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Dublin's remaining Victorian pubs

Rodhlann Mossop and Alex Pollock
5/12/2023

Open Space

Known mostly for its grand civic buildings, the architecture of Victorian Dublin is rarely appreciated for one if it's most enduring spaces - the pub. Inspired by Dublin’s sixteen remaining Victorian pubs, this article offering a unique lens through which to view the city's architectural and cultural history.

Quality materials not only last the test of time but oftentimes improve. A mahogany handrail is worn smooth by the millions of hands that have run across it over the years. Crafted with care, every feature was made to last; which is why we can still enjoy them to this day – hundreds of years later.

‘It is indeed by uneasy steps that the pub has wandered through the paths of history, buffeted by storms of public controversy, assailed by the slings and arrows of temperance reformers, sometimes harassed, and sometimes supported by instruments of legislation. That it has survived in so ubiquitous a way is remarkable’ [1].

The success of the architecture of Victorian Dublin is typically understood through the grandeur of the Curvilinear Range at the Botanic Gardens, the Reading Room at the National Library or perhaps the Museum Building at Trinity College, each an example of intricate architecture, engineering, and craftsmanship. Deane, Woodward, and Turner are rarely forgotten in the discourse around the built fabric of Victorian Dublin, nor are Harry Clarke, the O’Shea Brothers or Carlo Cambi. However, this article focuses not on such grand artefacts and their architects. Instead, it is inspired by Dublin’s sixteen remaining Victorian pubs [2].

This visual essay takes The Swan Bar as a case study and aims to highlight the wealth of materiality to be found in these pubs, enjoyed by generations passing through. This map highlights the sixteen remaining Victorian pubs across the county of Dublin.

The Sixteen Victorian Pubs of Dublin

  1. The Hut
  2. Gaffneys
  3. Slattery's
  4. Ryan's
  5. The Norseman
  6. The Palace Bar
  7. Bowe's
  8. The Stag's Head
  9. The International Bar
  10. Kehoe's
  11. Toner's
  12. Doheny and Nesbitt
  13. The Long Hall
  14. The Swan
  15. Cassidy's
  16. Finnegan's

The Swan Bar (Lynch’s of Aungier Street)

The Swan Bar on Aungier Street in the heart of the city centre takes its patrons on a journey of materiality: mahogany, mirror, mosaic, clocks, brass, stained and tinted glass. Owned and run by the Lynch family for generations, the original materials which have remained in place from its 1890s refurbishment bear visible representations of the time that has passed. The tile and timber floor, patched in places, slightly sunken in others, is both a testament to its original craftsmanship and a palimpsest displaying evidence of former configurations. Quality materials not only last the test of time but often improve; a mahogany handrail is worn smooth by the million hands that have run across it. These architectural details were crafted with care and yet made to endure the thumping, scratching, cleaning, and polishing we have done for over one hundred years.

Under the front window where there now sits a cosy snug, a tea shop once faced the street. A common feature of the Victorian pub was to lend its shopfront to the selling of groceries - further suggested by the call bells in brass on mahogany and pitch pine. Division and threshold are strong features of the Victorian pub, and The Swan is no different. Within the central aisle, a forgotten porch is inscribed on the tiling revealing a large depiction of a swan which one would otherwise encounter upon entry. This patina allows for immersive engagement with the pub's history, going beyond appreciation for the craftsmanship itself.

It's an easy thing to romanticise Victorian craftsmanship. In reality, the maintenance of these buildings poses its issues, with contemporary publicans often having to navigate tricky legislation surrounding protected structures. The reasons for repairs vary, from obsolescence and natural decay, to wear and tear and intoxicated disregard. The manner and material of replacement speaks to the priorities, interest, and means of the owner. In the case of The Swan, the damaged yet original tile work tells of the stabilisation works undertaken beneath the ground floor, and a scratched mirror tells of blatant vandalism. While there is no lack of interest on the part of the owner, replacing triple bevelled mirrors and yellow stained glass panes, and bringing original brass pumps back into use is additional to the everyday demands of the service industry. Irish Licensing World claimed ‘A publican must be a democrat, an autocrat, an acrobat and a doormat’, in order to manage the wear of these pubs and fulfil contemporary conservation requirements; that list could continue [3].

There is a balance to be struck between reconfiguration to fit current purposes and the erasure of former use. A surface on which to light a match can be rendered obsolete by the lighter, a cashier's kiosk by modern-day payment methods, a whiskey cask by bottled spirits. While these physical Victorian details may be anachronistic, they add to the experience, as do the clock hanging centrally above the bar and, importantly, the Scottish granite countertop to keep a resting pint cool. Whether functionally obsolete or not, their presence ought to be valued by the publican and appreciated by the patron. The decision to retain such details is not driven by nostalgia but by appreciation of craft, in seeing the hand of the craftsperson in the everyday. 

As artefacts in themselves, in their ornamentation and craftsmanship, these pubs should be valued. The decay and destruction of the city in the lifetime of these pubs is starkly contrasted by their permanence both materially and in operation. Their provision of an ‘escape from bleak tenement life’ and ‘a surrogate domesticity’ suggest that they were as rich and lavish an oasis then as they feel today. These materials, explored in the photographs below, offer a window through which we can gain another perspective on Victorian Dublin, scarred, rounded and smoothed by time. It is through our patronage that these pubs will continue.

Its an easy thing to romanticise Victorian craftsmanship. In reality, the maintenance of these buildings poses it's own issues with contemporary publicans often having to navigate tricky legislation surrounding protected structures. The reasons for repairs vary, from the aforementioned obsolescence to natural decay, wear and tear, and blatant vandalism. The manner and material of replacement speaks to both the priorities, interest, and means of the owner.

Open Space is intended to allow for the testing of ideas, themes, and formats that don’t typically fit within our regular article series. For all enquiries and potential contributors, please contact info@type.ie.

Open Space is supported by the Arts Council through the Architecture Project Award Round 2 2022.

References

1. K. Kearns and R. Rinehart, Dublin Pub Life and Lore: An Oral History, Dublin, 1997.

2. K. Kearns and R. Rinehart, Dublin Pub Life and Lore: An Oral History, Dublin, 1997.

3. K. Kearns and R. Rinehart, Dublin Pub Life and Lore: An Oral History, Dublin, 1997.

4. N. Booth, ‘Drinking and Domesticity: The Materiality of the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Provincial Pub’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 2018, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 289-309.

Contributors

Rodhlann Mossop

Rodhlann Mossop is a recent graduate from the UCD Masters of Architecture. During his studies he spent time working in both Dublin and Denmark across architecture and urban design and. He currently is working as an architectural graduate in Dublin.

Alex Pollock

Alex is an architectural graduate currently working in Dublin. He has worked and studied in Ireland and Norway where he has developed an interest in materiality and rurality. He is a recent M.Arch graduate from UCD.

Related articles

City Elsewhere

Nicolas Howden, Rubble
Open Space
Nicolas Howden, Rubble
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

In the privileged and privately owned site of the Pumphouse in Dublin Port, architectural students spent a week thinking about alternative means of building public space through appropriation, without the limitations of traditional building and material supply chains.

The Pumphouse sits in the Alexandra Basin within Dublin Port, a space offering residencies and opportunities for cultural and public events. A large, mostly empty, pseudo-public space left over from the remnants of a filled-in graving dock, the site consists of a historic industrial structure and an open paved area, under the shadow of vast infrastructural elements, cranes, silos, and passing ships. It was once a site of maintenance and repair for ships coming to and from Dublin Port. The pump houses, after which the nascent cultural space is now named, would drain and refill the water from graving docks to allow workers to access below the hulls of ships. The older pump house of the two, where our workshop took place, is now considered a site of historical interest, while the other remains a concrete remnant, inaccessible to the public, perhaps also quietly waiting to be granted historical significance.

Material Bank, Connectors, film photograph, Emily Jones, Rubble (2024)

The week's workshop however, could be indiscriminate – with an arsenal of temporary paints, and a collection of borrowed, rented, and waste materials from sites around the city, we could occupy the site as we pleased, with the understanding that everything could be taken away shortly after, leaving no trace. These materials would be bound together with removable and demountable connecting elements – the connecting elements being the only new parts purchased for construction. The site was free to become a testing ground; for methods of community construction, public space interventions, parasitic and guerrilla architectures, and to facilitate the performance of construction without the implications and consequences of long-term interventions.

Anchor, film photograph, Dominic Daly, Rubble (2024)

Inside the older of the two pump houses, the back corner was set up to host lectures from international speakers and members of the workshop, on a borrowed monitor and speakers facing rows of leftover solid wood benches. Behind us lay a backdrop of materials gathered from recycling centres, construction schools, salvage yards, building sites. The workshop’s initial exercises allowed us to familiarise ourselves with these materials, first as individual shapes, then as relational objects, and finally as broken still lifes, stacked and arranged outside on a grid previously painted over the tarmac. These compositions formed the first temporary imposition on the space, necessarily functionless, forming spatial relationships between building, space, body, and material.

Lantern and Crane, film photograph, Dominic Daly, Rubble (2024)

The exercises shifted between scales, from 1:1 assemblages to analytical and experiential drawings which zoomed out to the scale of the site. The painted grid overlaid on the site accented its abstract nature as an empty and previously un-intervened upon space, a piece of land reclaimed from the sea, distant from the dense architectural narratives layered upon the nearby city centre. From the vantage point of an opening on the first floor of the pump house building, we discussed these surveys which were drawn on 1:25 representations of the painted grid. The grid, 25m squared, formed a referencing tool to quickly and easily survey important conditions on site, outlining the primary workspace, presenting opportunities to work in the margins, major and minor spaces, imposing a temporary order onto the site which we encouraged students to disregard, engage with, or undermine as they saw fit.

Mid-construction, film photograph, Emily Jones, Rubble (2024)

Reflecting on the idea of building out loud, a term coined by the Belgian artist and designer Jozef Wouters, in which building and designing occur simultaneously in dialogue with one another, we engaged in a process of making, discussing, drawing, revising, dismantling, and making again; while also devising a brief and negotiating spatially between a series of undefined proposals. Given that many of the materials needed to be returned at the end of the week, and encouraging a general principle of demountability, a system of connecting disparate objects needed to be established. Through using a stock of ratchet straps, threaded rods, nuts and washers, clamps, rope, and bungee cords, a language of combining and dismantling objects was developed. As the proposals materialised, some began to form standalone objects, which could be moved and placed on site; erratics of disjointed scrap timber, blocks, and rubble. Framed by the grand and imposing space, these oddities were defined, given importance as monuments which became emblematic of the work built throughout the week. Other proposals were more deliberate in their functions: a bench, wall, roof, table, lantern, or seesaw.

Monument, film photograph, Dominic Daly, Rubble (2024)

A closing event drove the direction of the design – considering how visitors might engage with the objects, where to gather, to dance, to sit and talk, where a DJ could stand. With the constraints of the amount and size of existing materials, the challenge became unifying disparate constructs into one proposal for occupying the Pumphouse. Methods of connecting were shared and re-used across different designs as each participant found their own ways of building with the materials gathered; techniques for threading rope, stacking blocks, or making clamps with threaded rods became a common language in many instances. This was important as the materials themselves were so varied – the challenge became how to unify them and build a public space containing our own individual ideas, to be used in conjunction with one another.

As the week came to an end, the act of designing through making paused. A process which might otherwise continue to revise and resolve problems through testing and altering froze in time. As tools and equipment were taken away, the aberration of a proposal presented itself, the result of an experimental process engaging critically in ideas founded on public space in the city represented now as an assortment of objects, imprinted onto the large open space between the two pump house buildings. The immeasurable quality of the old graving dock is briefly given definition, engaging with these ideas of the city in this elsewhere space. As the final evening progresses, the interventions seem to settle in as they are leaned on and danced around, one structure being carried inside by the party’s attendees, enclosing late night conversations and cigarettes against a backdrop of an active port – simultaneously in the centre and the fringes of Dublin city.

Afterparty, film photograph, Emily Jones, Rubble (2024)
20/5/2024
Open Space

Dublin is a city where (for certain people and certain uses) space is limited, and often inflexible. The City Elsewhere, a research project activated through a construction workshop, acted as an opportunity to think about our public spaces outside the confines of Dublin’s frequently slow, permission restricted construction processes.

Read

Dublin's remaining Victorian pubs

Rodhlann Mossop and Alex Pollock
Open Space
Rodhlann Mossop and Alex Pollock
Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell

‘It is indeed by uneasy steps that the pub has wandered through the paths of history, buffeted by storms of public controversy, assailed by the slings and arrows of temperance reformers, sometimes harassed, and sometimes supported by instruments of legislation. That it has survived in so ubiquitous a way is remarkable’ [1].

The success of the architecture of Victorian Dublin is typically understood through the grandeur of the Curvilinear Range at the Botanic Gardens, the Reading Room at the National Library or perhaps the Museum Building at Trinity College, each an example of intricate architecture, engineering, and craftsmanship. Deane, Woodward, and Turner are rarely forgotten in the discourse around the built fabric of Victorian Dublin, nor are Harry Clarke, the O’Shea Brothers or Carlo Cambi. However, this article focuses not on such grand artefacts and their architects. Instead, it is inspired by Dublin’s sixteen remaining Victorian pubs [2].

This visual essay takes The Swan Bar as a case study and aims to highlight the wealth of materiality to be found in these pubs, enjoyed by generations passing through. This map highlights the sixteen remaining Victorian pubs across the county of Dublin.

The Sixteen Victorian Pubs of Dublin

  1. The Hut
  2. Gaffneys
  3. Slattery's
  4. Ryan's
  5. The Norseman
  6. The Palace Bar
  7. Bowe's
  8. The Stag's Head
  9. The International Bar
  10. Kehoe's
  11. Toner's
  12. Doheny and Nesbitt
  13. The Long Hall
  14. The Swan
  15. Cassidy's
  16. Finnegan's

The Swan Bar (Lynch’s of Aungier Street)

The Swan Bar on Aungier Street in the heart of the city centre takes its patrons on a journey of materiality: mahogany, mirror, mosaic, clocks, brass, stained and tinted glass. Owned and run by the Lynch family for generations, the original materials which have remained in place from its 1890s refurbishment bear visible representations of the time that has passed. The tile and timber floor, patched in places, slightly sunken in others, is both a testament to its original craftsmanship and a palimpsest displaying evidence of former configurations. Quality materials not only last the test of time but often improve; a mahogany handrail is worn smooth by the million hands that have run across it. These architectural details were crafted with care and yet made to endure the thumping, scratching, cleaning, and polishing we have done for over one hundred years.

Under the front window where there now sits a cosy snug, a tea shop once faced the street. A common feature of the Victorian pub was to lend its shopfront to the selling of groceries - further suggested by the call bells in brass on mahogany and pitch pine. Division and threshold are strong features of the Victorian pub, and The Swan is no different. Within the central aisle, a forgotten porch is inscribed on the tiling revealing a large depiction of a swan which one would otherwise encounter upon entry. This patina allows for immersive engagement with the pub's history, going beyond appreciation for the craftsmanship itself.

It's an easy thing to romanticise Victorian craftsmanship. In reality, the maintenance of these buildings poses its issues, with contemporary publicans often having to navigate tricky legislation surrounding protected structures. The reasons for repairs vary, from obsolescence and natural decay, to wear and tear and intoxicated disregard. The manner and material of replacement speaks to the priorities, interest, and means of the owner. In the case of The Swan, the damaged yet original tile work tells of the stabilisation works undertaken beneath the ground floor, and a scratched mirror tells of blatant vandalism. While there is no lack of interest on the part of the owner, replacing triple bevelled mirrors and yellow stained glass panes, and bringing original brass pumps back into use is additional to the everyday demands of the service industry. Irish Licensing World claimed ‘A publican must be a democrat, an autocrat, an acrobat and a doormat’, in order to manage the wear of these pubs and fulfil contemporary conservation requirements; that list could continue [3].

There is a balance to be struck between reconfiguration to fit current purposes and the erasure of former use. A surface on which to light a match can be rendered obsolete by the lighter, a cashier's kiosk by modern-day payment methods, a whiskey cask by bottled spirits. While these physical Victorian details may be anachronistic, they add to the experience, as do the clock hanging centrally above the bar and, importantly, the Scottish granite countertop to keep a resting pint cool. Whether functionally obsolete or not, their presence ought to be valued by the publican and appreciated by the patron. The decision to retain such details is not driven by nostalgia but by appreciation of craft, in seeing the hand of the craftsperson in the everyday. 

As artefacts in themselves, in their ornamentation and craftsmanship, these pubs should be valued. The decay and destruction of the city in the lifetime of these pubs is starkly contrasted by their permanence both materially and in operation. Their provision of an ‘escape from bleak tenement life’ and ‘a surrogate domesticity’ suggest that they were as rich and lavish an oasis then as they feel today. These materials, explored in the photographs below, offer a window through which we can gain another perspective on Victorian Dublin, scarred, rounded and smoothed by time. It is through our patronage that these pubs will continue.

5/12/2023
Open Space

Known mostly for its grand civic buildings, the architecture of Victorian Dublin is rarely appreciated for one if it's most enduring spaces - the pub. Inspired by Dublin’s sixteen remaining Victorian pubs, this article offering a unique lens through which to view the city's architectural and cultural history.

Read

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