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Temple of boom!
J P Mahaffy, the University of Dublin’s legendary teacher of Oscar Wilde and the equally-extraordinary Oliver St John Gogarty, once remarked: “In Ireland, the inevitable never happens; but the unexpected often occurs.”
The Irish surprise everybody else, rarely themselves. Is that because, historically, it has been a place of tall stories that more often than not turn out to be true?
A band of young musicians carried away by their own small celebrity demanded a taxi to take them from Lillie’s Bordello nightclub, near Grafton Street, to their hotel a short walk away. U2’s Bono passed by, bade a cheerful ‘Goodnight lads’ to the doormen, and walked into the night. Lady Gaga and an entourage of 15 were at Lillie’s the night I was in town.
Oliver Hughes, owner of the Porterhouse pub chain, told me of one occasion when he was listening to a live music act at one of his pubs. A friend rang saying he had two very special guests he’d like to bring over, but as there was a security implication he couldn’t name them.
Mr Hughes asked him to bide his time until the act had finished. Music over, he rang his friend back. ‘Too late, they’ve gone,’ said his friend. “Who?” Mr Hughes replied, really wanting to know. ‘President Clinton and Bono,’ said the friend.
Who knows, they may have been found in The Clarence Hotel, the green-roofed building owned by Bono and U2 guitarist The Edge, on Wellington Quay.
I had dinner in the restaurant the night I was there. The fish pie and rhubarb pie and custard were good, but the restaurant’s lofty, rectangular interior and subdued lighting reminded me of a Methodist chapel.
After an early Ryanair flight from Leeds-Bradford, and check-in at the Temple Bar Hotel, I headed out into the mild Dublin morning for a walk-about and a delicious fish lunch at the extraordinary Oliver St John Gogarty pub.
This three-storey early 19th century building is painted pale yellow, white and lime green. Various national flags and wire baskets of flowers hang from the exterior.
Inside the space for smokers round the corner, statues of James Joyce and renaissance man Gogarty look as though they are in the middle of a bit of craic. Joyce, no mean talker himself, was often agog at Gogarty, one of the city’s great talkers, raconteurs and reciters of Latin and Greek poetry.
Temple Bar is a restored bohemian quarter of bars, pubs, restaurants, hotels and small independent shops.
Traders I met in Temple Bar were disposed to be optimistic. In the summer, 88 big cruise ships docked in the Liffey. Tourism might be down in the rest of Ireland, but in Dublin the reverse was the case.
Far from battening down the hatches to wait out the economic storm, Oliver Hughes, who brews a variety of his own ales and lagers, is preparing to open a branch of his Porterhouse chain in New York on November 12, a combined pub, restaurant and whiskey bar.
Dubliners take a perverse pride in not being surprised or overly delighted by the achievements of their fellow citizens. They are more likely to have a ‘so what?’ attitude to the popularity of places like the Porterhouse pub and Palace Bar at either end of Temple Bar, or that some 3,000 people live in the area, up to 10,000 work there and an estimated 60,000 visitors pass through the stone-setted streets daily.
Sheffield and Bradford, both with city-centre areas blighted by failed developments by multi-national companies, should send delegations across the water to learn how a once-derelict area was gradually resurrected by a combination of generous tax relief, double rent relief on capital investments, a moratorium on rates for ten years as well as individual enterprise.
Lord knows what they think of the Temple Bar Tradfest, a festival of traditional Irish music, dancing and arts events coming up for the sixth time in January. Last year’s was attended by about 40,000 people. Expectation is that this year’s should be bigger because Clannad and Altan are taking part, celebrating their 40th and 25th anniversaries respectively.
Beoga, Ciorras, Brendan Power, Tim Edey, Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch are also taking part in the festival, which goes on from January 26-30. One of the venues is the Button Factory, a converted industrial building at the junction of Curved Street and Temple Lane South, on the left bank of the Liffey.
One outside wall is plastered with 12 enlarged photos of Irish musicians including U2, Van Morrison, Phil Lynott, Rory Gallagher and Sinead O’Connor.
O’Connor used to wait on tables at the Bad Ass cafe, just round the corner. A model of Gallagher’s Fender Stratocaster electric guitar hangs like a sign above a street corner.
In a world of increasing prattle – on planes and boats and trains – I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to sit before a pint of Dublin’s dark genius with only the sound of conversation and music in your ears. Dublin pubs banned gaming machines – Gogarty called them “illuminated coalscuttles”: a small victory for civilisation in a city renowned for its gift of the gab.