If you knew where to go, it was possible to drink around the clock in 1930s, 1940s and 1950s Dublin.
When regular pubs closed at 11pm, still-thirsty revelers could travel to ‘bona-fide’ pubs on the outskirts of the city. A ‘bona-fide’ house utilised a legal loophole, dating back to early coaching days, that allowed a genuine ‘bona-fide’ traveler three miles (five in Dublin) from his place of residence to drink alcohol outside normal hours.
Some creative drinkers would send a letter to “themselves” using the address of a friend who lived the required distance away from their desired pub. They could then show the letter to the publican to give him some piece of mind. During a police raid, the publican would try to hide those who shouldn’t be there in his living quarters or rush them out a back door so they could attempt a getaway.
In a piece entitled ‘The Irish “Bona Fide Traveller” Nuisance”, The Sacred Heart Review (13 September 1902) noted:
Travelers, tramps and tourists are common the wide world over, but the so-called ” Bona Fide Traveler ” is peculiar to Ireland. Under the curious laws which govern or misgovern Ireland, it has been decreed that when any person “travels” three miles to a “public-house” on a Sunday he is entitled to all the drink he can buy, even though the Sunday closing law is in full force there. Thus a man living in the town of Kilronan can not legally enter a public-house to secure a drink, but let him walk or ride to Knooknagow, three miles away, and he can have all the drink he wants…
The United Irishman of recent issue, discussing the new Licensing Act, complains that it does not deal with the bona fide traveler scandal, and says:— ” Blackrock and Dunleary on the average Sunday night are a blot on Ireland. We heartily sympathize with the real bona fide traveler. But seventy-five per cent, of the people who travel down to Blackrock and Dunleary on Sunday evenings after seven o’clock do so for the purpose of indulging in the luxury of treating one another to drink … The bona fide traveler has become a standing joke in Dublin, and it was not, perhaps, too presumptuous to hope that the absurdity of men leaving a Dublin public-house at seven o’clock on a Sunday evening, stepping on a tram-car, and a few minutes later descending at the door of another Dublin public – house, invested with the rights of travelers, should have been considered. We have witnessed in English towns, it is true, scenes more degrading than we have witnessed in the streets of Blackrock and Dunleary on Sunday nights, but it is no excuse for an Irishman to make himself a bonham because an Englishman makes himself a hog.
There was at least one ‘bona-fide’ on each main road out of Dublin. They included Lamb Doyles (Dublin Mountains), Widow Flavin’s (Sandyford), the Dropping Well (Dartry), the Deadman’s Inn (Lucan), the Swiss Cottage (Santry), the Igo Inn (Ballybrack) and The Goat (Goatstown).
Throughout the years a number of late-night revellers, staggering or driving under the influence towards the bona-fide, were involved in deadly accidents. This was one of the main reasons for the Government abolishing the law in 1960.
If you wanted to keep on drinking after the bona-fide closed, you could travel back into the city and visit one of the ‘kips’ around Capel Street or Parnell Square. A ‘kip’ was a brothel-cum-speakeasy that sold whiskey or gin from tea cups till the early morning.
One of the City’s most famous ‘kips’ was the Cafe Continental at 1a Bolton Street near the corner of Capel Street which was in operation from the 1930s (?) to the mid 1960s. It was run by the legendary madam ‘Dolly’ Fawcett (often misspelled as ‘Fossett’ or ‘Fosset’). Annie Elizabeth, originally from Wicklow, married William Fawcett who was rumoured to have been a former Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP) officer from the North who was discharged because of his relationship with her.
The Fawcett family also ran another ‘kip’ called the Cozy Kitchen on nearby North King Street.
Ostensibly an innocent late-night cafe, the Cafe Continental was a haven for late-night revelers who often carried clandestine “Baby Powers,” or miniature bottles of whiskey, which they tipped into their cups of coffee. ‘Dolly’ also served up ‘red biddy’ (mixture of red wine and methanol), poitín and water-down whiskey.
It was a popular place for ladies of the night and they’d often find clients there. So Dolly Fawcett’s would be better described as a ‘prostitute pick up-place’ as opposed to a brothel in the traditional sense of the word.
The Irish Times (7 Oct 1944) ran a front page piece about a journalist’s visit to an “all-night drinking den”. My bet would be that it was Dolly Fawcett’s.
Dolly, who lived over the Cafe Continental with her family, passed away at home on 12 March 1949. Her funeral, which took place after mass at the Pro-Cathedral, attracted a large attendance. She was highly regarded in the area for her numerous charitable acts.
Sons Eugene and George continued to run the two businesses after their mother passed away. The family was up in court for “unlawfully selling intoxicating liquor” in their two cafes in 1947, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954 and 1963. Inspector McCabe in the Irish Independent (28 Nov 1963) noted that the Fawcetts had been fined a total of £400 for fifteen separate convictions over the previous fourteen years.
In a newspaper report dating back to 1954, Eugene Fawcett told the Judge that he would “retire from business” if he had been able to have “his family educated”. He eventually did call it a day in 1965. In an article headlined ‘Cafe not to trouble the courts again’ (Irish Independent, 21 Jan 1965), Eugene Fawcett’s lawyer told the court that a “phase of the history of Dublin’s night life has come to an end”. The Judge noted that the premises had been taken over by Dublin Corporation for demolition.
Dolly Fawcett’s has been name-checked in two Dublin folk songs by Pete St. John. The first, The Mero, included the verse:
Me uncle had a wolfhound, that never had to pee
but Harry Lemon snatched it down on Eden quay.
Now I have me primo, and me scapulars are blue,
for helping the black babies, and Dolly Fawcett too
while the opening to ‘Inchicore Wake’ goes:
There was chase-the-hearse Whelan
And old Joe Sartini
On his two saddled bike
A black market on wheels
Into Stickfoots of Church Street
And the oul Hen and Chicken
With the Inchicore News
Molly Sonex was dead
Then came the word
Dolly Fawcett had joined her…
In Dublin slang, an ugly woman is still sometimes referred to as one of “dolly fawcett’s chamber-maids”
There were a number of other late-night cafes, kips and basements clubs where you could drink after-hours.
One such place was Toni’s Cafe on 23 Harcourt Road. Its owner was fined for selling whiskey in the early hours of the morning in 1940 and 1941. Changing its name to The Manhattan in the early 1950s, this late-night cafe was a favourite for taxi men, musicians and students until its closure in the early 2000s.
The so-called Catacombs in the basement of 13 Fitzwilliam Place was a popular after-hours spot and flop-house in the late 1940s for Dublin’s bohemian set. A labyrinth of cellars and pantries, these wild parties were held in an old wine cellar of a once fine Georgian mansion. The ‘underground’ club was opened by Englishman Richard ‘Dickie’ Wymann, a one-time cocktail shaker on board a cruise liner and a former nightclub manager in London, who moved to Dublin following the death of his British Army officer boyfriend in World War Two.
After McDaid’s closed, Dublin’s artist-literary set would head to the Catacombs and drink till the early morning. Regulars included writers Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh, JP Donleavy, Anthony Cronin, Brian O’Nolan; poets Pearse Hutchinson and John Jordan; artists Tom Nisbet and Patrick Swift; actors Dan O’Herlihy, Tony MacInerney and Godfrey Quigley; musician George Desmond Hodnett; composer Frederick May; socialist activist George Jeffares and sculptors Irene Broe and Desmond MacNamara.
This amazing but unfortunately very grainy photograph shows a group of nineteen drinkers just after leaving McDaid’s on the way to the Catacombs:
Thankfully, details are provided for who is who in the photograph and also details of their whereabouts in the mid 1990s:
Entrance to the Catacombs was granted by offering (the almost always naked) Wymann a brown paper bag of half a dozen bottles of stout. In the morning, the porter in McDaid’s, John Flynn, would be dispatched on his bicycle to collect the empties from the Catacombs and bring them back. The money that Wymann collected from selling thsee empty bottles and occasionally renting out basement rooms in the Catacombs is how he largely made a living. He also apparently made sweets and sold blood to the nearby Blood Transfusion Service when times were tight. A well-loved eccentric, he once walked from Dublin to Catherdaniel, Kerry, where Brendan Behan was helping to restore Daniel O’Connell’s house, for a £10 bet.
The Catacombs was renowned for its sexual licence. Brendan Behan infamously recalled that it was a place where “men had women, men had men and women had women”. A 2007 RTE radio documentary brought back former guests JP Donleavy, Steve Willoughby, Joan De Frenay, Sheila Bradshaw to the premises for the first time in sixty years.
Anthony Cronin lived in The Catacombs for a period and wrote that the:
…whole place smelt of damp, decaying plaster and brickwork, that smell of money gone which was once so prevalent in Ireland. Off the corridor leading out of the kitchen were various dark little rooms. Mine, I think, once been a wine cellar. There was hardly space for a bed in it, and none for anything else except a few bottles and books. The other rooms were variously occupied and people came and went according to need and circumstances…
What happened to Dickie Wyman? It was revealed in the documentary that he got a job as a barman in Welwyn Garden City, England and then moved to the States. He kept moving house and his Dublin-based friends eventually lost touch with him. It is believed he died in the early 1980s.
Another late-night cafe that served alcohol after-hours was the ATS Restaurant at 6 Nassau Street. Ran by Ruby Elizabeth Egan and her husband Patrick, it was raided in 1956, 1957 and 1961 for serving whiskey, stout and beer in the early hours. When up in court in 1961, Patrick Egan told the judge: “I plead guilty, there is no point telling you lies”. From January 1959 to May 1961, the couple were fined fourteen times for liquor offences. Simon de Beauvoir’s boyfriend Nelson Algren was witness to one of these Garda raids:
I was reaching for a drop of wine when the glass was snatched from my hand by the proprietor’s stout wife, seizing all the glasses empty or full out of the hands of the drinkers, thirsty or dry. Under the tables went the lot. Everyone sat up straight as in church, with nothing before them but ashtrays. Two inspecting officers entered from offstage, where they had been waiting for their cue, inspected the ceiling, flower-pots, tabletops and jukeboxes without finding anything
While the Bona-Fide law ended in 1960 and legendary cafes like Dolly Fawcett’s closed in 1965, you could still manage to drink around the clock in 1970s and 1980s Dublin if you knew the right people.
Groome’s Hotel, opposite the Gate Theatre, was described by Tim Pat Coogan in his book ‘Ireland In The 20th Century’ as the “most famous late-night drinking club in Dublin in the sixties and seventies” . Ronnie Drew in his autobiography says its regulars included almost “everybody who worked in the theatre; the newspapers, painters, poets, writers and almost all visiting celebrities”. Charles McCabe in ‘The good man’s weakness’ (1974) noted that the hotel “somehow manage(d) to keep open after hours free of police harassment.”
This probably had something to do with the fact that it was owned by Joseph Groome, one of the founding members of Fianna Fail and life-long honorary vice-president. He was involved in Na Fianna Éireann and then the IRA from 1919-1923. The hotel was popular with aspiring young Fianna Fail TDs like Charles Haughe, Brian Lenihan but also attracted a Labour Party set led by Michael O’Leary. It was frequently referred to as “a sub-office” of the Dail due its popularity with politicians.
The hotel was sold in 1973, turned into offices but then redeveloped as a hotel (Cassidy’s) in the late 1990s.
On the other side of the political divide, and probably more difficult to get into, were the republican and left-wing drinking clubs. These included Official Sinn Fein’s ‘Club Ui Cadhain‘ at 28 Gardiner Place, the Provisional Sinn Fein‘s office/drinking club at 5 Blessington Street and the back of Connolly Books which was ran by the Communist Party on East Essex Street. I heard, on occasion, there were also serious sessions in the sound-proof music room in the basement of Liberty Hall.
If you were able to make it until 7am, you could then make your way to the ‘early houses’ on the quays or close to the fruit and vegetable market at Smithfield. These pubs were given special early-morning licences in 1927 for dock workers, traders, fishermen and other shift-workers.
Colm Sexton, who owns The Chancery Inn, on Inns Quay, Dublin told a Dublin newspaper in 2008 that:
There are only 12 remaining early houses in Dublin. They were originally set up to facilitate people working late at night in fares and markets. The Smithfield Fish Market is gone but the Fruit and Flower market is still going. The markets usually start at six in the morning and finish at 10, and the people who work there would normally come in for a few pints. We also get nurses, journalists and artists and the occasional homeless person. The early house is renowned around the world because it is such an anomaly, and we get tourists calling in so that they can say they were in an early house.
I think these are the twelve remaining early-houses in Dublin but I’m open to correction.
1. The Boar’s Head, Capel Street
2. The Chancery Inn, Inns Quay
3. Delaney’s, North King Street
4. Hughes, Chancery Street
5. The Metro, Parnell Street
6. Molloy’s, Talbot Street
7. Slattery’s, Capel Street
8. The Dark Horse, Georges Quay
9. The Galway Hooker, Heuston Station
10. Ned Scanlon’s, Townsend Street
11. Padraig Pearse, Pearse Street
12. The Windjammer, Lombard Street
Some former early houses include Regan’s Tara bar on Tara Street (now MacTurcaills), Kennedys on Burgh Quay (no longer an early house) and Trader Johns on Moore Street (closed).
There are around 50 early-houses left around the country, including 12 in Dublin, three in Cork city and seven in the Killybegs fishing port in Donegal. In 2004, the Sunday Independent reckoned there were 16 early-houses in Dublin. In 2008, the Government scrapped plans to abolish them in a forthcoming overhaul of drinking laws but no new ‘early house’ licences will be handed out to pubs.
Were there any other after-hour drinking spots in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s? Please don’t reveal any information that might get someone in trouble.
Do you have any early-house anecdotes?