A golden literary quartet immortalised in bronze
Plaques at writers' bar celebrate four of its most noted regulars, writes Eamon Delaney
It WAS just like the old days as a large crowd gathered at the Palace Bar on Dublin's Fleet Street for the unveiling of a set of plaques to that triumvirate of celebrated Irish writers Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Flann O'Brien (Myles na gCopaleen), whose centenary is this year.
The fourth commemorative plague was to sports journalist Con Houlihan, who, unlike the others, is still very much still with us, thank God, and whose bronze bust, no less, sits about the bar's cash register. Con has been a longtime regular of the Palace, and his spirit was invoked, along with generations of literary sorts and newspaper men and women, many of whom turned up in person for the plaques' unveiling by Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan.
However, there was an unfortunate Flann-like moment inside the pub when the minister decided to dispense with the problematic microphone and thus most of the crowd could only watch his mute figure deliver the homily. Among them was sporting senator Eamonn Coughlan, as well as seasoned Dub and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who, in the absence of the minister's speech, could be seen perusing the bar's fascinating wall hangings, not least an old wall hanging warning customers to 'Be Good or Be Gone'. Another sign famously proclaimed that 'A bird is known by its song, a man by his conversation' but unfortunately we were left in a Mylesian void as regards Minister Deenihan's song. However, it was apparently very witty and included the story about how the Dublin man was warned not to crow about an expected victory over Kerry in the All-Ireland Final, with the caution: "Never cast aspersions on the alligator until you have crossed the river first."
In fairness, the minister's presence showed his ongoing strong support for culture and the arts, often a Cabinet afterthought for previous governments -- although his predecessor and fellow Kerryman John 'the Bull' O'Donoghue didn't do a bad job there either. The four plaques, set into the footpath outside with panelled portraits, done by gifted sculptor Jarlath Daly, were described as the 'culmination of 10 years' pub talk, often in the snug of the Palace itself', although one unamused imbiber admitted that they did look a bit like funeral caskets. "We don't want the place looking like a crematorium," he mused sourly.
Meanwhile, the talk was not just of Myles and Kavanagh and other former Palace literary regulars like Samuel Beckett and (still, apparently) Seamus Heaney but also those generations of newspaper journalists and printers who worked nearby, and moved, by day and night, through not just the Palace but the adjacent watering holes of Bowes, The White Horse, and the now vanished Pearl bar. And, of course, Mulligan's in Poolbeg Street, where Con Houlihan himself held court. After the official unveiling, the bar was host to a wonderful one-man show by Val O'Donnell, titled 'Flann's Yer Only Man', a short journey through the life and legacy of Flann O'Brien, which needed no microphone to keep the crowd enraptured. Outside, the plaques were "further admired into the afternoon", as the inimitable Flann himself might have put it.