Drinking in Dublin

By Chris Deliso (written in 2001, published in 2004 by Travel Intelligence)

A raucous roar went up as time expired, and a bloodied County Meath emerged the winner. The dejected losers, archrivals Dublin, plodded off the field in silence. The 30,000 fans who had almost torn down old Croke Park with their bare fists spilled out onto the pavement, whistling, jeering and waving green and gold streamers in the air. Exiting with them, I was immediately swept up in the stream of humanity speedily making its way to the pubs of Lower Dorset Street. Ah, I thought, there is nothing quite like Gaelic football, and nothing quite like Dublin’s North Side.

Separated into two distinct parts by the primeval River Liffey, Dublin is a city that flaunts its contrasts. These are most obvious in terms of geography. The southside boasts all of the “historic” attractions of Irish lore: Trinity College, affably ensconced within high mossy walls; Dublin Castle, from where the Brits once ruled; the beloved Guinness brewery; and seemingly all of the old pubs and haunts immortalized in Joyce’s Ulysses. Similarly, on the southside one finds the more exclusive Dublin neighborhoods, such as Rathgar and Rathmines, and further along, the placid “strand” at Dun Loghaire.

North of the Liffey, on the other hand, one finds most of Dublin’s squalor, petty violence and heroin addicts. Here the streets seem rainier, the accents are rougher, and life in general more guttural. The north side, too, has more than its fair share of stilleto heels and haircuts for €2.50 (alas, the old days of the Irish Punt). In short, it is a wonderful place to visit, and a nicer place to live. Only rarely do the pugnacious track-suited teenagers, their hair plastered to their foreheads, break a window with an errant soccer ball; and rarely are simple bar brawls flattered by the arrival of four police vans. Yet some days, as native son Bono once sang, are better than others.

And so we return to the tale of the carnage produced by the collision of Gaelic Football and alcohol.

Now Lower Dorset Street is a fairly large road, perhaps even a thoroughfare; and it certainly has its share of pubs. Yet, on days when an important match like the Meath-Dublin semifinal was held, capacity was clearly exceeded. We settled down in Kavanaugh’s, a dark dive that is featured on one of the many “famous Irish pub” posters. Ornery men of leisure get started early here – about 2 or 3 in the afternoon – with several pints of the black stuff for company. A half-hearted traditional band twoodles away from the center of the pub. Definitely, Kavanaugh’s had ambience- and most important, a well-poured pint.

We rushed to get a table ahead of the people pouring in from the match. Kavanaugh’s was large enough to hold partisans of both sides – or so we thought. As the singing, shouting and drinking grew louder, I almost thought I could hear a dissonant sound – it seemed like a challenge – and then a roar.

I didn’t see the initial provocation, but turned just in time to see the glass flying through the air. It crashed against the wall, cutting one patron’s cheek; then a table was upended, red-faced men lunged and swore, and finally a Meath brawler who must have weighed over 300 pounds picked up a chair and, with a sickening thud, brought it crashing down over the unfortunate head of a Dublin fan.

Then all hell broke loose. Amid the shouting, punching, and flying objects, we managed to flee the carnage and escape just as the flashing lights of the police vans rounded the peak of O’Connell Street and lurched to a stop a hair away from us. The brave officers of the Gardai, armed only with clubs, went into the bar to sort things out. As for our little party, we fled across the street, to another pub where we could finish our drinking in peace. And so it went, with no further mishaps.

That evening there was a beautiful sunset, somewhere else, I supposed; through the omnipresent clouds, a few timid rays peeked out, seeming to whisper about a distant warmth. Yet there is an indescribable beauty of Dublin in the evening, right after the rain. It is an elusive moment in this dirty old town, when the sun illuminates dewdrops on flowers, when discarded trash gleams in the gutter, when sunset makes purple jellyfish out of the billowing clouds.

Indeed, it had been just such a day on the north side of a city of restrained chaos. A day of cheering and spit, of muddy combatants and unruly drunks, of rain and sun and rain again. In short, a day which captured, for those who cared to notice, the spirit of Dublin’s north side, in all its mundane glory.