The Palace Bar

The Palace in Fleet Street is a genuine old style pub dating from 1823. The first proprietor was named Hall. The Ryan family from Tipperary took over in the first half of the twentieth century. The license passed to Bill Aherne in 1946, then to his son Liam and today the pub is run by his son William. It stands on the doorstep of Temple Bar, where the word genuine is oft traduced. I’m not curmudgeonly about it, I delight in most manifestations of the Bacchanalian muse, but the Palace truly remains uniquely oldschool; a place where the discerning soul can commute with the timeless spirit of the capital city.

Back in the day, Temple Bar was a bus queue, waiting for a station, doomed to demolition. Early examples of those things dear to the urban hippy: free love and free trade, were thinly spread on a faded streetscape. These days the whole place is hopping from lunchtime to the wee small hours. The Palace remains unchanged. Always something of an oasis, it rejoices in a literary theme, celebrating Patrick Kavanagh, Brian O’Nolan, Brendan Behan and Sean O’Casey. Patrick Kavanagh described the Palace as “the most wonderful temple of art”. Amongst the artistic regulars were Sean O’Sullivan, Patrick O’Connor and Harry Kernoff. 

Kernoff became renowned for his paintings of Dublin streetlife and pub culture. The Palace was both a local and a gallery for Kernoff. He sold his paintings off the wall here through the thirties, forties and fifties. Renown at last recognised him in later years, and he died in 1974. Amongst his most famous pub paintings is A Bird Never Flew on one Wing. This was sold off the Palace wall for a tenner or so in the fifties and found its home in another famed hostelry, O’Briens of Leeson Street. There it hung for decades and I remember admiring it over many’s the liquid lunch back in my ad agency days in the eighties. It was sold to a private buyer for a hundred and eighty grand early this century. 

Over the years the Palace has also become closely associated with the newspaper trade, the Irish Times in particular, with their premises just a short block away. Editor RM (Bertie) Smylie would repair here of an evening with a coterie of journalists, in that bygone era when journalism was the thirsty profession. 

This acrylic is a snapshot of a sunny afternoon spent amongst friends. A brief lull in the conversation allows me to throw my eyes around the bar. I recognise a few of the faces, though things are getting a bit blurred around the edges; but pleasantly so. Perhaps I’ll have another.

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