Heading for Grogan’s

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.

The Dart Player of Temple Bar

Dart Player1

Dublin’s Temple Bar is a small enclave bordered by the Liffey, Westmoreland Street and Dame Street. The main drag is a cramped, erratic thoroughfare beginning at Fleet Street in the east, on into Temple Bar and finally as  Essex Street meeting Parliament Street at the western extreme.

Fleet Street, when I first knew it in the sixties, was where you got the bus. It was crammed with waiting busses and passengers, diesel fumes and cigarette smoke, steam rising from raincoats as the sun split the louring clouds. Too narrow and decrepit for its purpose, growing even more narrow as busses shimmied westward through Temple Bar, it was earmarked for development. A great bus terminal would arise to serve the metropolis, and this windy, cobbled backwater would be swallowed in the smog of time. 

Dublin was old and grey, even on a summer day and, like every generation before and since, it was my generation would blow the cobwebs away. Flower power was planted and the Dandelion sprouted by Stephen’s Green. The bees swarming into the hollowed core of the city causing such hives of activity as the Project Arts Centre. I snuck off school many’s the afternoon for the smell of patchouli oil and other exotic substances and a stroll around the Project gallery to gaze in awe at the creations of Fitzpatrick and Ballagh and others. 

The Project would migrate to the neglected quarter of Temple Bar in the early seventies. The Granary, just around the corner, was the early flowering of the Health Food Shop. Not far away was the Alchemist’s Head, a shop for all the comic book guys. In seventies Ireland, such flowers were weeds, but weeds will always proliferate. I used wander the cobbled streets, linger in the music shops, antique shops, the stamp collectors place on Fownes Street, in the shadow of the emerging hulk of Stephenson’s Central Bank, haunt the Project for plays by Sheridan and late night gigs.  

But Temple Bar was doomed, the spaceships of seventies commerce circling ominously. And then it all changed, changed utterly. The growing community of hippies and ne’er-do-wells somehow convinced our esteemed leader, Charles J Haughey, that there was merit in the madness of the crumbling slum. Thoughts of WAAMA no doubt, Flann O’Brien’s Writers, Artists, Actors and Musicians Association, might fit with the denizens, and Charlie was after all a patron of the arts. Thus, reprieve, and the Great Bus Station in the sky went off to orbit another planet. 

Temple Bar has been proposed as many things, principally as Dublin’s cultural quarter, its Left Bank. It is also the night life focus, the funzone for wining, dining and dancing till dawn. And it even has residents to participate or complain about the whole damned thing. Overpriced, overcrowded, noisy and hokey it might be, but it is also real, full of all the variety, quirk and charm you need in a city centre. 

I pass through when I can, hopefully stopping at a watering hole en route. The Palace at Fleet Street is my favourite. A rael olde Dublin pub, narrow, high ceilinged with darkened wood interior and a well established literary theme. It plays host to the Flann O’Brien festival on the first of April. Flann the Man, who also gave us Bloomsday.

Further in, there’s plenty of boozers and eateries. Take your pick. In this painting, I’ve chosen the Hard Rock Cafe, a good joint for burgers and beer, with a good rock soundtrack to boot, as you would expect. In this painting, I’ve paused between courses, or pints, to gaze out onto Fleet Street. There’s a tattoo parlour across the street, and the tattooist, between customers, is practicing his skills on a dart board. There’s something quite still and serene about that, I think, all going unnoticed in the midst of the madding crowd. I was thinking of calling it The Dart Player.