While Temple Bar is today populated by dozens of bars and restaurants, some would say to its detriment, the area has a long history of taverns and boozing. This post will look at some eighteenth century taverns in the Temple Bar area. Many of these taverns were frequented by certain political movements and groupings, while for many others taverns fulfilled an important social role. In some cases, the names of these historic taverns have been adopted by modern pubs, though in others they are now totally forgotten. One of these taverns is commemorated today with a plaque. The entire axis of the city has shifted substantially since the eighteenth century, but as historian Pat Liddy has noted at the time Temple Bar could almost be described as Dublin’s dockland district, with the Custom House sitting where the Clarence Hall is today.
The Elephant on Essex Street took its name from a rather bizarre incident in the history of the city. On 17 June 1681, an elephant which had been taken to Dublin for display at an exhibition was to meet a tragic end, when the stable he was being kept in at Essex Street caught fire. This spectacle brought huge crowds onto the street, and as Frank Hopkins has noted “when the fire was extinguished they proceeded to take parts of the elephant away as souvenirs.” In the aftermath of this incident, An Anatomical Account of the Elephant Accidentally Burnt in Dublin was published. The elephant was dissected by Allan Mullen, from Trinity College Dublin, who published his findings, including several illustrations.
A high quality scan of this work was posted by the National Library of Ireland to Flickr some time ago:
From historic sources it also appears that The Elephant served as a meeting place for the first Catholic Committee in the 1760s, a forerunner of the influential Catholic Association of Daniel O’Connell in the nineteenth century.
Also located on Essex Street was The Globe, which has been described by the Dublin historian J.T Gilbert as one of the most important taverns of the period, noting that “this house was the chief resort of the Dublin politicians during the reign of George II”, and that it attracted “merchants, physicians, and lawyers” among others. Gilbert quoted from a poem about the tavern, in which it was said
Sometimes to the ‘ Globe’ I stray,
To hear the trifle of the day ;
There learned politicians spy,
With thread-bare cloaks, and wigs awry ;
Assembled round, in deep debate
On Prussia’s arms, and Britain’s fate ;
Whilst one, whose penetration goes,
At best, no farther than his nose,
In pompous military strain,
Fights every battle o’er again :
Important as a new-made Lord,
He spills his coffee on the board….
An interesting character by the name of ‘Blind Peter’ comes up in many accounts of this pub. A shoe black, he was described in one publication as “of hideous aspect, he had but one eye, was most inveterately pitted with the same pox, and his face completely tattoo’d with the scars he received in the various battles he had fought.”
We’ve briefly touched on The Bear Tavern before on the site, as it featured in Crane Lane. This pub was kept by a man named David Corbet until his death in 1787, and he was described by J.T Gilbert as a Freemason, as well as “an excellent musician, and leader of the band of the Dublin Independent Volunteers.” While taverns were hugely popular meeting spots for Volunteers and political activists, historian Padhraig Higgins has noted that publicans were no doubt active in these circles “no doubt for a mixture of patriotic and more self-interested motives.”
One of the most familiar of Temple Bar’s eighteenth century taverns is The Eagle Tavern, which is commemorated today with a historical plaque on Eustace Street. The Eagle had been the location for the first meeting of the Dublin Society of the United Irishmen in 1791. The Eagle also has a historical connection to Dublin’s rather infamous Hellfire Club, although that connection was to an earlier premises. The Hellfire Club had been established in Dublin in 1735 by Richard Parsons and others when the premises of The Eagle was at the nearby Cork Hill. This premises was demolished by the Wide Streets Commission in 1757. The later Eagle Tavern was the location at which the United Irish movement in Dublin announced itself on 9 November 1791, with the brilliant Dublin character James Napper Tandy present as Secretary. Napper Tandy was an influential man of his time, a popular member of Dublin Corporation who campaigned for a boycott of English goods in Dublin and who even led a mini-riot at the site of the new Custom House in 1781, believing the location of the building would have a devastating economic effect.Later in life, it was said the influence of Napoleon would spare the life of Tandy, demanding his release from captivity as a stipulation to his signing of the Treaty of Amiens.
The United Irishmen would meet in a variety of locations in Dublin during the course of their existence, including the Music Hall on Fishamble Street and Tailor’s Hall.
Fishamble Street, which Dubliners today would consider to be on the very edge of Temple Bar, was home to numerous interesting taverns at the time. One popular spot was The Bull’s Head, and a musical society associated with this tavern were central to the construction of the new Music Hall on the same street, which would serve as the location for the world premiere of Handel’s great work, ‘The Messiah’. This tavern was also used for assemblies of the Grand Lodge of Irish Freemasons.
Members of the Huguenot community seem to have been major players in the industry at the time, something which is explored by Raymond Hylton in his enjoyable study of Ireland’s Huguenots. Several pubs in the area in and around Temple Bar spent some time in Huguenot hands in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, such as the Three Tuns on the northside of Blind Quay, today known to us as Exchange Street. This pub was owned by Jean Chaigneau, a merchant who had purchased the building for £200 in the 1720s. Ruben’s Head and the Two Friends Tavern, just off Crow Street, were also owned by members of that community.
J.T Gilbert listed a host of other Temple Bar taverns in his work, including the Raven and Punch Bowl, which he dated to 1729, and The Dog and Duck, which was said to be “noted for good ale.” One interesting addition to his list is the Turk’s Head Chop House, which he dates to the 1760s. The name is still in use today.
Those interested in the history of the Temple Bar area could do a lot worse than to read Sean Murphy’s brief history of the district, from its early days to its modern revival.