Irish Beer: The Church, The Long Hall, & McDaid’s, Dublin
As my last few posts demonstrate, I was pretty impressed with the state of the Irish craft beer scene. There are some interesting beers and great bars to be found if you know where to go. In that respect, you could do worse than checking out the directories on Beoir.
However, it’s probably fair to say that Irish craft beer is still something that is either fortuitously stumbled upon or actively sought out. You could easily visit the Republic of Ireland and have no inkling of the existence of native craft beer, and most visitors almost certainly just sink a few pints of Guinness and come away with a view of Irish beer with is positive but monolithic. More specifically, an immovable black monolith with a shiny gold harp in the middle, three quarters of the way up.
Which brings us on to the subject of this post, which is basically that there are some very nice bars in Dublin which haven’t yet bought in to craft beer, even if they are part of the tourist trail. The first one we visited was The Church, an interesting large bar and restaurant in what used to be St Mary’s Church Of Ireland on Mary Street, close to the busy shopping area around Henry Street.
The Church has a considerable history, including being the place where Wolfe Tone (a Protestant and a rebel) was baptised and Arthur Guinness (a Protestant and a Unionist) was married. A bust of Arthur Guinness sits at the end of the bar, one of a number of interesting features including the organ pipes on the wall and a pleasant stained glass window. A bright, spacious and bustling venue, I can see that The Church would be an interesting and unusual place to come for lunch, Guinness or a cocktail.
A more traditional pub, but one that is no less spectacular, is The Long Hall. It has a wonderfully preserved interior, with a lot of decorative dark wood, elaborate light fittings and mirrors. On the afternoon we visited they were polishing the fittings with Brasso and the air was quite potent with the fumes. At the end of the bar a wooden archway suspends a clock above your head as you walk into the back room. I suppose it would have separated the equivalent of the public bar and the lounge bar or dining room back in the day. We stopped at the bar briefly for a Beamish and quietly enjoyed the surroundings.
McDaid’s is another traditional Victorian pub. Just off Grafton Street, I remembered the distinctive and colourful frontage from when I visited Dublin as a child. Nowadays a statue of Phil Lynott stands opposite it, a man who (with Whiskey In The Jar) did a fine job of exploiting Irish tradition and at the same time reinventing it.
Inside, McDaid’s conforms to all my own prejudices about what a Dublin pub should look like, with more dark wood, wooden floors, decorative tiles, mirrors and leather benches, and an incredibly high ceiling for who knows what reason. Perhaps a lower ceiling would have turned the place into a box of smoke. The natural light from the huge windows falls attractively into this setting.
Although it would appear almost every Dublin pub of any age purports to have some literary connection or other, McDaids claims an exceptionally illustrious heritage, with a clientele which included Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien and J.P. Donleavy, amongst others.
You probably won’t find a pint of Galway Hooker in any of these pubs. You certainly won’t find a working handpump. I didn’t even notice any Irish craft beer in bottles, although I might just have missed them. However, they’re definitely all worth a visit nonetheless, for a pint of Guinness or a glass of John Powers, whilst you let yourself forget how much is history rather than nostalgia, marketing or myth.