The nature of “totality” is discussed in the editorial suite as potential locations for review are mooted. Specifically, how total is the remit of “Totally Dublin”? Does it extend beyond the canals? Beyond the Dodder and Tolka rivers? Even, heaven forfend, beyond the sensible order of numbered postal districts and the good governance of Dublin City Council? Reference is made to the Local Government (Reorganisation) Act, 1985 and the Local Government (Dublin) Act, 1993. It is asserted that, pace the GAA, there is no County Dublin qua county. As each legal and factual argument is rejected, more emotional and less temperate appeals are made. Petulant and perhaps unworthy complaints that “it’s really north Wicklow” and “half of them probably still call it Kingstown” are heard. But the editor’s authority has its own totality, and the necessary preparations are made for a visit to the provinces.
Dún Laoghaire – sometimes still spelled “Dunleary”, as pronounced – is a picturesque fishing village some distance from Dublin. Accessible by a ferry service back in its heyday, it may still be reached by train, barely an hour’s journey from the capital. Its balmy southern climate makes it popular with retirees and holidaymakers alike. In season, the seaside is thronged with vendors offering ices and fish-and-chips, and children may enjoy donkey rides and Punch and Judy shows along the “Pier”.
It is distinctly out of season when I arrive, and an icy rain is driving. I am meeting my friend The Captain, recently transplanted here but to the manor born; more a louche privateer than a salty sea dog, perhaps, but a nautical cove through and through. We are to meet in The Lighthouse, located in the heart of Dún Laoghaire’s street.
I am somewhat early and take stock. The pub occupies two-thirds of an elegant Victorian red brick building. In previous incarnations it has been “Whiskey Fair”, “Weirs”, and “The Pier Inn” – this last name is still on the handsome brass work of the main beer taps. The ground floor is a large and airy room with a few perfunctory bits of décor, nodding to themes nautical (inevitably) and sporting. As a new part of the Brewtonic / Bodytonic empire, a lot of the experience will be somewhat familiar to pub-goers in the metropolis. There are a few pictures of Irish footballers, there are board games to borrow, there is a cheap and cheerful menu, and the music is a nostalgic mix of the vaguely cooler parts of the nineties.
The ambience is relaxed and pleasant, with mostly smaller groups and youngish couples, but for a Friday night I find it quiet enough. When the Captain arrives, though, he tells me that by local standards, this is thriving indeed – and with young people, forsooth! There is some sort of party going on upstairs that we fail to charm our way into – cash is required instead – and a fair amount of traffic. I am told that this is the games room, with pool and table-tennis tables and arcade machines, but it will have to go uninspected on this visit.
If you are often out and about in Dublin proper you will know what to expect from The Back Page in Phibsborough, MVP on Clanbrassil Street, the Bernard Shaw, and the other pubs in their portfolio. There is a decent range of beer including some of their own offerings and collaborations and a couple of nice imports; not just the usual illusion of choice that Irish pubs often offer. I call for a Five Lamps (C & C plc) Liberties Ale in part as a means of inspecting their lines – this is a beer that offers no hiding place for off-flavours or lax housekeeping. It is flawless. The menu offers a range of highball drinks from the canon, such as the Moscow Mule and the Dark’n’Stormy. I think this is an idea that might have potential, but I say that in much the same way as a fashion writer might tell you that colours other than black will be “in” next season – that is, for other people.
The Lighthouse, like its sister establishments, is by no means a traditional pub with a snug and an ould fella sharing his thoughts about the 3:35 at Punchestown, but the difference is an evolutionary one. Yes, you can reserve a table, play a game of Street Fighter 2, and have a pizza and some sort of non-alcoholic thing with ginger in it – but you can also watch the match and have a rake of pints. It is maybe not quite something for everyone, but it offers a good range of options to attract a broader crowd, and it definitely provides a much-needed fillip for a locality struggling with the problems that beset small rural towns throughout the country.
When I talk to locals and near-locals, the dearth of socializing options here is a common theme. There are a handful of other pubs nearby, and by the harbour there is an outlet of some ghastly arch-Brexiteer chain. The feeling is universal that the new incarnation of The Lighthouse is most welcome, and, given the success of the owners’ Beatyard festival here last summer, it makes a great deal of sense for them to have a more permanent presence.
Words: Ben Walsh
Photo: Killian Broderick
88 George’s Street Lower