Sunday 19 May 2019

Memories of one great 'battle-cruiser'

A new book about Mulligan's pub of Poolbeg Street, Dublin, sends a few shivers down the spine, writes Declan Lynch

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Whenever I walk past Mulligan's of Poolbeg Street, even after many years of not drinking, I can sense powerful forces behind those doors, beckoning me within.

For a few moments I am transported into a kind of an alcoholic Harry Potter film - if I walk through those doors, I will be entering some other dimension in which the laws of nature are suspended, a world beyond time.

In that Harry Potter vision, behind those walls there are gnomes and goblins and other unusual creatures working away at whatever it is that they do - drinking pints, mainly - and while they are in many ways benign, if you're Harry Potter just dropping in from the actual world, there is always a chance that you might never come out again.

So you walk on by, just remembering how it was, or how it seemed to be at the time. Which is not necessarily the same thing at all.

To the untutored eye, it might seem like a wild existence, to be sitting there half the day drinking . Yet there is a strange safety in that way of life too, a feeling that you are very far away from the realities of life on earth, as if you are in a submarine which happens to have full bar facilities.

There's a book about Mulligan's now, which I picked up thinking that every great battle-cruiser should have such a book written about it, and in that upful frame of mind I glanced through the index until I saw that my name is mentioned twice in this book. In that moment at last I understood what it means to feel "a shiver down the spine".

On the whole, if you have spent a few years drinking in a certain place, there is probably very little of it that you would want to see written down, or placed in any way on a permanent record. Mercifully the author Declan Dunne merely recounts a few lines that I wrote about Con Houlihan, and the amusing story of how I was sitting in Mulligan's one day when a woman asked me if I would like to be an extra in the film In The Name Of The Father - unfortunately that one does not end with my becoming a movie idol when Daniel Day-Lewis becomes ill and has to leave the picture, but it was celebrated on the day as if I was already home and hosed for a Golden Globe.

Or maybe just because it was Tuesday.

The miracle of Mulligan's in my time as a drinker was that it was essentially part of the offices of the Irish Press Group, and that many of the people who drank there almost incessantly, were also somehow putting together two newspapers a day and another one on Sundays.

One of the great lines in this book was provided by the late Aodhan Madden, describing one of his sub-editor colleagues who brought with him every day these home-made "fry" sandwiches consisting of two lumps of bread clamped over a fried egg, black pudding and a tomato which "he fed upon with the fury of a barracuda".

I wrote articles for that paper for quite a while without ever entering the actual premises on Burgh Quay, because it never seemed that that was necessary while Mulligan's was there. You could simply use the pub phone to call your editor, who would gladly come on down from next door to receive your writings and to have several drinks with you.

Indeed, another of the definitive lines of that era came from features editor Eoghan Corry who had received a letter of complaint from a reader who, according to the letterhead, was an inmate of a mental institution - "as you can see from my address, I am mentally disturbed", the man wrote.

Eoghan, ever the gentleman, wrote back to the man on Irish Press notepaper, stating inter alia as a matter of incontrovertible fact : "as you can see from our address, we too are mentally disturbed."

Yet I don't recall many disturbances, as such, in Mulligan's - perhaps the antiquity of the place, verified by its featuring in a story in James Joyce's Dubliners, had a calming effect. Indeed, the No Singing rule was so strictly observed, Liam Clancy was once asked to desist. Being opposite the old Theatre Royal, Mulligan's was also used by show people, who smile when they are low, and who also drink when they are low. In 1951, Judy Garland played the Theatre Royal for a fortnight, visiting Mulligan's every night with her stagehands, for whom she bought drinks - it is said that "she smoked and played poker in the pub seven nights running".

But the image I will take from this new book is that of the famous English dancer arriving in the pub, where he "did a pirouette and frolicked up and down in front of a perplexed and wary [barman] Gary Cusack", who stood there assessing the sobriety of the famous dancer and his entourage. When the dancer had finished he ordered a Jameson whiskey, emphasising the brand's three syllables with equal stress. Gary Cusack concluded his assessment and handed down the verdict : "Good luck", he said.

Exit famous English dancer, presumably never to return. But would I ever go back there, through that door, into that lovely old submarine?


'Mulligan's - Grand Old Pub of Poolbeg Street' by Declan Dunne is published by Mercier Press

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