What does this famous Mother Goose children’s tale have to do with Dublin pubs?
It turns out that 18th century Irish author Oliver Goldsmith, facing a deadline to hand in an edit for a Mother Goose anthology, was short on nursery rhymes and decided to pen a couple himself—including Jack and Jill and Hickory Dickory Dock.
The things you learn hitting Dublin’s pubs on the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl.
On a recent visit to the Irish capital, about 50 tourists from places including Australia, Canada, China and the U.S, turned up for the two-plus hour literary pub crawl. A bargain at less than $15 per person (you pay for your own drinks), this tour has been around for more than 25 years and was started by actor Colm Quilligan, author of the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl: The story of Dublin Pubs and the Writers They Served.
The tour took us to four pubs where the literary and political crowd frequented through the centuries.
Our two guides, Derek Reid and fellow actor Finbarr Doyle, entertained us as we made our way from pub to pub, interpreting readings from Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and other famous Irish writers. They offered amusing anecdotes about the writers’ lives--like the time Oscar Wilde, while on a visit to the U.S., drank some hard-living coal miners from Leadville, Colorado under the table—in a mine.
We grabbed a pint of Guinness at the historic Duke, a pub since 1822 and where writers Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Myles Na gCopoleen frequented. Our two actor hosts also performed a scene from Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot there.
We also went to The Bailey on Duke Street, one of James Joyce’s watering holes that has been in business since the mid 19th century, long before Joyce’s day.
And we knocked by an Irish whiskey or two and ended our tour at Davy Byrne’s, which may be the most famous of all. James Joyce set a scene of his masterpiece Ulysses here: the character Leopold Bloom famously stops here for a cheese sandwich and glass of wine while he is wandering through Dublin. When Ulysses was published in 1922, the pilgrimage began to this pub and it hasn’t stopped since.
There are scores of other famous drinking houses in Dublin. A must see is the Guinness Storehouse –where Arthur Guinness began brewing beer in 1759. The Old Stand served as a safe house for revolutionaries during the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), a guerrilla war fought between the Irish Republican Army and the British security forces. And the Palace Bar is where newspapermen would hang out – the joke was it was where journalists went to cook up their stories.
The nice thing about the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl is that the tour alternates the pubs, so you’ll see different things if you want to do the tour again.
If you want to explore some of the city's 800 pubs on your own, consider the Dublin Pass, which gives you discounted entry to more than 30 top attractions, and allows you to bypass the lines.
While there were some 4000 pubs during Guinness’ day, pubs still hold a significant role in Irish society, says well-known local historian and author Pat Liddy, creator of Walking Tours of Dublin. He says locals stop in for a pint after work or grab a quick bite before setting off for the evening out with their mates. Every pub we ventured into was packed on a Thursday night.
Members on our tour gave it high mark for its mix of history and entertainment--as well as the excellent drinks. Kelly Brown, visiting from Australia, said it was great for solo travelers who may feel intimidated to go a pub by themselves.
“You meet people you wouldn’t otherwise,” she explained.
“In Dublin you are never more than 20 paces from a pint,” joked fellow tourist Derek Reid.
Wherever you have your first-or last pint of the evening, raise a glass to all the writers, politicians, actors and dreamers who were here before you. Sláinte. (pronounced Slawn-cha wah…That’s Gaelic for Cheers.)