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Now we can all raise a glass to some of our finest writers

When visitors come to Dublin, the braver and more intrepid of them often embark on what is known as a 'literary pub crawl'. This usually involves a guided tour of up to a dozen pubs around the centre of the city, accompanied by stories of the great literary figures who drank in each one. The stories are no doubt embellished slightly as each year goes by.

The participant might come to believe that back in the old days the likes of Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan or Brian O Nuallain used to spend their days lurching from one establishment to the next, stopping only to make witty remarks or read a beautiful poem or piece of prose.

In reality, matters were more complicated.

But when the matter was resolved and they would decide to go for a drink to bury the hatchet, they ran into logistical problems. One of the writers would be 'barred' from a certain pub, another would owe money at a second establishment... they usually chose by a process of elimination!

Frequently, I am told, they settled upon the Palace Bar on Fleet Street -- almost as much of a literary institution as a public house.

It is entirely appropriate that the three writers mentioned, as well as the great Con Houlihan, are today being honoured at the Palace Bar, with four fine brass plaques.

There are many threads that connect these four writers, but for me the most significant is the very fact that they wrote for the public.

Far from being locked away in ivory towers, all four were newspapermen.

Brian O Nuallain was, it must be admitted, a full-time civil servant.

Rumour has it that he invented the notorious 'double hat and coat' ruse -- he would hang a decoy coat in a prominent position near his desk, and slip out to the pub to write. If his superiors came looking for him, colleagues would say: "Well, he must be somewhere in the building -- there are his hat and coat!"



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At the start of his career, he used to write letters to The Irish Times and then respond to them angrily using a false name. Eventually, the editor gave him a column -- which he also wrote under a pseudonym so that he could keep working as a civil servant.

Brendan Behan burst on to the literary scene in the 50s. He had an even more notorious attitude towards absenteeism; claiming to have been on the run for IRA activities, he remarked: "I was court-martialled in my absence, and sentenced to death in my absence, so I said they could shoot me in my absence." He also had a newspaper column -- for the Irish Press -- and was very much a public writer.

Patrick Kavanagh, from the village of Inniskeen, Co Monaghan, settled in Dublin at the age of 35, relatively late in his life. Recognised as a great writer, he spent the lean years of the war in Dublin where his epic poem The Great Hunger was published in 1942. He is seen by some as one of Ireland's most controversial and colourful literary figures.

Con Houlihan, another beautiful writer, differs from the others in one crucial regard -- he is very much alive and still writing! Indeed, he is one of Ireland's finest prose and sports writers.

Over a lengthy career he has covered many of the greatest Irish and international sporting events, and indeed for many people, reading his reports or his column in the Evening Press -- and now in the Herald -- was as good as being at the event.

Each of these writers are encased in our collective memories of Dublin and now thanks to Jarlath Daly the sculptor, the four bronze plaques are sunk in granite and are encased in flagstones on the footpath.

All who tread on the path outside the Palace Bar will be reminded of the brilliance of the great men in whose steps they now stand.


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