Calling all bookworms! Have you ever wanted to walk among the streets that your most loved author has walked through? Sit at their favourite spot, or have a drink at their favourite coffee house?
Well, now’s your chance.
Dublin’s been crawling with poets, playwrights, novelists, dreamers and schemers for centuries and its pubs have witnessed literary geniuses for years.
Check out Dublin’s literary pubs, where Irish authors gained inspiration to create their well-known masterpieces, including four Nobel Prize winners for literature, enough to earn Dublin a Unesco City of Literature title.
The regular hangout of the author of Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, and legend also has it that Robin Hood stopped by the pub once or twice since it dates back to 1198.
James Joyce referenced the Brazen Head in ‘Ulysses’ when he wrote: “…you got a decent enough do in the Brazen Head for a bob”. Amongst the literary and historic giants associated with this pub was Brendan Behan, and the revolutionaries Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone.
The Brazen Head is located on the southern side of the River Liffey, near in the western end of the Temple Bar area.
The pub features live music and delicious food choices. During the summer, you can enjoy the atmosphere in the cobblestone courtyard. Traditional and contemporary dishes are served every day, including stews, fresh fish and seafood dishes.
‘An evening of food, folklore and fairies’ Storytelling candlelit dinner entertainment, including live music and ballads can be pre-booked.
A few minutes’ walk from Christchurch Cathedral and The Guinness Brewery, The Brazen Head is a must-visit for its historic value and its famed reputation as one of Dublin’s best Irish music venues.
What’s in a name!
The name ‘Brazen Head’ refers to the 13th-century legend of a bronze or brass head mounted on marble that could predict the future. The head reportedly would answer any question put to it with either “Yes” or “No”, so the questions had to be very carefully phrased.
A Brazen History
The Brazen Head is located on Bridge Street and is Dublin’s oldest pub. Although it was originally established in 1198, the current building was built in 1754 as a coaching inn.
In the 17th century, Bridge Street was a “residential area for the nobility and wealthy merchants”, and residents included Sir Winston Churchill and the Marquess of Antrim.
In the 1700s, Bridge Street was changing from a residential area to “a busy commercial centre” and the merchants began leasing the ground floor of their houses to shops and businesses. In 1765, the inn contained “thirty rooms, kitchen, cellar, scullery and many other conveniences, with sufficient stabling.”
It was at this very same pub (former inn) that the United Irishmen planned their insurrection and Robert Emmet used the pub to plan the rising of 1803. Emmet stayed in a room overlooking the main door so he could see possible enemies approach. However, his rebellion failed and he was soon hanged in Thomas Street. Ironically, the Hangman also used to frequent The Brazen Head.
It was from the corner outside the Brazen Head overlooking the River Liffey that the Free State troops used heavy artillery against the Anti-Treaty forces holding the Four Courts across the river in 1922. This led to the break out of the Civil war as the fighting continued for a year and caused a deep divide within the country. There is a unique collection of photographs dating from this turbulent period displayed inside the pub.
The Brazen Head Today
The Brazen Head remains popular with locals and tourists alike because it has managed to combine traditional history with its live music and delicious cuisine.
Davy Byrne’s pub is located at 21 Duke Street, Dublin. It was made famous by its appearance in Chapter 8 of James Joyce’s 1922 modernist novel Ulysses, when he wrote, “He entered Davy Byrnes. Moral Pub. He doesn’t chat. Stands a drink now and then. But in a leap year one if four. Cashed a cheque for me once” and “Davy Byrne came forward from the hindbar in tuck stitched shirtsleeves, cleaning his lips with two wipes of his napkin. Herring’s blush. Whose smile upon each feature plays with such and such replete. Too much fat on the parsnips.”
Bloom meets his friend Nosey Flynn who engages Davy Byrne in chat and Bloom orders the “gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of Burgundy.” Nosey Flynn then asks Davy Byrne for a tip for the Ascot Gold Cup, to which the latter replies: “I’m off that Mr Flynn, Davy Byrne answered. I never put anything on a horse.”
The pub has since become a hub for fans of the novel. The pub is particularly crowded on Bloomsday, which is an annual celebration of James Joyce and his famous masterpiece. Held annually in Dublin on 16 June, the day Ulysses takes place in 1904, as well as the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, the celebration is named after the novel’s protagonist Leopold Bloom.
The day involves many cultural activities, including readings and dramatisations of the novel, pub crawls and other events, some of which are hosted by the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street. James Joyce enthusiasts dress up in Edwardian clothing, as they follow Bloom’s route around Dublin passing by landmarks, such as Davy Byrne’s pub. Marathon readings of the entire novel are also held, some of them even last up to 36 hours!
Davy Byrne’s was also mentioned in Joyce’s short story Counterparts as a bar visited by the protagonist Farrington. It is also mentioned in Green Rushes, a short story collection by Maurice Walsh.
History of Davy Byrne’s Pub
The pub was first licensed as a pub in 1789 and purchased in 1889 by Davy Byrnes. Joyce was a regular patron of the pub and formed a close friendship with Davy himself.
Davy Byrne left his native County Wicklow as a young man, one hundred and twenty years ago, aiming to make a mark on Dublin’s licensed trade. He started out as an apprentice to the manager of the popular Scotch House on Burgh Quay. In 1889, purchased his first premises, and named it after himself, placing the name above the door as it can be seen to this day.
In 1889, the pub had transformed into somewhat of a literary institution. Over the following 25 years, it became Dublin’s most famous literary pub. Over the course of those 25 years, Ireland went through a major transformation. A movement of national awakening had begun which led to the rebirth of cultural activity in the country. The Anglo-Irish Literary revival was also at full strength led by Oliver St. John Gogarty and James Stephens, holding court in Davy Byrnes pub.
Of course, Davy Byrnes was not only frequented by Joyce but by other literary greats, such as James Stephens, Liam O’Flaherty, Padraig O’Conaire and later on by Myles na gCopaleen, Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin and Brendan Behan.
During the War of Independence and Civil War, the pub was frequented by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. Davy Byrne’s nationalist sympathies were quite evident, as he allowed the upstairs room to be used for meetings of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the outlawed Provisional Cabinet of the State, where Collins served as the Minister of Finance.
Davy Byrne retired in 1939, and in 1942 the pub was acquired by the Doran family of Marlborough Street, who had been in the Dublin licensed trade for 50 years. Reflecting a changing era, the Doran family brought a fresh cosmopolitan image to Davy Byrnes. During the war years, they became the first great cocktail pub in Dublin. Clientele changed too, and a more fashionable, business customer was attracted to the pub.
The pub is still run by the Doran family, particularly Redmond Doran.
Davy Byrnes has an excellent pub-food reputation, specialising in seafood, which is famous throughout Dublin.
The décor at Davy Byrnes is pre-Second World War in theme. It features an excellent art collection including Liam Proud murals that display Joycean Dublin, in addition to the murals of the 1940s by Cecil French Salkeld and sculptures by Eddie Delaney and John Behan.
Neary’s is a UNESCO City of Literature Bar located in Dublin City Centre, on Chatham Street, just off Grafton Street. Chatham Street dates back to 1773 and was named after the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt Elder, who collapsed in the middle of a speech in Parliament opposing the “revolting American colonists”.
The pub is within a few minutes’ walking distances to Trinity College, Saint Stephens Green and the Gaiety Theatre. Due to its location, Neary’s pub has become a favourite hangout for actors. As for the pub’s name, it can be traced back to 1887, when Thomas Neary was the proprietor. The pub has retained nearly all of its original features, including the 2 finely crafted lamp brackets out front, which are the last of their kind in Ireland. As you walk inside, you’ll even find 4 gas lamps that are amazingly still in working condition. The pub consists of the main bar area downstairs, as well as the Chatham Lounge upstairs.
The pub offers a variety of food choices, including delicious fresh and smoked salmon sandwiches, soups and salads.
The connection to the literary community dates back to 1871 when the Gaiety theatre opened. Famous patrons who frequented the pub over the years include Jimmy O’Dea, Flann O’Brien, Maureen Potter, and Ronnie Drew.
Irish poet, novelist and playwright Brendan Behan who wrote The Borstal Boy and is regarded as one of the greatest Irish writers of all time often held court in Neary’s in the 1950s.
Oliver St John Gogarty
This award-winning restaurant serves the best of traditional Irish food along with live Irish music most nights. Gogartys is situated in the centre of Dublin’s Cultural Quarter, Temple Bar, within walking distance of all major tourist attractions. It also has self-catering penthouse apartments and a budget hostel.
The pub’s literary connection comes through the fact that it was named after the poet and author Oliver St John Gogarty, who in turn served as inspiration for the character Buck Mulligan in Ulysses. Irish poet and novelist Patrick Kavanagh drank here along with his close friend and comic genius Flann O’ Brien.
The Palace Bar
This pre-Victorian bar is located on Fleet Street in Dublin’s Temple Bar Quarter. Many authors have frequented the pub since 1843, including Paddy Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Flann O’Brien. It served as the unofficial headquarters for Robert M Smyllie (editor of the Irish Times), who held literary gatherings there throughout the 1930s and 1940s attended by newsmen, correspondents and compositors of Dublin’s three daily papers. The reporters would convene and compose articles and meet “sources” right there. It remains a popular hangout for journalists to this day. It also helped that The Irish Times’ offices are situated less than three minutes away from the pub.
If you visit the bar, be sure to check out the brass square at the base of the lamppost right outside which pays tribute to the most famous literary patrons.
The Palace was built in 1823 and it was bought by the Hall family soon after. In the early 1900s The Ryan family took over the pub. The Widow Ryan sold the premises to Bill Aherne in 1946 for £27,000. Many people thought he was crazy to pay such an amount but Bill always maintained he knew he had got a bargain.
The decor of the Palace has remained unchanged in the last 189 years, which makes it a historical landmark as well.
Established in 1818, Toner’s is one of Dublin’s oldest and most famous pubs. Like its predecessors in this list, Toner’s also has a literary link and was a part of the Dublin cultural scene. Even though the famous and revered poet and playwright WB Yeats was not a fan of hanging out at pubs, he is still known to have stopped by Toners once or twice. Bram Stoker, the world-renowned author of Dracula, was also one of the pub’s frequent visitors.
Located on the great Baggot Street, Toner’s is one the very few Victorian pubs remaining in Ireland. The décor and flagged floor are vintage and will transfer you to a different time. According to Rory Guinness, Toner’s serves “the best pint of Guinness in Dublin”.
The pub also hosts live music gigs. Mumford & Sons played there for Arthur’s Day in 2012. The pub has two private function rooms available for special occasions.
All in all, if you’re a book worm and love retracing the steps of your favourite authors and poets, be sure to head to Dublin’s literary pubs and check out where they got the inspiration for some of their masterpieces!
Also, check out the following articles for more pointers on what to do and where to go on your trip to Ireland, so you can make the most out of it: Where to Visit in Ireland: Dublin or Belfast | Arthur Guinness: The Man Behind the World’s Most Famous Beer | 24 Hours in Dublin: Experience the Best of the Irish Capital | Amazing Parks in Ireland: Must Visit Parks for Tourists and Locals