Friday 21 October 2016

Pull up a bar stool for this engaging history

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

Mulligan's in Poolbeg Street
Mulligan's in Poolbeg Street
MULLIGAN'S: Grand Old Pub of Poolbeg Street. By Declan Dunne. Mercier Press

Not many (have there been any?) Dublin pubs have had entire books written about them, but then Declan Dunne would argue that few drinking establishments can compare with Mulligan's, which was established as a spirit grocer in 1782 and still attracts an enthusiastic clientele.

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Dunne himself is definitely an enthusiast, assuring us from the outset of the place's unique qualities, though the proprietors of other licensed premises may feel inclined to dispute his somewhat extravagant assertion that "Mulligan's is known for serving the best pint of Guinness in the world".

Still, one of his claims regarding the pub's uniqueness is cherishable. "No other building on earth," he confides, "has had within it the star of The Wizard of Oz, the 'Camelot' president and the author of Ulysses."

As Eric Morecambe was fond of saying, there's no answer to that.

And Judy Garland, JFK and James Joyce aren't the only famous names invoked by the author. We hear, too, of such other celebrated visitors as actors Brian Dennehy, Julia Roberts and Sean Penn, dancer Wayne Sleep and writers Thomas Keneally and Seamus Heaney. Flann O'Brien's name is invoked, too, even though Dunne concedes that Mulligan's was "one of two dozen or so pubs in which he drank". So, not really worth mentioning then.

More interestingly, we hear of the regular customers who were the pub's true lifeblood: dockers, office workers, journalists and members of the theatrical profession who were practising their craft at the nearby Theatre Royal and Abbey Theatre.

I myself had my first Mulligan's pint in the 1970s, and found myself there simply because I had started work as a young journalist with the Irish Press, whose back entrance was a 20-second stroll from the pub.

Indeed, its proximity was all too tempting for us Press hacks, who deemed it "the branch office" even if some of us preferred the pubs just around the corner on Burgh Quay, especially the Silver Swan, known to its patrons as the Mucky Duck.

That's long gone and gone, too, are the Scotch House and the old White Horse, along with much of their clientele, not least Con Houlihan, with whom I spent many absorbing, amusing and sometimes eventful evenings in Mulligan's.

Dunne devotes a whole chapter to Con and he evokes the personality and spirit of the man very well, as he also does with Paddy Flynn, Tommie Cusack and Con Cusack - the three Cavan men who had long worked as barmen in Mulligan's before buying it from its previous owner in 1968 for the sum of £26,500.

These were proprietors of the old school, unfailingly courteous but never over-familiar, intolerant of rowdyism and stern towards anyone who broke into song. "I don't give a f*** who he is," Tommie Cusack said after stopping Liam Clancy in mid-warble. "There's no singing here".

The next generation of Cusacks now run the pub, and I gather that it's still a grand place in which to have a pint, but the Press closed 20 years ago this month, and Mulligan's is no longer a journalists' haven or an actors' one, either, and if I went in there now I'd probably know no one. But Dunne tells its story engagingly, with many good anecdotes, and those with fond memories of the place will forgive him his tendency towards hyperbole.

Still, maybe he's just the man to write informal histories of Kehoe's on South Anne Street and Doheny and Nesbitt's on Lower Baggot Street, two other old Dublin pubs which have managed to keep their essential character - and even some of their characters.


Mulligan's: Grand Old Pub of Poolbeg Street

Declan Dunne

Mercier Press, pbk, 264 pages, €14.99

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