Poets and pubs in Dublin
From Patrick Kavanagh scribbling lines of poetry as he sups a pint of Guinness to Brendan Behan who once described himself as a ‘drinker with a writing problem,’ many of Dublin’s most famous writers have found inspiration in the public houses of the city.
More funny stories follow with tales of James Joyce and his early life in Dublin. Frank tells us how Joyce propositioned Nora Barnacle (the woman he jokingly refers to as “the only one who would stick to him”) and ended up embracing her amorously in a rhododendron bush in Howth. A few days later, Joyce tried the same trick with another woman, not noticing that she was already accompanied by a suitor. The man punched Joyce to the ground and he had to be rescued by a passing Jewish gentleman. Apparently, it was in recognition of this stranger’s act of kindness that Joyce made Leopold Bloom, the main character of Ulysses, Jewish.
We leave the warmth of the Duke and venture out into the freezing cold and the cobbled squares of nearby Trinity College. Shivering under the bell tower, which marks the cornerstone of this 400-year-old university, Frank and Colm recount some of its history.
Built in 1592, Trinity was initially a school of divinity. “Students were supposed to rise at 6 a.m. for prayers,” says Frank. “But they were better known for drunkenness and debauchery.”
This was still the case when Oliver Goldsmith attended in 1744, Oscar Wilde in 1872 and Beckett in 1920. All honed their drinking skills here.
To illustrate Wilde’s prodigious drinking ability, Frank tells a tale of his tour to the U.S. Wilde visited Leadville, CO, a mining town that was home to the biggest bordello in America, where there was little interest in his lecture on art and aesthetics. The miners challenged him to a drinking competition. They drank whiskey in the mines, expecting him to fail miserably. Instead, Wilde was the last man standing and had to learn how to operate the lift in order to bring them back up to the surface.
Teeth chattering, we weave our way through a maze of narrow streets to O’Neill’s Pub. There has been a pub here on Suffolk Street for more than 300 years. The latest incarnation is a Victorian building that houses a warren of interlocking rooms. Some of these are snugs – small alcoves that used to be set aside specifically for women but are now used by those seeking privacy.
Poets Michael Longley and Brendan Kennelly and writer Brian Keenan used to be regulars in O’Neill’s. Their pictures adorn the walls and we sip our drinks and soak in the warmth as Frank and Colm tell us all about them.
Before long, it’s time to move on again, this time to St. Andrew’s Church. Built on the site of the first Viking parliament in Dublin and formerly a Protestant church, it is now the city’s tourist office.
It is also the perfect setting for one of the highlights of the tour. It’s here, on the steps of the church, that Frank and Colm perform a passage from James Plunkett’s Strumpet City.
The story is set during the 1913 lockout, a major industrial dispute between 20,000 workers – led by Big Jim Larkin – and 300 employers in Dublin. The dispute lasted for months and resulted in severe hardship for the strikers, two of whom are depicted in the passage dramatized by Frank and Colm. One plays Toucher Hennessy, a man who needs money for a drink. (A ‘toucher’ is someone who buys one drink in a bar and then nods and agrees with the chatter of other drinkers, hoping that they will buy him another.)
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