On the Banks of the Liffey

JP Donleavy's Dublin Haunts

The boom of the past decade affected the face of Dublin considerably—new restaurants, boutiques and hotels have sprung up along the quays of the Liffey and throughout the Georgian edifices that line the city’s streets. Despite the upstarts, certain venues are embedded in the history of the city, their idiosyncratic spirit practically unchanged since the mid-20th century. As a student at Trinity College, Dublin, writer JP Donleavy trod the streets of Dublin with friends that would later appear as characters in his oeuvre, among them fellow writer Brendan Behan, who edited the first manuscript of The Ginger Man, and American Gainor Crist, who inspired the novel's central figure.

McDaid’s on Harry Street was once the local staple of both Behan and Crist, and to this day remains a classic Irish pub. Says Donleavy of their bar-room habits: “Behan could drink a lot and might deliberately do so, but Crist was very careful with his drinking and would drink mostly in a constant way but never to excess.”

Davy Byrne’s appears in James Joyce’s Ulysses and became a legendary literary meeting place, frequented by lyrical poet Patrick Kavanagh and the many-monikered satirist Brian O'Nolan (also known as Myles na gCopaleen and Flann O'Brien).

Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street was decorated to emulate continental tearooms, with six stained glass windows by Harry Clarke. Donleavy would often escape here from his studies at Trinity College to drink tea and eat barmbrack: "it's the only place that I would go to religiously in Dublin."

The Shelbourne Hotel, on the fringes of St. Stephen's Green, was where Donleavy satisfied his aspirations of grandeur. The building played an important part in Irish history when the constitution was drawn up in one of its rooms in 1922 and has recently undergone a major renovation.

The Bailey too has had a transformation from its bohemian past when it was owned by artist John Ryan, a longstanding friend of Donleavy's who supported both him and Behan early in their careers through his arts and literature journal Envoy. Ryan salvaged the door of the house, which James Joyce described as the home of Leopold Bloom—the hero of Ulysses—and displayed it in the bar within the Brown Thomas complex. Post renovations, the bar now boasts chrome features and cosmopolitan cocktails.

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