Evening is falling and the lights are flickering on. We make our way from Grafton Street via Johnson’s Court, across Clarendon Street and straight on through Coppinger Row to South William Street. Facing us is the Castle Inn, Grogan’s Castle Lounge. It is a pub like any pub, being only really like itself. A literary pub, a boozer, a haunt of artists, buskers and assorted ne’er-do-wells. There’s an interesting mural on the far wall featuring chancers and characters who have frequented the joint.
Dave O’Hara is in there somewhere. He told me once of this immortality, conferred when he held his stall in the nearby Arcade, peddling ancient books, modern posters and timeless yarns. By the half light he’d be in Grogan’s sinking pints, reciting his poetry. He’d sell it too, his books including Heartstrung, Headstrung and Rainbows and Stone. Dave joined our writers group in Bray and helped flog our collection Wednesday at Eight, though he wasn’t included. One buyer was a columnist at the Evening Press who wrote a very nice review, surmising that we were ‘of tender years’. I suppose we were; raw certainly. Dave stayed in Bray for a while, until he came adrift, and was lost out there in Dublin Bay. A long time gone but too short a time here.
Brian O’Nolan is most famed amongst regulars. He would find his way here from Dublin Castle, and the pub appears in the pages of At Swim Two Birds. There’s an ever changing display of art on the walls too, works by contemporary artists sold commission free. Dating back to 1899, the pub remains mercifully free of television and piped music.
There’s a seating area outside where I like to perch, glowering with menace at passersby. People watching is always a pleasure on William Street, where all the chaotic comings and goings of the crowd provide a continuous performance.
The South Dublin City Markets lie just beyond. The gabled building to the right is an outlier, echoing the style of the main building which is a delightful Victorian Gothic palace from 1881, blood red and topped by swirling turrets. Castle Market, the short street with canopies centre frame, leads to this, Dublin’s first shopping centre. Generally referred to as George’s Street Arcade, the central arcade pushes through the building from Castle Market to emerge onto South Great George’s Street beyond. It is lined with stalls selling jewellery and art, books and vinyl, all the paraphernalia that’s a little bit out there, antique, retro or cutting edge. I might find a stool a counter, grab a burger and chips, proper food with copious sauce and of course, salt, all the better to encourage a return trip to Grogan’s.
So perhaps it’s that time of day, summer or winter at the fulcrum when the sky turns deeper blue and the lights flicker on. There’s a purpose to the human crush again, going home, going out, heading for Grogans.