The Confession Box, on previous visits, had proved perfect for a quiet pint with an uncle and better still for tucking into a smuggled pork pie and sly pint upstairs in a corner, with none other than the Editor of this magazine. But I’ve also turned my back on it once or twice owing to the din of loudspeakers giving off the impression of having unexpectedly chanced across Carrolls Irish Gifts. On this particular Thursday the songs rung out with unerring vehemence as I rounded Talbot Street, and so I met the scene inside with certain amount of (as it transpires, unwarranted) trepidation.
The pub was busier than I’d anticipated, with men lined three or four deep around the sides of the small square room. I was asked my name by those closest to the door, including the man with the mic, and answered sheepishly, though not before each had tried to insist I take their bar stool. Less than a step from the door, the bartender had taken my order, and the duo in the corner resumed singing, with greater conviction than the speakers outside the pub had implied, and a quite earnest charm not apparent from the street.
Over the course of the evening, we’d get a few songs from the bartender too, taking orders and pulling pints while lilting And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, switching the mic between hands as his needs befitted. It was all the more magic for being a show for nobody’s benefit, and obviously a common occurrence if the familiar glee it provoked in the regulars was anything to go by, and probably also the point at which we realised that this visit would not be a brief, or very ordinary one.
Joe, doing a crossword at the bar, cut a kindly silhouette. He moved up to Dublin in 1955, and has been drinking in The Confession Box (O’Flanagans for a spell) since. I asked what he thought of the well-established narrative that Collins et al used to come to the pub for communion and confession given its proximity to the Pro-Cathedral, but he and his companions seemed entirely unfazed by the prospect of drinking in a very real lieu de mémoire. All apart from Ladbrook, that is, the curious gent and pub celeb, already on his fifth visit over from England this year and keen to show me the pub’s Michael Collin’s memorabilia that he’d set as a background on his phone.
There’s no way to meaningfully do justice to the rest of the characters we met or even the evening we had in The Confession Box. A good testament to it might be that I received a text from the Editor the next day proposing it as excellent material for a short story, in addition to this review. He wasn’t suggesting I satirise the events at all – if anything, the authenticity of The Confession Box and those that drink there, remains its most compelling reason to visit. Though not necessarily for the faint hearted, in an age of characterless bars, with wipe clean flooring and titles derived from catchily-named, fictional men who went by their first two initials, a more spirited pub, or one of greater integrity is hard to find. Realistically, I can never go back. But you should, with a pork pie or two in your pocket for sustenance. You’ll need it.
The Confession Box
88 Marlborough Street, Dublin 1
Words: Julia O’Mahony
Photos: Killian Broderick