Pub Life: Talking about Ireland with a Native Dubliner in 6 Pints

“Nice puzzle to cross Dublin without hitting the tavern,” wrote James Joyce in Ulysses

When an Irishman is ill, he will go to the pub rather than to the church. Moreover, there may not be a church nearby, but there is always a pub. When an Irishman is happy, he will also go to the pub. He'll go to the pub whether he's good or bad, alive or dead.

Life in a pub: talking about Ireland with a native Dublin in 6 pints

Life in a pub: talking about Ireland with a native Dubliner in 6 pints

John Hoin

Owner of Brazen Head (in 2016 — Note by

Born in 1961 in Dublin.
At the age of 16 he left school and started working in his father's pub The Grove Inn. In 1984 he became its owner.

During his life he managed six pubs. In 2004, he bought the oldest working pub in Ireland – Brazen Head.
Divorced, three children.

First pint. Trial

Morning light barely penetrates the window filled with whiskey bottles and drawn with a curtain. On the curtain, as if by hand, the name of the pub is displayed and the silhouette of James Joyce is drawn. It is quiet in the half-empty hall, you can only hear the crackling of candles on the tables and firewood in the fireplace. It smells of old furniture and beer.

The walls are heavily hung with photographs, flags and football symbols. In black and white pictures – urban scenes, several old views of Brazen Head. On colored & nbsp; – the owner of the pub with friends, family and Irish celebrities. The voice of the bartender greets an elderly man with glasses. Clearly a regular customer, he orders a pint of ale and then dives into a fresh newspaper in the corner of the bar. Another visitor enters. “As usual?” the bartender smiles and pours him a stout. I'm starting to feel embarrassed about my coffee.

— It's kind of early for a beer, — I'm trying to justify myself to the owner of the establishment.

 – Not at all, – replies stocky and cheerful John Hoin. – It's almost eleven. And there are pubs that are allowed to work from seven in the morning. There are only four of them in Dublin, near the markets: the sellers finish working in the morning, after which they can go to the pub. So it's never too early or too late for beer. We open at ten-thirty (in 2023 the pub is open from 12 noon. — Note by, at this time one of the regulars is already coming.

— And how many regulars do you have?

There are six people who go every day. It's normal for the average Irishman to sit in a pub a couple of times a week. I don't remember my place ever being empty. Of course, there are many tourists. But the main customers are still local. After all, if for a tourist it is just entertainment, then for an Irishman it is an important component of life, a tradition. If an Irishman wants to meet his friends, he goes to a pub. Your favorite team is playing in a pub. Listen to live music, just relax – in the pub. You can go to the pub for any reason.

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Pint two. Traditional

— Why is Ireland so fond of pubs?

“It so happened historically that people here lived in isolation, all the time they worked in the fields or went to sea. But at least once a week they would definitely go out to the pub to chat, sing songs, have fun. Until now, even in the smallest village there is always a pub. This is a public place. Hence the name & nbsp; – short for public house (public house). Moreover, usually the pub was in a private residential building: upstairs is the master bedroom, and downstairs is a drinking establishment – in fact, a family living room open to the public.

Life in a pub: talking about Ireland with a native Dubliner in 6 pints

— In general, “home”, no matter how cool, keyword?

– Exactly. A pub for an Irishman is a second home. Any person from the street could come in for a drink of whiskey or beer and warm up by the fireplace. In the past, few people could afford to heat their homes. Wood was expensive, coal was not mined in Ireland. And the peat dampened in the fall so that by the summer it was barely dry. Therefore, in the cold season, people flocked to the pubs just to warm up in a homely atmosphere. It was possible to spend the night almost everywhere; pubs usually had small hotels. But cooking began only in the middle of the last century, mainly due to the influx of tourists. Now we have breakfasts and business lunches. But, by the way, earlier, before the advent of supermarkets, pubs worked as food stalls. Even now, some old-fashioned people refer to the bar as a local shop— local shop. Or just local. They can also call the bartender and the owner of the pub. The Irish know their locals. Many village pubs still operate as a grocery store. And some still function as post offices and funeral homes.

—What is the connection with funerals?

– Direct! The Irish have a whole life connected with the pub, until the day they die. In pubs we celebrate births, christenings, weddings. And funerals. It is also a celebration of life. We joke that the only difference between an Irish wedding and a funeral is that the latter have one less drunk. I want the coffin to stand in Brazen Head —in my house during my funeral. And let my friends see me off with a beer in their hands. And then they will have a party here. I even have a coffin ready, stored upstairs.

Brazen Head

20 Bridge Street Lower, Dublin

Life in a pub: talking about Ireland with a native Dubliner in 6 pints

Deemed to be the oldest working pub in Ireland. Presumably, it traces its history back to the carriage house built at the first Dublin bridge in 1198. The current building dates from 1775. The pub has hosted writers James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Brendan Behan, as well as politicians Robert Emmett, Daniel O'Connell and Michael Collins.

Joyce mentions the pub in Ulysses. “There was a rooming house on Marlborough Street, Mrs. Maloney, but there, it’s a shabby place for sixpence, and full of all sorts of rabble, but McConaughey said that for a bean you could get a decent job at the Bronze Head on Winetavern Street (which remotely reminded his interlocutor of Brother Bacon**)”.** According to legend, Roger Bacon (c. 1214 – c. 1292), an English monk, philosopher and naturalist, made a talking bronze head.

Third pint. Family

— You were probably also born in a pub?

—   I grew up in a pub. Not in this, of course. In paternal. My father worked all his life in various pubs, and at the age of 40, a year before I was born, he finally opened his own. Right in the family house, on the first floor. And we lived on the second. Since childhood, like my brothers, I helped my father: I washed glasses, I stood at the counter. So all his life he worked in pubs. I had six of them before I finally got Brazen Head. I have always dreamed of him. Used to run here as a kid to drink beer. Here I celebrated important events of my life, the 18th anniversary, the 21st anniversary. And five years ago (in 2011 — Note by he celebrated his 50th birthday at Brazen Head. Already owning this pub.

—   I think the pub cost you dearly…

—   When I saw that it was for sale, I decided to get it at any cost. My partner and I paid 5,500,000 euros for the pub. Everyone thought I was crazy. They said its red price was three million. But for me Brazen Headwas very important. Do you understand? It is part of Dublin's heritage and is the oldest working pub in Ireland. He is over 800 years old. He appeared here, on the banks of the River Liffey, at the first bridge in Dublin. And until the 16th century – the only one. Travelers from the north fell from the bridge right here. Here, in the carriage house, one could leave the horses and rest after the journey. Only the foundation has been preserved from the original building. In 1775, this brick house appeared in its place. But Brazen Head received a license back in 1635, the first in the country. At that time, many people wanted to keep pubs, and Charles I obliged everyone to obtain official permits.

— Is it easy to open a pub now?

– Oh, it's difficult now. Too many of them in Ireland. If you want to get a new license, you have to wait until one of the existing pubs closes. This is a profitable business. Therefore, I want my children, all three, to continue the work. They work with me. One daughter is a waitress, the other daughter and son are bartenders. And they, like me, will have to look after this heritage of the country.

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Fourth pint. Rare

“Actually, I rarely show this part of the pub to anyone, but I’ll show you, anyway,” John Hoin leads me to the stairs through two noisy halls. We go up to the second floor, we pass an empty banquet hall and a kitchen.

– For its time it was a skyscraper, as many as four floors. The pub worked on the first. The rest was occupied by the hotel and utility rooms. Only 33 tiny rooms: bed, small table, no amenities. The previous owner, Mrs. Cooney, closed the hotel back in the 1970s because it was not profitable to run a pub. But four rooms remained on the third floor. My pride. All furniture here is original. This is the room of Mrs. Worth, the previous owner's aunt. And here's something more interesting …

John Hoin leads me to the next room. Ascetic furnishings: wrought iron bed, chest of drawers and fireplace. A suit, a hat, and a cane hang from a wood-panelled wall. Round glasses peek out from the jacket pocket.

“James Joyce himself stayed here. The clothes are not his, of course, but real, of those times. See the fireplace in the corner? The writer most likely fried sausages or bread here. As well as other guests. A drink went down to the pub. Joyce mentioned Brazen Headin Ulysses. Therefore, his portrait is on our logo.

—You can say that you have a museum here. Do you plan to open a real one?

—   Don't want. Tourists just ruin everything. The maintenance of this house is already too expensive for me. Every year it takes about 200 thousand euros to keep it in good condition. This is a historic building, it is protected by the state, so you need to call the restorers. You can’t just send worn-out furniture to a landfill – we have to repair it. And in this last room lived Michael Collins, a great man, a revolutionary who fought the British all his life. Largely thanks to him, Ireland gained independence from Great Britain.

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Fifth pint. Patriotic

– When Ireland was under the rule of England, we were forbidden even to speak our own language. And you know what the Irish did? They “encrypted” important messages in the songs – so that the British could not understand them. Let's say, if there was a revolution in Dublin, the musicians traveled around the country and reported the news in songs, performing in pubs. So pubs have always been also centers of struggle against British influence.

Life in a pub: talking about Ireland with a native Dubliner in 6 pints

— How are Irish pubs different from English pubs?< /strong>

—Yes, everyone! Pubs are part of Irish culture. We invented them. In Ireland, these are historically family businesses. They were usually called by the owner's name – O'Brian, O'Connor's, Murphy's. The English call theirs whatever they want.

— In that case, Brazen Head does not fit into the general rule!

Brazen Head – a special, legendary pub. It is named after the magical bronze head. In the Middle Ages, magicians used such an automaton head to predict fate. For money. One touring charlatan, presumably again from England, according to legend, stayed at our hotel. The head impressed the locals so much that the pub was named after it. The name has been preserved for centuries. But the British are renaming their pubs. They are usually owned by breweries that promote their own brands. We sell the beer we want. The one that people buy. To be honest, English pubs are terrible.

— Seriously? Why?

— It's noisy in there. Slot machines, billiards, too loud music… You can't hear people. This is not the case in our pubs. The Irish come to the pub to talk, listen to pleasant music. We, unlike the British, rarely have fights. Nobody gets drunk.

— How can you say that?

The law does not allow you to be drunk in a pub. The bartender has the right to refuse a pint if he thinks that you have had enough. We are strict with this. If a policeman sees a heavily drunk person, he will fine me.

— Do the police come in just for the sake of order, or also to relax?

— Everyone comes to us to relax after work or on the day off. Both the police and the ministers of the church.

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Sixth pint. Sacred

— Once or twice a week, the Brazen Head is visited by a priest with a nun for wine or a gin and tonic. Father Kevin is already 96 years old (in 2016 — Note by! I don't know exactly how old Sister Teresa is. But she was a teacher for my sister, who will soon be 70. Kevin is now in a nursing home. Sister Teresa picks him up in a taxi, and then drives him back.

Life in a pub: talking about Ireland with a native Dubliner in 6 pints

— Are pubs friendly with the church?

—    We respect each other. On Sundays until 12:30, while mass is in progress, the pubs are closed. But then everyone goes to institutions. Before the 1970s, you couldn't work on St. Patrick's Day. But, despite the official ban, after the Mass, people still pulled themselves up to the pub. In the end, the police gave up on it. Now the most people come to the pub on St. Patrick's Day. Beer is flowing. There are so many people that we have to regulate attendance.

— And how do you do it?

—We have a guard at the entrance with a special mechanical counter . No more than 450 people are allowed, otherwise the fire department will close us. As soon as the maximum number has entered, we stop letting in until someone comes out. So there is plenty of work during the holidays. By the way, according to legend, Saint Patrick had a personal brewer. And the patroness of Ireland, Saint Brigid, is said to have brewed beer. So the church itself is on our side. Ta-a-ak … And here she is. I must leave you. I see Kevin and Teresa are here. Paying attention  to them is sacred.

Photo: Legion-media (x5)

The material was published in the magazine “Around the World” No. 11 , November 2016, partially updated in March 2023

Natalia Maiboroda

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