Thursday 29 September 2016

A new dawn for the city's tragic Sunset House pub

Author and legendary boozer Brendan Behan finally has a pub named after him in his native city, writes Liam Collins

Published 24/07/2016 | 02:30

Cheers: Liam Collins outside the Brendan Behan, formerly the Sunset House pub in Summerhill. Photo: Tony Gavin
Cheers: Liam Collins outside the Brendan Behan, formerly the Sunset House pub in Summerhill. Photo: Tony Gavin

Why would you get a slightly uneasy feeling walking into a Dublin pub on a summer's afternoon?

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Well this particular hostelry used to be called The Sunset House and after being closed for several months following the assassination of dissident IRA man Mickey Barr in the Kinahan/Hutch feud, it has now re-opened, prosaically re-named The Brendan Behan.

Maybe it's apt that the author of The Quare Fellow, banged up in Mountjoy Gaol for attempting to shoot a policeman, has finally had a pub named after him in his native city.

After all, he did more to line the pockets of Dublin publicans during his short and rumbustious life than most.

We already have The James Joyce (Paris), The Samuel Beckett (Washington), The WB Yeats (London), The Oscar Wilde (Berlin) and The George Bernard Shaw (Dublin). Joyce was more into fine wining and dining and you can't imagine the other literary lions even entering a pub.

On the other hand Behan was, as he said himself, "a good judge of bad porter" and sadly was seldom sober in the latter stages of his life. A large portrait of him is stencilled on the wall as you enter the pub now named in his honour, which customers are told is Under New Management and selling pints at between €3.60 and €3.80.

For those unfamiliar with Dublin public house terrain, the pub stands at No 1 Summerhill Parade in Dublin's north inner city. I've always liked Summerhill for its seedy elegance, although the elegance is largely a thing of the past.

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Cycling up Sheriff Street on my way for a cure, I encountered the blue flashing light of a garda checkpoint, accompanied by a few young dark-eyed ERU guys with sub-machine guns slung casually around their necks. Entering Portland Road you pass the dilapidated ruin of Aldborough House, which should be a national treasure but is now a dump, its once elegant Palladian façade boarded up.

The barman of what is now The Brendan Behan is friendly and alert. I ask for a pint of Bulmers and he spots the two €2 coins in my hand and jokes - "it's only the beer and lager that's on offer", but at €4.50 it is still a cheap pint. A game of cricket is showing on the extra large TV screens, which ironically remind me of Behan's song The Captains and the Kings:

"I remember in September, when the final stumps were drawn

"And the shouts of crowds now silent when the boys to tea had gone."

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Perhaps another quote from the boisterous Brendan, stencilled on the wall above the bar, is more apt for this part of town: "I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse."

In the early afternoon a few customers are dotted around the bar and after the cricket the television starts blaring meaningless pub music. The Brendan Behan is not elegant, but it is functional, the beer is good and the pint is cheap.

It will never be a literary pub, but no pub named after an author, famous or otherwise, ever achieved that distinction. The idea of "literary Dublin" with writers trading witty banter and insults is now but a dimly-remembered myth.

Sunday Independent

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