Over the centuries the licensed trade has proven to be the one outstanding storehouse of social, political and economic history throughout Ireland. This is primarily true because of the antiquity and heritage value of the old pubs in that so many of their licences date back hundreds of years. But it is abundantly true in light of the historic role that the pub played in the social evolution of Ireland.
We must remember that in centuries past the pub was literally at the centre of Irish life and not because of the consumption of alcohol: the pub was central because there were no community centres or meeting houses. Every social activity, except that of public worship, took place within the pub: wedding breakfasts, political, trade union, farming and community meetings, public auctions, wakes (many pubs were community morgues) and American wakes (emigration parties).
The old inns of Clontarf, many of which remain with us today, provide living testimony to this unique heritage.
Harry Byrne’s 107 Howth Road
This old gem of antiquity, which is descended from an 18th-century Coaching Inn, has remained faithful to the ethos of the traditional era, and therefore properly qualifies as a Heritage Pub. When this old Inn was first licensed back in 1798 much woodland and scrub-covered the Black Quarry and along the banks of the Hollybrook River.
The early Inn would have had a large coachyard at the rear complete with stables and farrier’s yard. The water supply of the Inn was a deep well that has been preserved within the pub to the present day.
The Carolan family, who also owned The Yacht, ran this pub for a number of years before selling to James J. Corbett who, in the infant years of the 20th century, commissioned the Edwardian architectural jewel you see before you today. Nothing has changed here except the light fittings in over 100 years.
Standing out before your eyes is an interior of yellow pitch pine, that is perfected by sumptuously carved high Victorian ceilings - the hallmark of that era. A number of pitch pine partitions segregate this old pub, adding an atmosphere of comfort, privacy and charm. A mixture of mosaic tiles and original wooden floors add a dimension to the premises that exudes genuine traditional values. While you are here, ramble around the back to find another old-world jewel created in the authentic Victorian idiom.
And as you ramble outside to what was the old courtyard, you will find the most original smoking area in the entire licensed trade. The pub is run today by Tom Byrne and his son Alan who are descendants of the man whose name is over the door – Harry Byrne. Harry first worked as a barman here in 1920 before returning to purchase the premises in 1947 for £22,000.
Unspoilt and unperturbed by the passage of time, this unpretentious jewel is one of Dublin’s finest custodians of our abundantly rich licensed heritage.
The Yacht, 73 Clontarf Road
There has been a tavern on this site since 1868 when local farmer Nicholas Carolan allowed his son Thomas to build a licensed premises cum grocery on part of his agricultural holding of St. Edmunds. The seascape of Clontarf at that time was spoiled by the presence of an ugly sea wall and muddy foreshore, a pattern that was echoed in some rather unsavoury looking local thatched dwellings.
In 1950 Tipperaryman Michael Tobin paid £23,500 for this old hostelry – a figure that received national publicity at that time. In later years Michael was joined in the business by son Richard, an avid thespian, who along with his wife, Deirdre Scott-Lennon, undertook a wondrous maritime-style refurbishment here in the early 1990s.
In recent years the premises has undergone a gigantic transformation under the ownership of the O’ Malley Group. Today the historic Yacht is a pub, whose makeover very distinctly carries the imprint of owner, Eamonn O’ Malley. The O’Malley pubs, of which there are four, have four characteristic hallmarks in space, comfort, style and service. A very busy pub with a great mixture of food, drink and natural ambience – and a very unusual toilet wall! Well worth a visit!
The Sheds, 198 Clontarf Road
This living repository of social history is one of Dublin’s most beloved pubs. James Gerald Mooney – founder of the famous Mooney pub group – first licensed it back in 1845, just before the famine. At that time the Sheds Village had cast off its former poverty-stricken image and had become a popular sea-bathing resort.
Monaghan man Peter Connolly paid £7,750 for this pub back in 1927 when Minster for Justice, Kevin O’ Higgins, was about to introduce the Holy Hour (compulsory afternoon closing from 2pm to 3.30pm). Today the premises is run by the third generation of the Connolly family but with the second generation ever present to provide wise counsel when required.
Inside this old oasis of liquid culture is a veritable museum of Clontarf social history including numerous prints of the nostalgic Clontarf Tram. The interior exudes traditionalism with beautiful stained glass mirrors, shining brass addendums, dark-coated mahogany partitions and sub-divides displaying all the hallmarks of authentic Victoriana – including a centrepiece 19th-century clock. The pub boasts a delightful, convivial and charming public bar full of good conversationalist of all age groups. Great atmosphere here in a pub that is redolent of the older Dublin bar! A spacious and comfortable smoking garden has been added in recent times.
Clontarf Castle Hotel, Castle Avenue
No, the licence here isn’t old but we can’t leave this one out because the story of Clontarf Castle is absolutely integral to understanding Clontarf’s historic heritage. Of course, there has been a castle here since the 1170s and, though not licensed for public consumption of alcohol, we can very safely assume that greater quantities of alcoholic products ranging from mead to fine wines have, over the centuries, been consumed here than any other single venue in Clontarf. Even the puritanical Cromwellians were partial to a few jars in private – but certainly not in public.
The Castle first became a licensed premises in 1957. It has in recent years undergone a magnificent metamorphosis to become a world-class 4 star hotel offering 100 deluxe bedrooms. It also boasts unique conference and banqueting facilities and a splendid medieval-style foyer exhibiting elongated tapestries, coats of arms and knights in armour. I have a particular affinity with the distinctive ambience and comfort value in Knights Bar, which is renowned for its medieval personality, but to my mind is also evocative of the original Tudor Inn with aspects of Victoriana thrown in for good measure. A very enjoyable social emporium!
Dollymount House, 268 Clontarf Road
Gone but not forgotten! This beacon of culture had a licence dating back to 1782, and possibly much earlier, as an Oyster Tavern. The early proprietors didn’t have to go very far for their products as Humphrey French’s cultivated oyster beds across the road in Crab Lough was the source of the pub’s daily fresh oysters. During the construction of the Bull Wall back in 1818, this old house was turning over a fortune but the owners of the Crab Lough plantations were complaining of contaminants in their oyster beds. The inaugural Annual Dinner of the Licensed Vintners Association was held here on April 29th 1831 when this was Patrick O’Rourke’s Dollymount Oyster Tavern. What a sight that must have been!
By the 1860s enterprising publican Michael Byrne had developed this 7-acre site as The Dollymount Hotel and Tavern and by the time the first Howth tram stopped outside this premises, the name Doyle’s Dollymount Hotel & Tavern was over the door. The hotel acted as a ticket office for the tram service and also contained spacious pleasure grounds, tennis courts, bowling green, and bagatelle & skittles games room for their predominantly opulent clientele. By 1914, at the outbreak of the Great War, a garrison of British soldiers were stationed across the way on Bull Island. This was a factor that caused a lot of gossip and sensation in the area as the hotel was then frequented by an ancient profession of business ladies, who dedicated to king and country, apparently delivered great value for the king’s shilling.
The Connolly family were pulling the pints here for many years –yes, the same Connolly’s that own The Sheds – until Leo and Marie Fitzgerald paid £830,000 for the pub back in 1988. A major renovation followed under the direction of designer, Anna Bradley, and in eight weeks and three days a neo-Victorian wonder pub was born. This pub, while run by Marie and Leo, consistently served the highest number of carvery lunches anywhere in Dublin. The Fitzgeralds were a dream team and one of the most courteous and hospitable couples that I have ever encountered within the licensed trade.
Some years back as the Celtic Tiger was roaring in the bay, Leo sold Dollymount House for the purpose of private housing development for a figure believed to be in the region of €15.7 million. Today the old inn is closed down and used as a car park by a nearby restaurant. This is a jewel of immense heritage value. How I would love to see it re-opened as a Heritage Pub or Community Museum! What do you think?
The Pebble Beach, 18 Conquer Hill
Though not of the historic vintage as many of its contemporaries, the Pebble Beach pub is a traditional licensed premises that concentrates exclusively on serving the local Clontarf and Dollymount communities. It has a particular affinity with local sporting associations within the local community. Leo and Marie Fitzgerald, who owned Dollymount House, were previous licensees here. It is a pub rich in atmosphere, character and has a lively clientele.
Over the centuries Clontarf had many other inns, taverns and beer houses that are no longer with us. Some were closed by order of the Corporation for being places of ill repute, as premises that promoted drunkenness and public disorder, and havens of conspiracy against the crown. In particular, the area around The Sheds Fishing Village was scourged by the presence of Beer Houses - on the sea wall side of the road - and the anti-social problems associated with them.
Beer Houses, which were abolished by law in the 1870s, were restricted by licensing to serve but one product, beer. However, unlike the regular 7 day wine and spirit licences, a Beer House licence could be secured by the mere payment of £1 for a licence with no requirement that the licensee be of good character. What followed was the application for licences by the most unsavoury of individuals who sold the most unsavoury and unscrupulous type of product.
© Eamonn Casey - All the material in this article is strictly copyright and may not be reproduced in any format without the consent and due acknowledgement of the author.