GOING TO THE BARS IN ENGLAND AND IRELAND
It was rumored that James Joyce proposed a good puzzle would be to walk across Dublin without visiting a single bar. You’d be hard-pressed to find a town in Ireland or England that doesn’t have at least one tavern.
Not too long ago, my wife Jackie and I traveled to those nations in search of local watering holes. At first, we set out to prove to ourselves that we could locate the eldest of the bunch. Soon enough, we learned that many bars boasted of being the earliest in the area. Most pubs were quite old by our norms in North America.
Inns that were considered “recent” were actually founded in the 1800s. Most bars date back to the 1700s, but the “ancient” ones boast fireplaces, walls, and courtyards from as far back as the 1500s.
So, we adjusted our initial criteria and sought out watering holes that had interesting backstories. The western Irish city of Galway was where we started our quest. Our path led us to a series of alleyways that were essentially watering holes.
The history of the initial owners, Mary and Delia Lydon, captivated us. Fishermen in Galway Bay were rumored to have confused Delia’s drying bloomers for sails due to her enormous size.
We then continued our search for the famous Bunratty Castle, a Norman stronghold in County Clare, Ireland. There are four buildings, underground passageways, and winding stairways inside.
We discovered the world-famous “Durty Nelly’s” in Bunratty Village, right next to the medieval castle. (It is located on the main Galway-Limerick route in Bunratty Village, Ireland.)
Shannon River’s estuary is where you’ll find Bunratty Castle. There was a wooden toll bridge across the river back in the day, but today there’s a contemporary bridge. In this case, Nelly was the one in charge of collecting the toll. After being robbed one night, her restless slumber inspired the Irish version of white lightning, poitn (put-CHEEN). (illegally distilled whiskey). Travelers loved the drink, so Nelly decided to establish a bar.
The present ramshackle cottage, which dates back to the 17th century, has several rooms and is still in use by visitors. It is widely believed that Durty Nelly’s is Ireland’s oldest bar. A statement we were unable to confirm. In this article, we learned that all castles included pubs for the troops to relax in during breaks.
As well as this, nearly every waterway crossing had a bar. Pubs then, as they do now, served as community hubs. One could rest, shop, dine, store, socialize, be entertained, and gossip in these establishments.
WHAT ARE PUBS IN ENGLAND AND IRELAND LIKE?
There’s a cozy familiarity to pubs in Ireland and England. When a traveler enters a low-beamed, smoke-darkened room that smells like peat or wood fires from ages past and features walls covered in ancient graffiti, he or she immediately feels at home. The walls of “Durty Nelly’s” are lined with mementos of local history.
Images of heroes, such as the Irish firefighters who lost their lives protecting New York City on September 11, 2001, are preserved for future generations. However, the location, name, and personality of each bar are unique.
Names like “The Tippling Philosopher,” “The Pickled Pilot,” “The Rat and Parrot,” and “The Brain’s Surgery” are surprisingly prevalent. There are pubs in converted mills, historic homes, sheds, stables, former prisons, and even designated suicide locations. Anywhere people were living, there was a bar nearby to celebrat
THE BRAZEN HEAD
As we arrived in Dublin, the capital of the Republic of Ireland, we discovered that there was consensus on the earliest city pub. The “Brazen Head” has been at its current site on 20 Lower Bridge Street in Dublin, Ireland, since at least 1688. The earliest written mention of this location is in the year 1102.
Its proximity to Dublin Castle and the site of the 12th-century Norman invasion led by William the Conqueror gave us reason to believe the assertion.
The pub was a meeting place for the leaders of the Irish uprising of 1798, so it has seen its fair share of historical events. The late Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Winston Churchill, was a supporter.
Our nearly imperceptible presence in the shadows allowed us to conjure up all sorts of details about the private conversations. Locals still gather there after work to play billiards, darts, and catch up with each other over pints of ale or cider.
Many of the pictures and banners on the walls are soot-stained and depict historical events. Tables are set up in the front patio in the summer, and kegs of beer are stored in the adjacent shed. A trip here is well worth it just to check out Dublin’s oldest bar.
Taverns also figure into children’s tales:
As a tavern, Talbot House (Selwood Street, Mells, Bath) is supposedly where “Little Jack Horner” enjoyed a meal. Thomas Horner (Jack in the nursery rhyme) is said to have stolen the deed to the Talbot estate (where Talbot House is situated) from a pie.
Between 1536 and 1540, when he was installed as leader of the Church of England, Henry VIII ordered the confiscation of Roman Catholic property in England. During the dissolution of the monasteries, the legend goes, the Abbot of Glastonbury sent his steward Thomas Horner to the King with the deeds to eleven estates concealed in a pie.
These manor deeds were given as a peace gift to keep the Abbey from being destroyed. Thomas was supposed to bring the pie, but instead he ended up taking the rights to the Manor of Mells and becoming the Lord. Of course, Horner’s living relatives who still call the Manor House home have a different take on the legend.
There is a tavern in a large barn where we were welcomed by local farmers for a pint and some good conversation. Farmers, herders, weavers, shepherds, and dancers are all portrayed smilingly serving the manor on the estate in a large mural that hangs behind the bar. Displaying clearly the Lord’s opinion of the aristocratic lifestyle.
Located in historic and historical Wells, England, the City Arms can be found at 69 High Street, Wells, England. About 10,000 people didn’t have to evacuate from Little Wells. There are still the same high walls, moats, the oldest medieval street in England, the drawbridge, and the enormous church that were there hundreds of years ago. In the “City Arms” you may come upon the mayor, many students and a few visitors.
Although the ancient bar still has some relics of its former life as a jail (such as manacles, leg irons, and handcuffs hanging from the ceiling), these are relatively few in number.
The George in Norton St. Philip (High Street, Norton St. Philip, England; a small hamlet located six miles (9.6 km) southeast of Bath, is the most well-known contender for the title of England’s oldest pub. The George seems ancient.
The structure dates back to the 15th century and features low doors, a high arched gateway for coaches, multiple chambers, comfortable seating, fireplaces, and a board for a bar. There is a myth that James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685), and his soldiers stayed at this inn during the rebellion of 1685.
Anyone over five feet six inches (1.67 m) in height will have to stoop down in order to access the room that once housed the Duke, an illegitimate son of Charles II and pretender to the English throne.
While the pub’s exterior is spoiled by the presence of a contemporary road, the interior transports you back to a time when it was a medieval inn.
Antiquing enthusiasts would covet the furnishings, but we were free to use it. The only sign of the modern era is a tourist snapping a picture.
CROSS GUNS AVONCLIFF
When it comes to bars, there are some that truly have it all. The Cross Guns Avoncliff, on the banks of the Avon River outside of Bradford-on-Avon, is one such watering hole. One of the 19th century’s engineering wonders is visible from the 16th century pub.
From a park-like vantage point, it is possible to see canal vessels traveling across an elevated viaduct over the River Avon. A railroad bridge spans the river, and the viaduct follows it.
Imagine the following: It’s possible to witness a railway crossing over a ship on the river while a narrow canal boat speeds past it. While relaxing at picnic tables in a yard filled with flowers.
In and of itself, the bar is remarkable. The living area is dominated by the enormous fireplace. There’s a “priest hole” next to the fireplace where Catholic clerics hid from the reformation.
One of the prior owners also ran a mill, and he paid some of his employees in tokens that could only be used to buy beer.
After 120 years in circulation, the final ticket was finally put to use. In comparison to ale tokens, the worth of many global currencies has declined in recent years. The bartender recommended Mill Worker’s brew, and it was a great choice.
We drank the local brews in a wide variety of watering holes, some of which crossed waterways and boasted massive, still-turning water wheels in the bar, while others claimed to be haunted. The bartender always had time to share interesting tales about the area’s past whenever the tavern was not too busy. In a busy bar, a neighborhood customer would definitely ask about us and spread the word.
It’s simple to travel England and Ireland on a budget and have a good time by visiting local pubs. Select an area, consult the web, or acquire a copy of a local pub guide. Instead, you should inquire at the hotel or train station, or even just question a random person. Every bar has a story, and everyone has a preference.