During the long history of various Irish independence movements the Dublin Pub has always been a focal point for public meetings, clandestine gatherings and developing networks. Michael Collins’ knowledge of Dublin pubs and network of helpful publicans is legendary. Several famous bars in the city even still bear the scars of bullet and shell from the days of the Rising. Below is a short list of Dublin pubs with connections to the independence movement.
Situated just off Grafton Street this pub is famously associated with Joyce’s famous character Leopold Bloom who drops in for a bite of lunch but during the War of Independence and Civil War the premises was visited regularly by Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. Davy Byrne’s nationalist sympathies were evident, permitting as he did the upstairs room to be used for meetings of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and the outlawed Provisional Cabinet of the State, of which Collins was Minister for Finance. On one occasion, an officious barman clearing the premises at closing called: “Time, gentlemen please,” to which one customer replied, “Time be damned! The Government is sitting upstairs.”
The Duke has a long association with Home Rule and Republican politics. As far back as the 19th Century when Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the Home Rule party tended to spend his Dublin sojourns in a hotel on nearby Dawson Street. Many of his Parnellite followers used to meet and socialise in the tavern then run by the Kennedy brothers at 9 Duke Street. From 1900 onward, and just next door to the pub the famous Dive Oyster Bar operated and in 1904 it was taken over by the Kiernan family of Granard, Co. Longford. Their daughter Kitty would famously become the fiancé of Michael Collins and the pub would become one of Collins’ many safe houses in the city.
The Grand Central Bar
Although its only been a licensed premises since 2003 when the former branch of AIB became the latest addition to the Louis Fitzgerald Group, this fine and impressive building dates all the way back to the early 19th Century and was very much in the middle of the action in Easter 1916. The building at no. 10 Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) was owned by Alderman William McCarthy, a Unionist politician on Dublin City Council, and during Easter week 1916 the building was heavily damaged by the many shells fired by the Royal Navy gunboat the Helga II into the Sackville Street and Abbey Street vicinity. After the Rising the building was so thoroughly repaired that by the following year Aldreman McCarthy was in a position to sell no. 10 and 11 to the Munster and Leinster bank which would later become part of AIB.
The Old Stand
During the War of Independence, the premises was frequently visited by Michael Collins, who had an office nearby at 3, St Andrew Street (now the Trocadero Restaurant). From time to time, Collins held informal meetings of the outlawed I.R.B. (Irish Republican Brotherhood) in the premises and in true Collins tradition, he was less conspicuous while in the midst of the public. A handsome commemorative plaque and a portrait of “the Big Fella” hang in the pub to remind modern customers of these clandestine meetings.
The Swan pub on Aungier Street, then owned by Tipperary man John Maher was occupied during Easter 1916 as it sat close to the Jacob’s biscuit factory (now part of the National Archives) which was captured by the rebels under the command of Thomas MacDonagh. Numbered among the ranks of the Volunteers was Peadar Kearney who would later write the words for the Irish national anthem. One of the last garrisons to surrender when the rebels were making their escape and Michael Molloy, a Volunteer stated
“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”
The pockmarks of artillery fire were still visible for many years on the walls of the premises.
In the years leading up to 1916 this pub found favour with more that the members of the fourth estate from the nearby Irish Independent offices. Uniformed members of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers frequently dropped in to The Oval after manoeuvres while waiting for trams. A busy pub in a busy city centre was the perfect meeting place for members of the I.R.B., who blended in with a swelling clientèle.
Easter Monday, April 24th seemed a day like any other at The Oval until the Irish Volunteers captured the nearby GPO and proclaimed the Irish Republic. The week that followed would bring chaos, devastation, death and destruction both to the city of Dublin and to The Oval. By Wednesday the HMS Helga II had sailed up the Liffey and commenced shelling Liberty Hall and the GPO. At precisely 10am on Thursday April 27th the fate of The Oval was sealed. New trajectories were set on the Helga and the GPO and surrounding buildings were all hit. Fires blazed in Sackville Street and Abbey Street. Before long an inferno had engulfed the city centre. The Oval and surrounding buildings were destroyed. Abbey Street and Sackville Street smouldered for days as ruin and rubble scattered the pavements.
The pub’s owner John Egan set about rebuilding the pub and it was able to re-open its doors for business in 1922. It is this pub that customers see when they visit today but a brass plaque at the entrance commemorates the pubs historic destruction.
The Confession Box
The reason for the name of the pub dates back all the way to the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921). During that conflict the last know excommunications from the Catholic Church in Ireland took place and were directed against the men involved in the ongoing rebellion. At the forefront of issuing these excommunications was Bishop Daniel Cohalan of Cork and it was rumoured that many of those who were excommunicated, including that famous Corkonian Michael Collins, would drop into what was then the “Maid of Erin” pub and would receive Communion and Confession from sympathetic priests from the nearby Pro-Cathedral. Thus the pub earned the nickname of “The Confession Box”.
The International Bar
The International was another of Michael Collins’ many haunts and has played host to many authors, musicians and artists over the years. It has also been in the possession of the O’Donohoe family since way back in the 1880’s! I’ve left this to the last on the list as it has a very modern connection with 1916 in that the International, at the corner of Wicklow Street and Andrew Street is the meeting point for the hugely popular 1916 Rebellion Walking tours which run seven days a week.
Originally published for DublinTown in January 2016