‘Gentlemen Only – Ladies Served in Lounge’

Following on from their excellent exhibition on Heffo’s Army and the phenomenon of Dublin’s 1970s GAA support, the Little Museum of Dublin is currently hosting an exhibition dedicated to the history of the Dublin pub. Avoiding all cliches, it includes sections on things like the temperance movement in the city historically, the Vintners Association and some of Dublin’s historic public houses which now exist only in the annals of history.

A recent addition to the exhibition is this sign, ‘Gentlemen Only – Ladies Served in Lounge’.  Posting it on my Instagram, it led to some excellent comments. Gerry posted:

When I worked as a lounge boy in The Kilmardinny Inn the women picketed the pub as the bar was men only.  The husband’s were put out as they could not cross the picket with their wives on the picket line! RTE had it on a news report circa 1974/75 if memory serves me right.

Similarly, Carey remembered:

The Blue Haven in Templeogue in the early 70s had the sign ‘No Dogs, No Women’ pride of place on the front door. My mother refused to allow my father or uncle to go anywhere near it!


Irish Independent, September 1977.

In 1972, when Terry Kelleher published The Essential Dublin, he noted that “No pubs are barred to women though there is an unstated convention that women use the lounge bar if there is one. ” It’s quite difficult to tell just when things changed in Dublin public houses, indeed it seems to even vary between city and county. In his excellent social history of the Dublin public house, Kevin Kearns notes:

Changes began in the postwar forties when women were gradually admitted, lounges created and comfortable furniture installed. These were healthy changes which served to “civilise” the social setting without destroying the original character of the bar area.

Regardless, the sign in the corner of the exhibition is a relic of a different time entirely now, but an important one in telling the history of the Dublin public house.

In April 1846, the Dublin street performer Michael Moran passed away. Known as Zozimus, the ‘Blind Bard of the Liberties’ had spent years reciting poetry and verse on the streets of the capital, much of it composed by himself. Fearful of grave robbers, Moran was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, which boasted watch towers to keep the ‘sack-em-ups’ away from the corpses of the recently deceased.

A work dedicated to his memory was published in 1871, and noted that:

When arrived at his destined spot, Zozimus would spread out his arms, as if to catch all comers-and-goers- and say with his own great and peculiar accent:

‘Ye sons of daughters of Erin, attend.

Gather round poor Zozimus, yer friend.

Listen, boys, until yez hear

My charming song so dear.

Zozimus lay in an unmarked grave until 1988. In that year of Dublin’s so-called Millennium (a historically dubious claim, but a year that led to much positive civic pride), a headstone was placed over Michael Moran in Glasnevin Cemetery by the Smith Brothers of the Submarine Bar in Crumlin and the Dublin City Ramblers.


The grave of Zozimus, Glasnevin.

Just as the marking of the grave of Zozimus was a lovely gesture, we were delighted to hear recently of efforts to properly mark the final resting place of Thomas ‘Bang Bang’ Dudley, a much loved figure in the Dublin of the 1950s and 60s. Roaming the streets with his ‘Colt .45’, a large key he carried at all times with which to host fake shoot outs, he was a frequent site for anyone who entered the city centre via public transportation, jumping onto buses and trams. Everyone got in on the act, and as Paddy Crosbie recalled:

His favourite hunting-ground was the trams, from one of which he jumped, turning immediately to fire ‘Bang Bang’ at the conductor. Passengers and passers-by took up the game, and soon an entire street of grown-ups were shooting at each other from doorways and from behind lamp-posts. The magic of make-believe childhood took over, and it was all due to the simple innocence of ‘Bang Bang’.

At the time of his passing in 1981, he was recalled in the press as “one of Dublin’s best known and most beloved characters.” Like Zozimus, his fame didn’t follow into the gates of the cemetery, and he was buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Drumcondra into an unmarked grave.

Great credit goes to our friend, the ever unpredictable Daniel Lambert of Phibsboro’s Bang Bang Cafe, who decided it was time to mark the resting place of Bang Bang, fundraising through his cafe. It didn’t take long to accumulate the funds necessary, and soon a marker, complete with trademark key, will be unveiled in St Joseph’s.

Keep an eye on Bang Bang’s social media for more information on their plans to mark the life of Thomas Dudley in the weeks ahead.


Image Credit: Bang Bang Cafe,Phibsboro.


Seamus Ennis on the Pipers Corner, Marlborough Street.

Seán O’Casey’s public house is no more. I always presumed it took its name from the playwright, who was something of a devout teetotaler, a habit he acquired from labour leader Jim Larkin.

While O’Casey’s name no longer graces the street, it was a pleasant surprise to pass recently and see the familiar Séamus Ennis gazing down. Born in Finglas (where a street today carries his name) in 1919, Ennis was a giant of Irish traditional and folk music, both as a performer and a collector of songs and tunes.

From 1942 to 1947, Ennis traveled rural Ireland on bicycle. At the age of twenty-three, he began his journey to capture the vanishing oral and folk traditions of rural Ireland. As Gearóid Ó hAllmhuráin has noted, “his only tools were a pen, a satchel of music sheets and a tin whistle to verify his transcriptions.” By the time Ennis had completed his work for the Irish Folklore Commission, he had amassed more than 2,000 pieces of material, “an achievement unsurpassed by any of his predecessors in the field.”


Ennis photographed in 1955.

As a masterful player of the uileann pipes, Ennis helped to found Na Píobairí Uileann, and demonstrated his abilities as a player on a number of important records, beginning with 1959’s The Bonny Bunch of Roses.  The striking LP cover shows Ennis playing before an audience of children in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, one of several great images of Ennis contained in the Ritchie-Pickow Collection, striking images of 1950s Ireland today hosted online by NUI Galway.


Later, Ennis championed emerging traditional acts like Planxty, believing that just as he had collected a tradition, it had to be maintained and handed on. In Leagues O’Toole’s history of Planxty, the masterful piper Liam O’Flynn recalled that “Séamus was so willing to part with all the information he had, whether it was tunes or techniques or whatever. There’s that desire to pass it on.” Séamus would leave his pipes, more than a century old, to Liam in his will.

Ennis died in 1982 at the Naul in North County Dublin. There were many words of praise, perhaps the finest coming from musician and broadcaster Tony MacMahon, who has recalled how “he made me realise music is magic and a spiritual experience. It cannot be taught in any university. It is beyond that.”



Last month, a number of friends (drawn from this parish, Sunday Books, Foggy Notions and more besides) launched ‘ASK’, a new monthly night which aims to bring together people with eclectic music tastes and raise money for good causes in the process. Our first night in the MVP bar benefited MASI, a migrants rights group. Our second night is for the Gay Switchboard, and includes guest DJ Tonie Walsh. It takes place next Thursday and begins at the earlier time of 7pm.


Historic Gay Switchboard promotional material, scanned from Brand New Retro exhibition at the Little Museum of Dublin.

In March 1979, the Hirschfeld Centre in Dublin’s Temple Bar opened its doors. A gay community centre named in honour of the pioneering gay rights campaigner Magnus Hirschfeld, a speech heralded the centre as “living proof of gay people’s new found pride…testimony to the fact that the gay citizens of Ireland need no longer fear to be openly ourselves.” David Norris would later recall the the enormous crowds who arrived to celebrate the new venture:

The first night the Hirschfeld Centre opened there were three or four hundred people in the place, and when I went to check downstairs I could the floorboards were bouncing. A member who was also a structural engineer approached to say it could be dangerous, so I had the music switched off. I addressed the the throng and told them they could have a refund, or they could stay and chat to their friends and the coffee bar was free for the night, but there would be no more dancing that evening. I was booed and hissed at before one guy stood up and said ‘Hold on a minute, Isn’t it just as well there is someone who does give a shit about our safety?’ and the boos turned into cheers!


“Like any disco in town, except….”

Predating even the Hirschfeld Centre, the Gay Switchboard has been providing a crucial service for more than four decades. Beginning life as TEL-A-FRIEND in the days before decriminalisation, it is now the longest running LGBT voluntary organisation in Ireland. The body does not receive state funding, instead depending on the good will and support of the public and the community it benefits.


Historic Gay Switchboard promotional material, scanned from Brand New Retro exhibition at the Little Museum of Dublin.

We’re delighted that our second night in MVP will benefit this important cause. Special Guest DJ on the night is Tonie Walsh, who requires no introduction but who I will wax lyrical about anyway. As archivist of the Irish Queer Archive (housed in the National Library of Ireland) and through his famous walking tours of LGBT Dublin, Tonie has done much to promote the history of Ireland’s LGBT community. As an activist of decades standing, he has fought for change in Irish society. As a DJ, he knows a good tune and was central to the story of Flikkers, the now legendary club dimension of the Hirschfeld Centre. Tonie’s reminiscences to the recent documentary Notes on Rave in Dublin were one of the highlights of that project.

Visiting the Hirschfeld Centre at the time of its opening, The Irish Times commented on “the massive disco speakers and imported record collection straight from New York’s most up-to-date record shop.” While we may lack the massive speakers, we promise a fun night of great music, visuals and more besides in the wonderful surroundings of MVP.

MVP is located at 29 Upper Clanbrassil St, Dublin 8. Bígí Linn.







A plaque commemorating Phil Shanahan on The LAB Gallery, James Joyce Street.

Located in the heart of Dublin’s ‘Monto’ red light district, Phil Shanahan’s public house was perhaps an unlikely rendezvous point for republicans during the years of the Irish revolution. British soldiers, Irish radicals, prostitutes and others all seem to have frequented the premises, which was located at 134 Foley Street. Dan Breen, one of those who instigated the War of Independence with the Soloheadbeg ambush in Tipperary, recalled that:

The lady prostitutes used to pinch the guns and ammunition from the Auxiliaries or Tans at night, and then leave them for us at Phil Shanahan’s public house. I might add that there was no such thing as payment f or these transactions, and any information they had they gave us.

At Foley Street, Shanahan’s was right in the thick of the Monto, described beautifully by Michael Foley in his history of Bloody Sunday as “a playground for adventurers, crooks and acute observers of the human condition.” Immortalised by Joyce as ‘Nighttown’ in Ulysses,  the area had emerged as a centre of prostitution from the 1870s.


1919 wanted poster for Dan Breen, who remembered the pub as  ‘the rendezvous of saints and sinners’.

Phil Shanahan  (1874–1931) was not a product of inner-city Dublin, hailing instead from Tipperary’s Hollyford.  As a young man he had hurled for his native county,  and could boast of being ‘out’ at Easter Week, fighting with the Irish Volunteers in Jacob’s factory. Timothy Healy, the nationalist politican and lawyer, recalled meeting Shanahan after the Rising, when he faced difficulty holding on to his public house licence:

I had with me to-day a solicitor with his client, a Dublin publican named Phil Shanahan, whose licence is being opposed, and whose house was closed by the military because he was in Jacob’s during Easter week. I was astonished at the type of man – about 40 years of age, jolly and respectable. He said he “rose out” to have a “crack at the English” and seemed not at all concerned at the question of success or failure. He was a Tipperary hurler in the old days. For such a man to join the Rebellion and sacrifice the splendid trade he enjoyed makes one think there are disinterested Nationalists to be found. I thought a publican was the last man in the world to join a Rising!

Unsurprisingly, the pub was popular too with British soldiers, an important part of the Monto economy. Luke Kennedy, a senior IRB man, recalled that soldiers returning from the front and soldiers based in Dublin were often willing to part with guns for cash; “We procured quite a large number of arms by purchasing them from British military. A lot of British soldiers used to frequent Phil Shanahan’s public house and it was there most of the contacts were made.” Similarly, Thomas Pugh of the Volunteers recalled:

Sometimes an Australian fellow would come in, throw a .45 revolver on the counter and put out his hand for a pound. That was a recognised thing. The women used to steal rifles and .45 revolvers and anything they could get their hands on.

Shanahan’s functioned as something of a drop off point for acquired weaponry. Unsurprisingly, given Shanahan’s Tipperary connections, plenty of what was left there seems to have made its way into the hands of the very busy Tipperary IRA. Seamus Reader, O/C of the IRA in Scotland, recalled that having succeeded in having explosive material shipped to Dublin, “It was taken to Phil Shanahan’s and, I understand, the No. 3 Tipperary Brigade got the bulk of it.” Thomas Leahy, a Dublin docker in the ranks of the Irish Citizen Army, remembered that “many a rifle and ammunition was brought to Phil Shanahan’s shop in Foley Street.”


Plaque to Phil Shanahan on the LAB Gallery, July 2017.

Shanahan was a republican first and foremost, but also a reluctant politician. In 1918,  Shanahan was chosen to contest the election as a Sinn Féin candidate against Alfie Byrne, perhaps the most celebrated local politician in the history of the capital.  It was a rare electoral defeat for Alfie. Thomas Leahy recalled:

Alfie Byrne was the sitting member and Phil Shanahan the proposed. We had all our work cut out in that Ward, for it was the biggest industrial area in Dublin, composed mostly of the ex-British soldier element, whose wives looked on Alfie Byrne as a tin god; so, knowing what was in front of us, we got a very strong group of men and women to organise an election committee and Phil himself worked hard, not for himself, but for the Republic. As he often reminded his followers, he was a soldier and not a politician.

Shanahan would later oppose the Anglo-Irish Treaty, failing to secure election to the Third Dáil in 1922. He left the capital in 1928, living out his final years in his home town of Hollyford, County Tipperary.

Today, the location of Shanahan’s is occupied by The LAB Gallery.  This important site of the revolutionary period could have been forgotten entirely, but at Easter 2014 a plaque was unveiled by Terry Fagan and the North Inner City Folklore Project, with  Shanhan’s native Tipperary well represented in the gathered crowd. It is one part of Monto that certainly deserves to be remembered.

On 21 January 1919, the day that Sinn Féin’s elected parliamentarians met in Dublin and proclaimed themselves to be Dáil Éireann, the first shots of the War of Independence rang out in Soloheadbeg, Tipperary. Unsanctioned by the Dublin assembly, the ambush was entirely the initiative of local Volunteers, with Dan Breen recalling that they felt “the only way of starting a war was to kill someone, and we wanted to start a war, so we intended to kill some of the police whom we looked upon as the foremost and most important branch of the enemy forces.”

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War of Independence era postcard, showing a Volunteer clutching a rifle.

While Breen and his comrades wished to instigate a war, there was a crucial problem. Across the island, Volunteers struggled to arm themselves efficiently to wage any kind of war. One of the most daring early raids for arms during the War of Independence period happened in March 1919 at Collinstown Aerodrome in Dublin, now the location of Dublin Airport. As Charles Townshend has noted, “the haul of seventy-five rifles (with seventy-two bayonets) and 4,000 rounds of ammunition was simply enormous in relation to the stocks held by Volunteer units, and would never be exceeded in the whole course of the struggle.” The raid involved poisoning guard dogs, arranging getaway cars and more besides.

Patrick Holahan, a Volunteer who worked at Collinstown Aerodrome, remembered that “I was not long there before I discovered that there were several other Volunteers on the job, working away peaceably enough to all appearances, but awaiting an opportunity to further the cause which we all had at heart.” Holahan maintained that:

Collinstown Aerodrome was, at that time, a regular little arsenal, and, needless to say, it was well guarded by the British military. The choice collection of arms it contained excited our envy, and the Volunteers were badly in need of military equipment; so we decided to notify GHQ and await instructions.

Brigadier Dick McKee, later to lose his life on Bloody Sunday, 1920, sanctioned the raid. On the day of the raid, Holahan recalled that he and other Volunteers who worked in the Aerodrome went about the business of poisoning the guard dogs, two large Airedale dogs, as while “they never attacked a man in khaki, they would not allow any civilian to pass after nightfall.” The dogs died some hours later, before the raiding Volunteers arrived. Patrick McCrea, a 1916 veteran who had fought in the General Post Office, recalled that:

On the night of the raid we mobilised in Parnell Square — about 25 strong. The men were to travel there in five cars and three cars were to take them back on completion of the job. Two cars were deputed to take the rifles end ammunition. One did not turn up, hence we were one car short.

Once within the complex, it was a matter of taking the men on duty there by surprise.  The raiding republicans wore khaki, along with masks to conceal their identities. McCrea remembered:

There were two British soldiers on sentry duty and our men got close to them and held them up. They could not give any alarm. After that they rushed the guardroom where, I think, 12 or 14 were taken by surprise before they could reach for their guns. These were tied up and, as far as I know, they gave no trouble, with one exception, and he got tied by the heels to the rafters. One of them was very unconcerned and asked for a blanket to be thrown over him. I think we were two hours altogether in Collinstown.

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I am beyond delighted to play a few records at this night on Thursday in MVP, joined by friends from such distinct enterprises as Foggy Notions, Sunday Books and more besides.

Once a month we hope to whip the records out, have fun and raise money for good causes, starting with those challenging Direct Provision. Yes, the title of the night is from a Smiths song, but was it ever going to be any other way?

Expect Italian disco,hip hop, a bit of 80s classics, and whatever we fancy really. We promise nothing but fun.

MVP is located at 29 Upper Clanbrassil St., Dublin 8.

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