Nestled in between the Spire and Liberty Hall, between the Liffey and the Pro-Cathedral, between the Abbey Theatre and the empty husk of Cleary’s that stands as an indictment of our rentier government, between Guiney’s of Talbot Street and the statue of Big Jim Larkin – Marlborough Street is as Dublin as can be, as Dublin as Dustin the Turkey eating coddle out of Molly Malone’s cleavage. The corner of Piper’s Corner is where Marlborough St meets Sackville Place, and when I suggest it as an after-work pinting location, the proximity to Luases and trains makes it an easy sell.
A few themes are advertised. Pipers, obviously; the Corner forms with the Cobblestone in Smithfield a cross-city axis of the sort of traditional music you don’t hear in Temple Bar. No diddly-eye stuff here. There is a print of Joseph Haverty’s The Limerick Piper and notices bristling with fadas detailing the movements of every uilleann piper in the country. There’s a good representation of Dublin football, with pictures of Heffo and Kevin Moran and phalanxes of men in blue holding the Sam Maguire Cup. Being on the Abbey Theatre’s doorstep, this is a good intermission alternative and I see posters that I remember my English teacher having on his classroom walls. And there is the Irish language; the Pop-Up Gaeltacht has visited here, and there are a few lines painted on the walls in lovely yellow litreacha clóite, including a verse from Seán Ó Ríordáin’s Saoirse. One day I’ll be able to tell the Rs and the Ss apart.
Rachaidh mé síos i measc na ndaoine
De shiúl mo chos
Is rachaidh mé síos anocht
All this is worn lightly and the room feels spacious and uncluttered, with simple white-painted wood and grey walls. The plywood behind the bar gives a bit of a work-in-progress feel to it. I notice a small patch of flocked wallpaper preserved from the previous incarnation.
As with any newish pub in Dublin, there are a few dozen gins and a rake of Irish craft beers. Five Lamps, Kinnegar, Arthurstown, Nine White Deer, and Wicklow Wolf are all well-represented on tap, and there are bottles of all sorts. I tend to agree with Blindboy that most IPAs taste like the smell of a dog fox. The Guinness is grand.
It’s early on a Friday evening – many workplaces, including my own, have fallen victim to a completely spurious “National Leaving Work Early Day” meme; perhaps this is how revolutions start – and the place is busy without being crowded. There is a television, but it’s blessedly turned off. There is a low background of uilleann pipes. There will be live music later but this is recorded. Piped music, I suppose. But the overall impression is of a buzz of conversation. And, at the risk of sounding like yer da complaining about the kids all being on their X-Boxes or what have you, that’s a rare thing these days. In fact, yer da is more often sinner than sinned against; it seems that every regulars bar in the city has the news and soaps on television as if you’re in the living room of a neighbour you don’t like. There’s none of that here.
There are a few ould lads who must have stayed on since this location was Sean O’Casey’s and seem to have little to complain about with the transition, but mostly the crowd is a fairly typical after-work one, maybe a touch younger, with maybe an extra soupçon of hipster. There is a sprinkling of the more adventurous European tourist. As I am currently based in Baggot Street, I find the absence of the braying Americans from the Kylemore, K-Club, and Killarney circuit a soothing relief. They don’t come this way. They’re missing out; we aren’t.
There’s a sense, maybe, of Dublin as it would like itself to be; there’s a political tinge, there’s a confidence evident in the combination of a focus on ceol and Gaeilge, with an easy, contemporary unstuffiness.
We’re not here for the live music, which is obviously central to the Piper’s identity, but that’s for its own column. We’re just going to the pub, and when a pub does its job well, it can be difficult to point to what’s good about it. There’s an effortlessness to a well-run boozer that by its nature escapes notice and just gets on with it, without any distractions. And this is a good pub. We have no hesitation in adding the Corner to our Friday evening rotation.
Piper’s Corner, 105-106 Marlborough St.
Words: Ben Walsh
Photo: Killian Broderick