There can hardly be a better way to celebrate the centenary of Dublin’s Easter Rising than by going on a pub crawl. Those who know me would say that’s typical of me, but they will have to admit that buildings with a connection to alcohol feature prominently in the story of the 1916 rebellion. From distilleries and breweries to hotels and pubs, Joyce’s puzzle of how to cross Dublin without passing one of these was even more difficult to solve in 1916 than when he wrote it in 1922, when many of these buildings had been destroyed in the fighting and some were never rebuilt.
For those who don’t know: 24th April of this year sees the 100th anniversay of Ireland’s uprising against British rule – but the country has already celebrated/commemorated this over the Easter weekend, since the fact that the Rising took place during Easter takes precedence over the actual calendar date. The good news is that we now get another opportunity to mark the occasion.
Of course the idea of a 1916 pub crawl is probably not very original, but what I’ve found on the Interwebs so far seems to lack a certain level of authenticity. Many of the pubs that are mentioned in the context of the Easter Rising appear to have had very little to do with the events at the time. The fact that they are located near one of the rebellion’s flash points or are named after a 1916 hero hardly makes them qualify to be included in the roll of honour, at least in my opinion. The Gravediggers in Glasnevin for example, is without doubt one of Dublin’s finest pubs, located next door to the final resting place of countless heroes of that fateful Easter week. At the time, however, nothing much happened here at all, from what I have been able to find out.
So what makes a particular watering hole qualify as a genuine 1916 participant? I decided to draw up my own set of criteria:
- Pint: The building need not necessarily be a pub, but you must be able to enjoy a pint of Guinness on the premises.
- Story: There must be a story associated with the buillding that puts it at the heart of the action at Easter 1916.
- Place: The list of premises must be representative of different areas in the city where fighting took place without over representing a particular hotspot.
- Walk: Since it’s a pub crawl, it should be possible to complete the task on foot and without completely falling over if a pint is consumed at every stop.
That last point may be tricky for those who decide to follow the trail but are not seasoned pint drinkers — we will allow them to sneak in the odd glass instead. Even trickier is to come up with a list of establishments that match my own stringent criteria — and the result (so far) is a fairly limited number stretched out along a 7km walk. More crawl than pub, in other words. In any case, it is time to get down to business.
Facing the Grand Canal beside Portobello Bridge at the corner of South Richmond Street, the Portobello was known in 1916 as Davy’s Pub. This is where we start our pub crawl, just as some of the first activity on the morning of the Rising occurred in this area, with members of the Irish Volunteers and James Connolly’s Irish Citizen Army marching from the city towards Rathmines.
Among them was James Joyce – no, not the one of the puzzle, but a barman at Davy’s, who took the opportunity to resign from his job while taking over his employer’s pub in the name of the Irish Republic. The building soon came under fire from English troops who emerged from the nearby Portobello Barracks and proceeded to spray the building with machine gun fire. After two hours, the British noticed that nobody was shooting back and they presumed the occupiers had all been killed. However, with intimate knowledge of the building and its surroundings, Joyce had helped his comrades to escape through the cellar of the pub into adjoining laneways, having succeeded in their task to keep the English soldiers from advancing into the city centre – where the GPO and other buildings had now been taken over by the rebels. The photo gallery of the Bureau of Military History tells us:
Davy’s Public House was occupied by a small section of men under the charge of Lieut. Thomas Doyle. Their orders where to delay the British Forces approach to the City for a certain period and to fall back on Harcourt Street Station where the main body of their company were operating.
The nearby barracks where Francis Sheehy Skeffington was executed two days later also still exist, but have been renamed Cathal Brugha Barracks, after the 1916-and-beyond rebel commander.
Delahunt of Lower Camden Street is now a restaurant rather than a pub – but with a full bar licence it still qualifies to be included in the 1916 Pub Crawl. Until recently, this Victorian gem was home to Carville’s off licence, but the new owners have lovingly restored both the premises and its original name. Keep in mind that at the time of writing, the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
As with the Portobello, the 1916 story of Delahunt’s features its own barman – this time a certain George Heuston of “E” Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers. According to irishmedals.org:
Born on the 17th of August 1892 died on the 28th of October 1962 aged 23 years old at the time of the Rising. He was employed as a Shop Assistant in Delahunt’s, Camden Street, Dublin. He fought in the Delahunt’s Public House, Camden Street and Jacob’s Biscuit Factory, Bishop Street areas. George Heuston escaped from capture following his participation in the 1916 Easter Rising.
The same source (irishmedals.org) mentions John Brien (23) and Francis Brady (19) as two other young volunteers out of a total of six who occupied Delahunt’s until it was surrounded by British soldiers on 27th April.
I have to admit that I’m not entirely convinced of the accuracy of the 1916 story associated with the Swan. There are plenty of websites that all refer to the same anecdote — a witness statement by Michael Molloy, one of the printers of the legendary Proclamation of the Irish Republic:
At 9 o’clock on Easter Monday night we were withdrawn from outpost duty in the block of houses to Jacob’s biscuit factory. We were posted to different positions all over the factory covering approaches along Bishop Street and the entrance to Bride Street which runs alongside Jacobs and Remond’s Hill. Orders were also given that we were to burrow through from Jacob’s to a public house at the corner facing Aungier Street. We had two masons in our party and the burrowing was made easy. Strict instructions were given that no Volunteer was to take any drink from the public house. And although I am not a drinking man myself I must say that this order was strictly obeyed.
Great story – but the problem is, it doesn’t mention the Swan by name, nor does the Swan’s website mention the story. Also, one would hardly burrow across a street, especially where theSwan faces Whitefriars Church and not the old Jacob’s Factory (now DIT). Still, it’s a classic pub and I haven’t yet found proof that it is not in fact related to Michael Molloy’s statement.
Our next stop, at the junction of North King Street and Church Street, was called Reilly’s in 1916. Today, The Tap is unlikely to win the Pub of the Year Award, but at €4 a pint we won’t complain. There isn’t much to remind us about what went on around this area, but rest assured that this is a good place to reflect on the events of a hundred years ago. (Incidentally, there is a plaque beside the entrance commemorating the capture of Kevin Barry in the War of Independence.)
Fighting in the area around this strategically located pub was so intense that it gained the nickname “Reilly’s Fort”. Sean Cody of “G” Company, 1st Battalion, Dublin Brigade, describes the dramatic events in his witness statement:
On Thursday the British advanced from Bolton St. up North King St. firing from all directions, and severe fighting was taking place at the barricade near Reilly’s public house which held Lieutenant Shouldice’s men, and immediately north of this post we of “G” Company and others were burrowing our way through party walls of houses to come nearer to the junction of North King St. and Church St. We pushed out windows and under the shining example and command of Paddy Holohan kept up a terrific fire on the barricade through which the British were advancing. On several occasions there was a temporary cease fire shouted by Paddy Holohan to allow the British to remove their dead and wounded.
Later that Friday the British had manned the barricade but were driven off by our concentrated fire, in which the Howth Mauser rifles did great work, and the British suffered many casualties in dead and wounded and left behind a number of rifles which were quickly collected and taken into Reilly’s pub (Fort).
By now we were cut off and after a consultation between ourselves we decided to fight on. At this time the British were in possession of Reilly’s Fort, practically next door to our position. We could hear revolver shots in the Fort and as is now known the British shot a number of people who were found in the Fort, all of whom had no connection with the Volunteers or the fighting.
The events referred to in that last paragraph became know as the North King Street Massacre and is a particularly grim reminder of the horrors of war.
Our visit to the Oval is representative of so many pubs destroyed (along with everything else) in the 1916 Rising. Many were never rebuilt, have since changed names or are no longer pubs. Owned by a JohnJ. Egan at the time of the Rising, the Oval was popular with members of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers, who would pop in for a pint while waiting for their trams. Its proximity to the GPO meant that its fate was pretty much sealed as the fighting intensified during that Easter week.
Eventually things came to a catastrophic head when the HMS Helga sailed up the Liffey and started shelling the GPO and surrounding buildings — the Oval was completely destroyed. When the dust settled, John Egan rebuilt his pub and the building where we now enjoy our pint opened its doors once again in 1922.
There is little doubt as to which side of the conflict the owners of Wynn’s Hotel were on in 1916. The hotel is now famous as the birthplace of the Irish Volunteers, who held their inaugural meeting here in November 1913 (four of those who attended —Padraig Pearse, The O’Rahilly, Sean MacDiarmada and Eamonn Ceannt— lost their lives in 1916), followed by the founding meeting of Cumann na mBan in April 1914. Two brass plaques commemorating these events can be seen in the building’s Saints & Scholars Bar.
When the GPO was taken over by the rebels on Easter Sunday 1916 and fighting got worse during the days that followed, the hotel found itself in a no man’s land of sniper fire and bombardments. The hotel’s website tells this story:
Wynn’s was set on fire by incendiary bullets. A rebel volunteer on the roof of the GPO later recalled how he saw men and women “sitting in the windows of Wynn’s Hotel in Lwr Abbey St, watching the battle as from a theatre seat”. Then, what began as entertainment for the guests turned dangerous. Under bombardment from British artillery, Wynn’s caught fire, the fire spread from the barricade to the timber facings of the hotel and when guest and staff lives were threatened, they left the hotel under the protection of a makeshift white flag. As Dublin was under siege, fire fighters were unable to save the hotel and Wynn’s was burned to the ground. It took 10 years for the gutted Hotel to reopen.
In his witness statement, Monsignor Curran tells us how on the Thursday, the fourth day of the Rising,
Fr. John O’Reilly had a narrow escape attending a Volunteer brought into Wynn’s Hotel.
All that remained of the hotel at the end of Easter week was an empty shell, gutted by the raging fires that destroyed most of Dublin’s city centre.
The distinguished Shelbourne Hotel on St. Stephen’s Green ended up taking quite a different side on the day of the Rising, although it wasn’t given much of a choice. As Michael Mallin and his men and women of the Citizen Army occupied St. Stephen’s Green, they proceeded to build barricades and dig trenches, soon joined by Countess Markievicz. They took over the College of Surgeons on the Green’s west side, but left the Shelbourne alone.
This provided the British with a perfect opportunity to take on the rebels, and a certain Captain Andrews was in charge of the 40 soldiers who positioned themselves in the windows of the Shelbourne and started firing on the rebels. Later during the week, they positioned a machine gun on the roof and sprayed the College of Surgeons with bullets.
One of the more endearing stories of Rising relates to the Shelbourne’s “front garden” and can be found in the newsletter of the DSPCA:
Nevertheless, things weren’t so bad for the park’s feathered inhabitants. The Times History of the War recorded that St Stephen’s Green “was well stocked with waterfowl, and the keeper, who remained inside all the time, reported that his charges were well looked after and fed by him, and were very little perturbed by the bullets flying over their heads”. The park-keeper’s name was James Kearney – every day he would enter the Green to feed the ducks, and every day the opposing sides would cease firing to allow him to do so.
At the time of the Rising, the Schoolhouse on Northumberland Road was in fact — you’ll never guess — a school. We can enjoy a pint in the last stop on our 1916 pub crawl in this silent witness of the greatest slaughter of British troops during Easter week — at the Battle of Mount Street Bridge.
On Easter Monday the school was taken over by four Volunteers who started barricading windows and doors. On Tuesday, however, it was decided that the building was of little strategic value and its occupiers left to join de Valera in Boland’s Bakery further up the road. A few other buildings around Mount Street Bridge were occupied by only a handful of Volunteers when, on Wednesday, more than 1,000 soldiers of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment came marching parade-style from Kingstown Harbour (Dun Laoghaire), some in the belief that they had landed in France.
When they arrived at Mount Street Bridge they first focused their attention on the empty schoolhouse. In a bizarre display of an antiquated military tactic of repeated frontal assault against the rebels’ guerilla ambush that followed, 30 British soldiers were killed and more than 200 wounded – compared to 4 deaths on the rebels’ side. Volunteer William Christian was in the parochial hall across from the schoolhouse and describes what happened:
…because of our favourable position we could see what was taking place around whilst being safely out of the line of firing. As the British troops drew nearer, the bullets fell on the roof of the school opposite like a shower of hail. Excitement gripped us and we braced ourselves for the encounter. Because of our position we had to wait until the British troops actually passed us before we could fire on them; and then they came — hundreds and hundreds of them — stretching right across the road — and so intent were they in gaining their objective — the capture of Clanwilliam House — they completely overlooked our post. We opened fire and men fell like ninnypins.
And so we’ve reached the finish line of our 1916 Pub Crawl, ending up once again on the banks of the Grand Canal. If anyone has any suggestions for pubs that qualify for inclusion (remember, Pint, Story, Place and Walk), I’m all ears.
Happy birthday, Ireland.