We gathered on a chilly October evening in the venerable Duke pub at 9 Duke Street in the heart of Dublin, not quite certain what to expect. We’d come across praise for the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl in at least two of our guidebooks, Lonely Planet’s (which called it “excellent and highly recommended…great fun and…a fine introduction to Dublin pubs and Irish literary history”), as well as the Ireland guide by the always-dependable travel writer Rick Steves.
The night before, we’d relished the wonderful Dublin Musical Pub Crawl that began at Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Pub on Temple Bar.
How could we pass up this one? As fans of literary fiction, including that of the great Irish writers, we simply couldn’t.
To ensure that we wouldn’t be turned away, we walked from Grafton Street to Duke Street early enough to have a pleasant dinner at The Duke pub before positioning ourselves at the front of the ticket line. We had no regrets about arriving early: a large group assembled, eager to begin the crawl at 7:30 pm, and latecomers may indeed have been turned away.
To begin, two actors (both probably fifty-plus) stood in front of the group and launched into a scene from “Waiting for Godot.” They very clearly pronounced the name as “God-oh,” with emphasis on “God.”
Ever since my first encounter with the Samuel Beckett play when I was 22, I’d heard it pronounced “Gah-doh,” with emphasis on “doh.” But here we were in Ireland, where Beckett began his writing career. Which pronunciation was right? According to one source, the name is pronounced with emphasis on the first syllable in Britain and Ireland, while the norm in North America is to emphasize the second syllable. But what about Beckett himself? He settled in Paris in 1938 and wrote the play there in 1948-49. And apparently both he and his French literary agent always pronounced it in “the French manner,” with equal emphasis on both syllables.
Pronunciations aside, the scene the actors chose from “Waiting for Godot” was brilliant and performed with the precise amount of irony and absurdist humor it demanded.
The actors then led us to three other notable pubs, where they spoke/performed either inside the pub or outside on a street near the pub. I later learned the actors’ names: Colm Quilligan (could it be more Irish?) and his colleague Derek (whose last name I failed to catch).
The first of the three pubs was O’Neill’s, on a corner at 2 Suffolk Street, with a remarkably pretty exterior featuring four tall windows that rise above its name. Near the campus of Trinity College, it’s famous for a diverse set of patrons, including many writers.
At one of the pubs, maybe O’Neill’s, we entered a good-sized “snug,” a quiet area in the pub set apart from the usual pub revelry. On the snug’s walls were framed photographs of the four Irish writers who’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Do you remember who those four prizewinners were?) The photos were helpful reminders of Ireland’s literary history as we continued our crawl, listening to excerpts from a variety of Irish poets and playwrights.
At one stop, Colm and Derek read a hilarious passage from Oscar Wilde’s reminiscence of his lecture tour in America, in particular his encounter with the miners of Leadville, Colorado. Here’s a bit of it: “I read them passages from…that great Florentine genius…Cellini, and he proved so popular that they asked…’why the hell I hadn’t brought him with me’. I explained that [he] had been dead for some years, which elicited the immediate demand: ’who shot him?’”
We moved on to The Old Stand, located at the corner of Exchequer Street and St. Andrew Street. Its most famous patron was Michael Collins, whose efforts led to the creation of the Irish Free State. He reportedly visited this pub to gather information about members of the British Secret Service.
The crawl ended in front of Davy Byrne’s, a pub back on Duke Street, near where the crawl began. The actors pointed out a significant literary reference–a scene in James Joyce’s Ulysses is set there–and read an excerpt from it. The pub is just one site that honors Joyce’s book during the Bloomsday celebration held in Dublin every year. We learned that both Dubliners and literary tourists don “boaters” and read from the novel at Davy Byrne’s each Bloomsday.
As we stood in front of Davy Byrne’s (where the name reminded me of the beleaguered first—and so far only—woman mayor of Chicago, Jane Byrne), Colm and Derek asked our group a batch of questions based on things we’d heard and seen during the crawl. One key question: the names of the four Irish Nobel Prize winners.
When my daughter Leslie got all of them right, and also answered more of the other literary questions than anyone else in our group, she was awarded with a t-shirt! The dark green shirt, emblazoned with “Dublin Literary Pub Crawl,” along with an image of stained glass at The Duke pub, will forever be a tangible reminder of our delightful evening crawling through Irish literature in Dublin’s pubs.
PS The Nobel laureates (in case you don’t remember): George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett, and poet Seamus Heaney. Heaney, probably the least known of the four, is the most recent winner (in 1985). For a long while he was a poet-in-residence at Harvard, and during her college years there, my daughter Meredith was fortunate to hear him recite his stunning poetry—from memory—several times. She also helped entice him to give a memorable speech to students, like her, who wrote for its literary journal, The Advocate.