Dublin Part 3: pints make prizes

Dublin Phibsborough House sm

The final chapter in my recent (August and September…recent enough) virtual tour of Dublin, a series of drawings made on long and painstaking virtual walks around the city via Google Street View, reliant on the often unusual angles and above-head-height horizon lines, hoping traffic does not impede the view of something good. Thankfully I found some good views of several pubs, and in Dublin you are never very far from a good pub. I wish I could have gone inside, had a beer, sketched the interior, but I just had to imagine instead. This pub above is in Phibsborough, Clarke’s, aka the Phibsborough House. My next door neighbour Gregory here in Davis used to live opposite this pub, he said his cousin still frequents there. The large ‘BOHS’ sign above is a reference to the local football team (soccer that is, not Gaelic football, which is huge in Ireland) in Phibsborough, Bohemians. I have a Bohs shirt myself (courtesy of my neighbour, cheers) and the club’s supporters have a reputation for being very anti-fascist, pro-left issues, one of their recent kits had “Refugees Welcome” across the sponsor area. My kind of club. I did stay at a B&B in Phibsborough near the stadium on a visit back in the 90s. I liked this area a lot (I think one of my cousins lived there when I visited as a kid too) and would walk into downtown Dublin from Phibsborough every day. We never went to this pub, but my friend Simon who moved to Dublin in the summer has been here, and hopefully when all is Back To Normal and I can travel again, I’ll go there with him (and maybe say hi to Gregory’s cousin).

Dublin Bleeding Horse sm

Walking on, this is south of the Liffey, down on Camden Street Upper. It’s called the Bleeding Horse and goes back to the 17th century. I don’t know how the pub got its name but it might be from an incident in the Battle of Rathmines in 1649, when apparently a horse that was wounded fled the battle. and YES, he WENT INTO THE PUB, and OH YES, the barman, the first ever barman to utter these immortal words, said to the horse, “WHY THE LONG FACE?” Oh yes he did. Although in this case he probably said “Why the long bleedin’ face?” Anyway this pub is just around the corner from the crosswalk outside the chicken farm, and the polygonal shaped parrot cemetery. The pub was mentioned in Ulysses, although I don’t remember that as I haven’t watched that cartoon since the 1980s, but I still remember the theme tune. The Bleeding Horse is a great pub name, but really is best said in a London accent, “the bleedin’awse”. Another one on my list of places to go on this future Dublin trip. I imagine this trip being one where I hope it rains a lot so I can spend more time inside the pubs drawing. It won traditional pub of the year in 2017 and 2018. 

Dublin John Kehoes sm

Next up, this one is on Anne Street in central Dublin not far from St. Stephen’s Green, called John Kehoe’s, which is described on its website as “an award winning traditional Irish pub in the heart of Dublin’s south city centre”. Sure it looks like a place I would spend an afternoon with my sketchbook and a couple of pints. I must confess though, I don’t like Guinness. Never been my thing. I’ll have a pint, but I’ll take a Smithwicks after that. Being where it is, I expect this place gets a lot more tourists looking for the authentic heritage pub than the others in this post, but as a Londoner who never minded tourists I don’t mind that at all, people on their travels and stopping for a pint or two are always up for a friendly chat. I’m usually a tourist myself. So this is another one added to the list, though I’d need to make sure I get there when I can find a good spot to draw the bar area. However I know for a fact that I would constantly be making jokes about the classic TV show “Through the Keyhole” because the name sounds a bit like keyhole. If here with my now-Dublin-inhabiting friend Simon, we would undoubtedly be going from Loyd Grossman’s distinctive New England twang “WHO LIVES in a HOUSE like THIS? DAVID it’s OVER to YOU” followed by David Frost, “Lets see…whose house…this is.” And of course it would turn out to be Michael Caine’s house, of course, so we’d have to do a Michael Caine voice, “Oi, get OUT of my HOUSE”, and I’ve only had one pint at this point. If you are thinking, no you wouldn’t, you’d think all of this but not say it, you are wrong. My now-Dublin-inhabiting friend Simon and I spent an entire evening in McSorley’s in New York City one sub-freezing February night doing a variety of voices, and when I say ‘variety’ I mean 95% Michael Caine, saying a variety of Star Wars quotes, and when I say ‘variety’ I mean almost every line in all of the movies. Even Jar-Jar. The poor couples sat next to us trying to enjoy a Valentine’s Day drink. But just imagine Michael Caine saying Han Solo’s line “Don’t get cocky!” I want to do a remake of Star Wars where all of the voices are replaced with Michael Caine saying the lines. “Mesa day … starten … pretty okey day … with A BRISKY MORNIN MUNCHIN!” Ok I can see you’re not impressed, let’s move to another pub.

Dublin Gravediggers pub sm

Slightly quieter spot now, north of the river, we might keep the Michael Caine impressions to a minimum at this one. John Kavanagh’s, next to Glasnevin Cemetery, is called the “Gravediggers’ Pub”. Right, so this one has a bit of history, and is even mentioned in Atlas Obscura, that book that talks about loads of interesting and obscure places in the world. The cemetery was apparently the first one to be opened up to Irish citizens of all faiths, Protestant and Catholic, in 1833. Anyway, Kavanagh’s is called the gravediggers’ pub because, well this is where they came after digging the graves. The story is that there used to be a hole in the wall that the barman would pass drinks through to the graveyard shift workers on the other side. A ‘stiff drink’ indeed. Here’s one: a gravedigger walked into a pub, asked the barman for a Guinness and a hot Lemsip. “Why d’you want the Lemsip?” the barman asked predictably. “For me coffin,” replied the gravedigger, also predictably. Thing is, the gravedigger has been a staple of comic humour for centuries, just think of the gravediggers scene in Hamlet, the funniest part of the very long play. Especially in the Kenneth Branagh version where Yorrick’s skull is very obviously Ken Dodd, even before it’s revealed to be he. And that always reminds me of the tongue twister, “Ken Dodd’s Dad’s Dog’s Dead”. Try saying that after a few pints at the Gravediggers’.   

Dublin Rathmines sm

And finally, not a pub this time but the view from the middle of Rathmines Road, south of the centre of Dublin. This is the end of the book. There is a pub on the left called the Bowery, which seems to be built in the style of an old galleon, so very much somewhere I’d like to go. Except that I think it may have since closed, maybe eve pre-pandemic. Even before this past year, so many good pubs were closing down, and I really hope that they all can somehow survive this pandemic mess. I miss sketching in pubs, I miss the very idea of pubs, places of life, social history, and Michael Caine impressions. That clock tower kept making me think of the old song “Quare Things in Dublin” by the Wolfe Tones, there’s a clocktower in that song, and a pub of course. Rathmines I guess is an area of Dublin I’ve never been to but a lot of my great-grandparents and beyond lived around this neck of the woods, Harold’s Cross, Ranelagh, Portobello over the canal. Plenty of Higginses. The Scullys were from more north of the Liffey. These days I know what Dublin family I have is all over the place, I only met a few of them in my life when I was a kid, as well as many of the Higgins lot who’d gone down to Wicklow a long time before (I remember walking into my great-uncle Bernard’s house and it was like the hall of mirrors, so many red-headed Higgins who looked like me – this is where they were all hiding! None of my siblings or parents have red hair). It’s not like I’d be going on a family discovery tour if I went back to Dublin though, we’re not really like that; I remember when my nan died, end of 1988, when I was a kid in Burnt Oak, London, and her brother came to the funeral. I never knew about this brother before so that was a surprise great-uncle, I assumed he had come over from Dublin. No, he also lived in Burnt Oak, in the street next to my old school, but this was the first I’d ever heard of him. So I just assume that I’m probably related to loads of people I’ve never heard of, they just don’t necessarily all talk about each other. In fact I never even knew the names of my great grandparents until recently when my sister did some digging. Lots of people with the same names going back generations, it turns out, and mostly Dublin for at least a couple of centuries. Lots and lots of people called James Higgins, one (great-great grandfather) with an exceptional General Melchett moustache. One other thing we did discover, my grandfather William Scully, who died before I was born but who gave me my middle name William, well I found out his middle name was Edward, which completely coincidentally is my son’s middle name (which in this case was named after my older brother’s middle name, and he isn’t a Scully). I think my great-grandfather may have been Edward William Scully too. We like to re-use names.

So that was a brief jaunt around Dublin, in no order, on paper I probably would not choose to draw on again. I sent the finished book to my now-Dublin-inhabiting friend Simon (he actually got me the blank book in Dublin in the first place) and I hope he can explore all the historic story-filled pubs, once this bleedin’ pandemic is done with. My next virtual tour I have started already, a long tour of France, starting at Calais and finishing up in Paris, while circling around the country, 64 stops, much more detail. It’ll take a while, but I’m not going anywhere. 

Dublin Part 2: literally littered with literature

Dublin Beckett Bridge sm

Time to return to the second Shelter-In-Place sketchbook project I did, which was a short trip around Dublin in no particular direction. I drew this all in a book my friend Simon got me in Dublin, and since he ended up actually moving there this past summer I drew this in his honour, and then I mailed it over as a Christmas present recently; I hope he likes it. It’s been a while since I was last in Dublin, and it’ll be a while until I am back, but all of my grandparents (except the Belfast one) came from Dublin, and their parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on for as long as ancestry.com can keep finding us. Lot of Scullys, Higginses, O’Donnells and other names too numerous to list. So Dublin kind of feels like home, in that special way which is completely and utterly imaginary; there are places where my dad lived in England that don’t particularly feel like home to me but places where grandparents who died before I was born, to be sure to be sure ’tis no place like wherever part of town they were from. Still I really enjoyed exploring the city virtually, and felt connections more from memories of previous visits over the course of my life than anything else. So, on which the journey! The bridge above was there when I last went, but not before. It’s the Samuel Beckett Bridge, named after surprisingly not the time-travelling Quantum Leaper but the bearded man who wrote that play with Magneto and Charles Xavier in it, En Attendant Gal Gadot. Spanning the Liffey at a wider point than many of the ones upstream, and is supposed to look like a harp on its side. It was designed by Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the Liège Guillemins station in Belgium, which I visited in 2019 (nothing I love more then a Belgian train station, but this one is pretty spectacular to look at and my friend Gerard Michel drew it in his own spectacular fashion). I liked this particular view because the sign (commonly seen around Dublin) says in Irish and English “Críoch /End”, which reminded me of Crouch End, an area where I used to live in London for a while.

Dublin Lilliput Press sm

This is the Lilliput Press, in Viking Place in the north side of Dublin. It’s an independent bookshop and publisher. My next door neighbour here in Davis told me he has been published by them (he’s from Dublin). I just liked the look of it at the end of this very Dublin road, the sort of thing I would seek out and draw. Although if I drew it in person the perspective would be slightly lower down and I might not be in the middle of the road. This is how you can tell it’s from Google Street View, they have those cameras that are higher up than human eye level. I like it when they are carried around in a backpack and you see the person’s reflection in a shop window, or when people sitting outside a pub all wave and call out, their faces erased by Google’s face-erasing tech. They have your face, it belongs to them now and you can’t have it back. Your haircut remains your own. The Lilliput Press (https://www.lilliputpress.ie/) looks interesting though (it is a Swift reference, I think it’s from his song “Lily put the kettle on”) and reminds me, I need to read more. I always forget to read books these days. We all do now don’t we, since we have those electronic face-stealing devices in our hands all the time. Yet every time I read a real actual book these days I am compelled to write, and write, and write. It probably shows then that I have not been reading enough, because I’ve not been writing. Until this week my last blog was in November, and I haven’t written my personal diary in many many months (a lot has happened in those months too, such as buying a house and the second half of the pandemic year, it’s like I’m going to need a long Star Wars opening crawl to get my diary back up to speed). Then again, I really haven’t many stories to tell, and I’m not going to tell the story of being at home during the pandemic lockdown because firstly, everyone has their own story and secondly nobody wants to hear it, or at least I don’t. Anyway back to the story about an imaginary trip around Dublin that I didn’t take this year. 

Dublin Trinity College sm

This is Trinity College Dublin. We did come here on my last visit, and it was an oasis of calm away from the very busy streets of central Dublin. Trinity College is a big important university in Dublin where very clever people work. I also work at a university with very clever people but they are pretty clever at Trinity. For example in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, UC Davis ranks but #64 while Trinity ranks, let me have a look at the top 100 list again, ok I’ll look again later, it must be so high up I can’t find it. Wait, #155? Are you sure? That’s lower than Southampton, no disrespect to Southampton. The Sorbonne is listed at #87, tied with USTC in China (where a lot of our best Stats students in our program come from); Oxford is #1, followed by Harvard and Stanford. I’ve never been too invested in those particular rankings lists, except when I am using them to show prospective students how great we are (for example UC Davis is the #1 vet med school on Earth, and back in 2011 we were ranked as the “10th happiest college campus in America”, which meant that there were nine happier campuses, which made me feel a tiny bit sadder). Trinity is a pretty renowned research university though with a long history (and is ranked #1 in Ireland, of course). It dates back to 1592, Queen Elizabeth I opened it. It’s also where you can find the famous Book of Kells. I think I saw that on my trip here in ’97, I know that we went to the actual town of Kells, and I also read a book, so maybe my memory is playing up. The college grounds are pretty grand, but crammed right into the city centre there. I got away with drawing too much on this page by drawing one taller building, and then drawing all the other buildings smaller. However the paper being so thin, you can see the other drawings through the page. Famous alumni of Trinity include Bram Stoker, who wrote Count Dracula; Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Gal Godot; Oscar Wilde, who wrote/drew The Picture of Dory and Gray; Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and Lily Put the Kettle On; and other people who maybe didn’t write stuff like that but were still very clever.

Dublin Gate Theatre sm

Dublin is a place full of writers though, just buckets of them, literally waste-paper-baskets full. Literary-bins. That’s why there are so many literary tours, they need people to write the guide leaflets for them all. Playwrights too, they love to wright plays, Dublin has a long tradition of the stage. The most famous theatre is the Abbey Theatre, which is the National Theatre of Ireland, but this is The Gate, which is a good theatre too. I mean it’s not the Abbey but it’s still totally fine. I admit, I don’t really know that much about Irish theatre. I have a degree in drama but I didn’t really study the history of Irish plays. Obviously I have heard of a lot of Irish dramatists, your Oscar Wildes, your Samuel Becketts (not the Quantum Leap one, the other one), your Roddy Doyles (lots of swearing, lots of “Feck This” and “Feck That”, and the other one, you know the one I mean, worse than “Feck”), your George Bernard Shaws (don’t call him George to his face, he hates it, and pronounce it BERNard nor BerNARD, and when he corrects you on his name don’t reply “are you Shaw?” because he really hates that too), your Jack Charltons (um, not Irish and not a dramatist, I just wanted to mention him here because he will come up later). Incidentally as well as “Pygmalion”, George Call-Me-Bernard Shaw also wrote “Man and Superman”, which is a prequel to Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice, before Batman became Batman and was just a crime-fighting crusader called Man. The Gate Theatre though was where many famous Irish acting people started out, your Michael Gambons (Dumbledore #2, Fantastic Mr Fox), your Geraldine Fitzgeralds (Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Arthur 2: On The Rocks) and your Orson Wellses (I know, not Irish, but according to Wikipedia, in 1931 while on a walking and painting trip to Ireland Orson waltzed into the Gate, still a new theatre then, and announced he was a Broadway star and that they should give him a place on the stage at once. It worked, they put him in a play as a Duke and within a year he was acting in a Somerset Maughan play at the Abbey, and by 1941 he was making Citizen Kane, so that’s a lesson for you kids right there). Drawing this, which is right past the top end of O’Connell Street, I was drawn to the spots of yellow so added those colours in. 

Dublin O Connell Street sm

Speaking of O’Connell Street (Sráid Uí Chonaill in Irish), this is the entrance of the great boulevard right down by the Liffey. The statue is of Daniel O’Connell himself, one of the greatest of all Irish political leaders from back in the 19th century. It is not Daniel O’Donnell, who is someone else entirely. I must admit, brought up with a degree of Irishness as we were in my north-west London family in the late 80s, I didn’t know who Daniel O’Connell was. I knew who Wolfe Tone was but only because we listened to the Wolfe Tones a lot. Daniel O’Donnell on the other hand well, he was much beloved by my mother and all those ladies older than her. Daniel O’Donnell records played in our house as much as anyone, the boyish Irish crooner was very popular. I like the version of him they did on Father Ted, Eoin McLove. There was a lot of Irish music in our house in the mid 80s to early 90s. We did listen to that Wolfe Tones tape over and over, but I think our favourite was the great Brendan Shine. “Catch me if you can, me name is Dan, sure I’m your man.” I did see him at the Irish festival in Southport (was he performing with Philomena Begley? I forget) but mum went to see him down at the Galtymore in Cricklewood if I remember rightly. Pretty sure she saw Daniel O’Donnell there more than once too. They liked going down to the Galty, and the Town and Country, back in the 80s. My mum and dad were very outgoing and social, much more than I’ve been as a grown up. Music was big in our house growing up though, and especially Irish music. When I learned the guitar one of the first songbooks I had was a book of Irish classics. It was written more for the piano but I just needed the words and the chord names. I always the songs liked James Connolly, The Mountains of Mourne, and The Banks Of My Own Lovely Lee. Honestly though, I really couldn’t sing for peanuts, so it was when I first heard the Pogues that I didn’t feel quite so bad. Anyway, O’Connell Street, the first time I came here as a kid I remember there was an older lady who would walk up and down smiling to the sky, oblivious to everyone, walking up a few steps, back a few more, on and on all day. My big sister pointed her out because she remembered seeing her when she came to Dublin as a kid in the 70s, and I’ve subsequently heard from other Dubliners that she walked up and down that street for years. I remember there was another character on that street she pointed out, a man who also walked up and down, but I don’t remember much about him. I’ve always found that the streets themselves are the best stage, and have the most interesting characters. Maybe I’ve just been to a lot of bad plays.

Dublin Aviva Stadium sm

And finally, a different sort of stage. This is the Aviva Stadium, aka Lansdowne Road, which is the great Irish football stadium. Not just football of course, but other sports too. Rugby, er, music, loads of sports. Not gaelic football or hurling though, as far as I’m aware, they take place at Croke Park. Among other places. I don’t really follow other sports, I’ve watched rugby a few times but my sport is football/soccer, which someone told me in Ireland was about the sixth or seventh most popular sport after gaelic football, hurling, rugby, fishing, cycling, and I don’t know, snap or snakes and ladders. I just remember lots of people supported (a) Celtic and (b) either Liverpool or Manchester Untied. My main national team is the Republic, I won five Ireland shirts compared to one England shirt (the 2010 red umbro away kit, well it is a lovely kit, though I don’t wear it that often). One of my favourite Ireland shirts is the 1995 Umbro shirt, the ‘Father Dougal’ shirt, the one Dougal wears to bed. I still have that shirt and it still fits. I remember Lansdowne Road from the great Jack Charlton era, when they were great in the late 80s / early 90s, when we were listening to a lot of Brendan Shine and Wolfe Tones and Daniel O’Donnell (well, Mum was). Jack Charlton died this year, famous World Cup winner with England and brother of the much more talented Bobby, Leeds legend and danger to ankles everywhere Jack Charlton was the man who transformed the Irish national team into one that would go to play in World Cups, partly by looking up the grandparents of half the players in the English Football League. He was a legend. My favourite moments with his team were (a) beating England in the Euro 88 (I still have the t-shirt), (b) his angry rant on the sidelines during Ireland v Mexico at USA 94, and (c) when Ireland beat Romania on penalties at Italia 90 and my Mum ran down the road screaming with joy. Also a big fan of when we beat Italy too, I still have the t-shirt celebrating that. The old Lansdowne Road was demolished and they built this great big modern stadium in its place. You might notice actually, in this little square of low-roofed houses dwarfed by the big glass spaceship that has landed behind it, there are a couple of Dublin lads playing hurling on the green. I have watched hurling a couple of times on tv as a kid, the All-Ireland Hurling Final, and witnessed the real passions this sport brings about, notably a punch-up between two pensioners in a pub in Kilburn over the result of a Galway-Tipperary game. I walked across a field of people playing it once too, which was one of the scariest moments in my life, that hurley ball looks like it’s made of concrete and flies about at several hundred miles an hour. 

And that is it for part two, join me at some point for part three, the finale.

Dublin part 1: This Is Your Liffey

Dublin GPO sm
Earlier this year during the first months of the pandemic, Sheltering-In-Place, I decided that since there was no travel back to Britain this year I would do a virtual tour of the island, and that was a fun and enlightening journey. I wanted to do another virtual tour, maybe of France, but the thought of it overwhelmed me a bit (the planning, fitting all the places into a certain number of pages, and pretty much everywhere in France is sketchworthy) so I picked up a much thinner sketchbook a mate gave me last year from Dublin and decided to do a shorter virtual tour around Ireland. This quickly became limited to just Dublin (there are only fifteen spreads in the book) as the paper was very thin, too thin for watercolour, and I knew I’d need to add a bit more paint to the Irish countryside. Well, mostly green, and probably grey for the sky. But a trip around Dublin, well that sounded pretty grand. My mate who gave me the book was in the process of moving to Dublin while I drew this, so I was thinking of him at the time, but also of my own family history, most of whom came from Dublin, from my grandparents’ generation backwards (3 from Dublin, 1 from Belfast). I still have loads of family in Dublin, the vast majority I’ve never met or know anything about, except for my great aunt and a couple of my mum’s cousins I met when I was a kid. I only just recently learned about the family beyond my nan’s generation, when my sister dug a bit further, finding out some very interesting things about great-great-grandfathers with big General Melchett moustaches. Nothing too exciting, just regular Dubliners going back years. We just didn’t really know much though, people didn’t talk about the past. It was a fun bit of discovery, but Anyway, let’s start this Dublin journey off with that most important of Dublin buildings, above: the GPO, or General Post Office, on O’Connell Street. The first time I came to Dublin in 1988 this was one of the first places we came to (right before going to eat at Beshoffs, which I’ll never forget because I poured sugar all over my chips and got upset). I knew about the 1916 Easter Rising – hard not to, I was brought up on the rebel music – and this was the epicentre, the headquarters of the rebellion it was here that Pádraic Pearse read out the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. So, a good place to start, but we had a lot of city to cover, in no particular direction. So let’s set off around Baile Átha Cliath.

Dublin O'Neills sm We move down across the Liffey to the corner of Suffolk Street, Church Street and St.Andrew’s Street, to the huge O’Neill’s pub. I’ve never been here but I like the look of the building. This was the page that convinced me I wouldn’t be adding paint to any other pages (though I gave it a go one more time). You’ve got to draw pubs in Dublin. If I should come back I’d mostly be doing that. In fact I’d go when it is most likely to rain so I’d have an excuse to go to more pubs. I hear the rainy season is shorter than people say though, it’s only from August to July. (I got no problem recycling jokes from my London tour bus days, feel free to use that for whatever city, Manchester, Portland, Brussels). This one is near the Molly Mallone statue. Molly Mallone wheeled a wheelbarrow through streets of all different widths selling coppers with muscles from Hawaii Five-O. 

Dublin Four Courts sm Here is the river Liffey, with the Four Courts along the north bank. The river isn’t green, it just appears like that in with the trees reflected in it. It’s not been dyed like that one in Chicago does on St.Patrick’s Day (is it Chicago, I don’t know, or care). Also, it’s just green paint on thin paper. The Liffey (An Life in Irish) flows from the Wicklow Mountains, curves around a bit and ends up in Dublin Bay. Dublin is centred on the Liffey and has some lovely bridges, the most famous being the Ha’penny Bridge, the iron footbridge which I did not bother drawing because it’s difficult and I couldn’t be bothered. I’ll draw it in person maybe if I go there unless it’s raining in which case I shall be in the pub drawing people playing bodhrans. Last time we were in Dublin my wife twisted her ankle on it. The bridge you can see is called the O’Donovan Rossa Bridge which is from the 18th century. I remember a fountain/statue that used to be on O’Connell Street called the Anna Livia which represented the female embodiment of the River Liffey, my great-aunt told me they called it the Floozie in the Jacuzzi. It’s moved somewhere else now. 

Dublin Christchurch sm And this is Christ Church Cathedral. We stayed in an apart-hotel near here last time we were in Dublin, six years ago, and went to the Dublinia exhibit located in the big section to the left. That was a lot of fun, learning about Dublin’s Viking history in particular. There’s a lot of Viking in Irish history, my great-uncle Albert Scully used to tell me that the Scullys had Viking origins, but I don’t think he really knew, but it would explain why I read so much Hagar The Horrible when I was a kid I guess. I did love Hagar. Sorry, Hägar. And Helga, and Hamlet, and Lucky Eddie. They did that advert for Skol on TV where they’re all singing Skol-Skol-Skol-Skol but Lucky Eddie doesn’t know the words. That might be where the Scully name really comes from, people singing Skol-Skol-Skol. Skol is actually from the Danish for Cheers, skål, though in fact the beer originated in Scotland. This is really off topic now. By the way I am aware that ‘Scully’ bears zero relation to ‘Skol’ but it doesn’t stop Americans mispronouncing my name to sound like Skol, or mis-spelling my name with a k despite seeing my name spelled with a c literally all the time. It comes from “O Scolaidhe” meaning “scholar”, and like so many Irish names has one of those nice little shields you can get on keyrings in gift shops all over Ireland. My family names are pretty common Irish names: Scully, Higgins, O’Donnell, McIlwaine (that’s the branch from Belfast), plus there’s Barrys and Kennedys and Crokes and Byrnes and more in my siblings and cousins families, plus who knows what. I do remember going to Rock of Cashel (the ancient seat of the Kings of Ireland) when I was 12 and being stunned to find so many graves bearing the name of Scully, along with the big Scully Cross, which is more of a pillar these days, because the top of it was blasted off when struck by lightning in the year of my birth. Moral: don’t make a Scully cross?

Join me next time for part two of my virtual Dublin tour, when we visit another pub, a publisher, a campus, and I dunno, another pub.  

it’s been seventeen years since i set foot in dublin

Dublin Brazen Head sm
(Click on image to get a bigger view) And now a return to posting, with something very special. While I was back in the UK, my family and I took a little jaunt across the Irish Sea to Dublin, capital of the Republic of Ireland. In case you were unsure. This was a big deal for me; my whole family is of Irish origin, with many of them being either from Dublin o having lived there, and the Irish thing was a big part of growing up in my corner of north London, in my family and community. I grew up around all forms of Irish music from the Wolfe Tones to, er, Daniel O’Donnell. I own a lot of Ireland football shirts, and a few Celtic ones too. I like my lemonade red. However, I’ve not been back to Ireland in a really long time. Seventeen years in fact, so I have long been overdue a visit. I have been told how much the place had changed in the past couple of decades, with the influx of money and the housing boom (and the subsequent recession), and they even have motorways there now. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Dublin, and my mum, who came with us, hadn’t been to Dublin in even longer. We were then very pleased to see that, yes lots of things had modernized and there were way more people and traffic than years ago, but it was still very much Dublin, there’s no changing that! One evening, my mum and I got fish and chips from a local chip shop, where a group of kids, aged about nine or ten, just started chatting away to us all friendly like about this and that, as if they’d known us for years; that was the Dublin I remember! It was my wife’s first ever trip to Ireland, and my son’s as well, in fact the trip there was all his idea. We stayed near the Liffey not far from Christchurch, it was nice talking with my mum about various great-grandparents that lived not far from there; we of course do still have a lot of family in Dublin but haven’t seen them in decades, wouldn’t know them now. We did a lot of walking about, there were crowds, but it was just nice to be back in Ireland after all these years. My mum and I joked about the characters that used to go up and down O’Connell Street years ago, long gone now. On the first night though, everyone was exhausted, so by myself I walked a block around the corner to the Brazen Head pub to do my first pub sketch in Ireland – my one and only sketch in Dublin, as it happened. It was a lovely place, too.

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The Brazen Head proudly calls itself “Ireland’s Oldest Inn”, established in 1198. It has a pretty good claim too, and I’m basing that on at least one person saying so, so it must be true. The present building is from 1754 and the pub is referred to as far back as 1613 but it was built on the site of a tavern dating from 1198, apparently. It is said that Irish heroes Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell and Michael Collins drank here (not at the same time necessarily), as well as literary figures such as James Joyce and Brendan Behan. Ah, I know this type of factoid from my London tour-guide days, the old ‘Dickens used to drink there’ story; Dickens drank everywhere, there was barely a pub he didn’t sink a pint in. I believe a lot of people came here though, and it is still popular – it was filled with a good mix of tourists and locals. I sat and sketched one of the bars (there are several bar-rooms) from a little table opposite. Live music wafted in from the bar-room next-door to this, There was an enormous amount to draw – for some reason there were a large amount of souvenirs from U.S. police departments (I can’t think of the connection between American police departments and the Irish). I had an Irish cider, which, given that my stomach was feeling very unusual all day, turned out to be a pretty bad idea. I finished up my intensely detailed sketch without adding any paint and wandered home (an apartment a block away) along the Liffey, feeling pretty sick. And I wondered, warmly, how many of my forebears stumbled along this very river feeling this very way (presumably after more than a single pint). I wonder how many of them were sketchers?

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It feels weird that this ended up being my only sketch in Ireland, having waited all these years to come back, but it was a pretty busy family trip, we rushed here and there about Dublin and took the train down to the beach at Bray, and then flew back to London. I did go back to the Brazen Head the second night we were there with my wife to watch some of the live Irish music, a bunch of guys surrounded by tourists sat on bar-couches playing traditional music. Sure, the sort you get in Irish-themed pubs everywhere, but this was in your actual Ireland and that was good enough. This was a brief trip, but it was really nice to be back. And I even stocked up on my favourite chocolate bar, Cadbury’s Tiffin. Erin go Bragh!

lá fhéile pádraig sona daoibh

blarney castle

Well, it is Saint Patrick’s Day, so a drawing of an Irish landmark in green pen on green card seems appropriate. Of course St. Patrick’s colour was in fact blue (which might be easier on the eye than this particularly lime-verdant shade) but who are we to quibble. But speaking of quibbling, I wish people would stop using the four-leafed clover on St. Patrick’s Day, the symbol of Ireland is the Shamrock, which typically only has three leaves. But then again Celtic football club, whose shirt I’m wearing today, uses four leaves in its badge and you can’t argue with them. Ah, we’re Irish, we can argue with whoever.  

So this is Blarney Castle, in Co. Cork. I was there when I was twelve, when I kissed the Blarney Stone (at first I kissed the wrong one), and got a little certificate that said I was henceforth given the gift of the Blarney, that is to talk a lot of nonsense from time to time – they got that right. I kept that certificate for years. I love when you kiss the Blarney Stone, they hang you upside down by your ankles at the very top of the castle, so you can see the long drop below (where kids are gathered to collect the coins that inevitably fall from your pockets).  All of my family originates from Ireland, all over the place. I grew up with the Irish heritage, all the music, the Irish festivals in Southport and Willesden, the red hair and sun-shy freckly skin, and lots of cups of tea, but I don’t like Guinness. I’ve not been back over there in about thirteen years; different place now, so I hear. Ah well, it’s not going anywhere. I’ll be back one day.

My favourite chocolate bar by the way is Cadbury’s Tiffin, you can’t get it in England, but it’s common in Ireland. Tiffin and a cup of tea, my idea of heaven so it is. Just sayin’.