A day in which I find some subterranean ruins, a hidden park and a beautiful church, see a headless and legless man and meet Oscar Wilde…
My day started after an early breakfast with the 9am coach back to Dublin, where I got off near the Custom House and crossed the nearby bridge to the south side of the Liffey. The first thing I wanted to find was Mulligan’s Pub which has a long association with writers and journalism. It’s been a long-held belief that James Joyce may have written part of ‘Ulysses’ while sitting in Mulligan’s bar, though that’s highly unlikely as he left Ireland in 1912 and never returned, while ‘Ulysses’ was written between 1914 and 1921. In a book well known for mentioning many Dublin places and businesses of the time, there’s no reference at all to Mulligan’s in ‘Ulysses’ although the pub does feature in Joyce’s short story ‘Counterparts’. Probably the most famous journalist ever to drink in Mulligans though was a young American reporter who turned up one day in 1947 to research the pub’s connections with James Joyce – that young reporter’s name was John F Kennedy.
Along the street from Mulligan’s was a building which, with its black-and-white English Tudor frontage, I thought was curiously unique among the rest of Dublin’s architecture. With a shuttered-up shop and locked gates to a central passageway there was nothing to say what it was and it wasn’t featured in my ‘111 Places’ book, however later internet research told me that it was the rear part of what was commonly known as ‘the gas building’.
The front part of the building was situated in the next street and was acquired by the Dublin Gas Company in 1884 ; the Tudor-style part was built in 1905 and the two buildings were connected at the rear by an integrated enclosed passageway at upper floor level, with a small market operating in the alleyway down below. Between 1931 and 1934 the front part of the building was remodelled in the Art Deco style with a large ground floor showroom ; the Gas Company remained in occupation until 2001 when the building was sold and purchased by Trinity College to become the School of Nursing & Midwifery, although to this day it still has the ‘GAS’ lettering above the door.
The next three things on my list were all in the Temple Bar area, and though I’d only intended walking through there to find them I found the area so attractive that I couldn’t resist exploring up, down and along every street and alleyway I came to. I’d been that way briefly last December and thought the area looked nice enough then but now with flowers and colourful flags adorning many of the pubs and bars it looked even nicer. There was also quite a lot of street art dotted about but I’ll save all that for another post.
The history of The Temple Bar pub goes back to the early 1600s when Sir William Temple, a renowned teacher and philosopher, built his house and gardens on the corner of two adjoining streets on newly reclaimed land. In 1656 his son, Sir John Temple, acquired additional land which had been reclaimed by the building of a new embankment wall along the River Liffey ; at that time a raised embankment often used for walking on was known as a ‘barr’, later shortened to ‘bar’ and that section became known as Temple’s Barr, to be simplified later into Temple Bar, and which evolved over time to become the present-day main thoroughfare running through the area. Today The Temple Bar is not only well known for its daily live music and the famous musicians who have played there, including The Dubliners and The Fureys, but also for having one of the largest whiskey collections in Ireland and the exclusive bottling rights of Powers, one of Dublin’s great whiskeys.
The first thing I actually wanted to find was Connolly Books which takes its name from James Connolly, the socialist leader executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising, and is Ireland’s oldest radical book shop. The first socialist book shop was set up at the beginning of the 1930s but quickly had to move following complaints from a nearby Franciscan friary ; a second shop, which was named Connolly house, was set up in 1932 but was besieged and burned down following a sermon in the Catholic Pro-Cathedral on the dangers of Socialism.
After the burning of Connolly House it became difficult to secure premises for the sale of literature seen to be left-wing and it wasn’t until 1942 that a third shop, called New Books, was opened after public donations made it possible. Unfortunately history repeated itself in 1956 when this shop too was attacked but it survived, and during the 1960s it was the only book shop in Dublin selling the writings of Marx, Engels and Connolly. The current shop was opened in 1977 by the Irish Communist Party, at a time when the area was run-down and part of it earmarked to be demolished and become a city-centre bus depot. Plans for that were eventually scrapped, the book shop survived and changed its name to Connolly Books in 1989 and the area was regenerated over the following years.
Since 1997 the book shop has also been the home of the 66-seat New Theatre, dedicated to presenting neglected Irish plays or works by small drama companies who can’t afford to perform anywhere else, though the shop and the theatre are run as two separate businesses. Both were threatened a few years ago though by structural damage partly caused by the River Poddle which runs underneath part of Temple Bar, but a left-wing builder helped to fund the refurbishment and the book shop and theatre were saved.
Opened in 2018 the Wild Duck is Dublin’s newest bar and live music venue, headed by actor and restaurateur Gary Whelan and with a retro, vintage, funky look and feel to it but maintaining a cosy Irish atmosphere. With its open frontage in three sections it certainly looked very interesting and I was momentarily tempted to go in and buy a drink just so I could look round but being on my own I decided not to.
Isolde’s Tower was named after a 6th century Irish princess, one of a pair of star-crossed lovers (the Cornish knight Tristan being the other one) whose story inspired Shakespeare and Wagner among others. The tower, or what’s left of it, was originally part of the 13th century city walls and its base was discovered in the 1990s during excavations in preparation for another new building in Temple Bar. Construction went ahead on the condition that the tower’s ruins were incorporated into the development and made permanently accessible to public view, so they were enclosed on three sides within the foundations of the new building but with a metal grille on the fourth side which incorporates a design of how the tower would have looked. Unfortunately the spaces in the grille were only small so it was difficult to get a clear photo but there wasn’t much to see anyway, just a pile of stones and the base of the tower filled with manky water, so as important as these ruins probably are they aren’t particularly exciting.
Close to the tower was supposed to be the Czech Inn, a bar specialising in Czech beer and with holiday accommodation, but in spite of wandering round for several minutes I couldn’t find it anywhere. Eventually I asked someone and was told I was standing right across the street from it! The reason I couldn’t find it was because since it was mentioned in the ‘111 Places’ book it’s undergone a refurbishment and had a change of name, although many people still know it as the Czech Inn.
Passing Darkey Kelley’s bar I was at the far end of Temple Bar and heading out of the area completely ; it was lunch time by then and my thoughts were turning to a much-needed coffee and something to eat so I decided to go in search of a café and continue my walk later on.
To be continued….