate the senses. The town’s distance from anything except the highly touristy town of Peniscola (think Gibraltar) and a spot-lit church and restaurant on the nearby mountain provides intimate views of the stars. As with the day, no boats or ships pass the horizon. We can’t tell where sea ends and sky begins.

For nine months of the year the town is quiet. June ticks over with tourists from Spain and a sprinkling from elsewhere in Europe. In July, the place explodes with tourists from Spain, Britain and French from the south seeking greater mileage from their euros. October and November, according an Irishman we meet who’s spent about a quarter of the year here for twenty years, are quieter and the weather is wonderful. For him, it’s all about cycling the smooth, undulating Valencian roads.

When I go up to the bar to order a second beer the barman is re-painting the pizza options on a blackboard.

‘It looks good,’ I tell him.

‘It needed to be re-painted. The letters had become…’ and I help him to find the word faded. He smiles with pleasure and a look that tells me time doesn’t matter.

I can’t tell if his days of web browsing and re-sprucing will be replaced by busier times in July. The bar is situated at the quieter end of the town, the nearest good beach and caravan/apartment resort closer to a small cluster of restaurants that probably wins out. But like us, he seems happy to be left in peace, consumed by nothing but the Mediterranean and a perfect horizon.

A 500ml glass of the only draught beer and a 330ml bottle of La Socarrada cost €7.50

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