An Irishman's Diary
We received a rather intriguing letter this week from one Dr Paul Stokes, enlisting the paper’s help in a project on social exclusion. I doubt, for reasons that will become obvious, if the Diary readership has much expertise in the particular matter. But it seems a good cause anyway, so here goes.
A sociologist in UCD, Dr Stokes wants to talk to people who have been barred from pubs. More pertinently, he would like to hear from those who believe they were barred unfairly. He wants to know where, why, and – if the sentence was specified – for how long they were excluded. Using which information, he hopes to design a mediation process through which estranged publicans and customers can be reconciled.
Essentially, as I see it, the idea is for a sort-of Bar Council. Indeed, I can think of one of two members of the existing Bar Council whose cases might be considered. Other potential complainants include Queen Elizabeth II, who as you may recall was barred from a pub in Fairview, Dublin, last year, although not for anything she did on the premises.
Joking aside, however, there is very serious intent behind Dr Stokes’s project. In many parts of Ireland, he points out, a pub may still be the centre of a community. Being debarred from such a place can be at best embarrassing and, at worst, very traumatic.
Often it happens on foot of a single incident and at the whim of a barman, who “is not sufficiently sensitive or knowledgeable” of the underlying circumstances that caused a customer to do whatever the customer did. The banishment is usually indefinite, with no right of appeal. And, as with other situations, the results can be most harsh at Christmas.
I’m not sure how common barrings are these days. My suspicion, somehow, is that the era when barmen could afford to exclude customers blithely has passed. Certainly it’s hard to imagine a modern-day repeat of a situation that arose, circa 1965, between the Dubliners’ Ronnie Drew and Patrick Kavanagh.
The two had had a falling out, and agreed to fall in again at a pub suggested by the singer. Unfortunately, that pub had barred Kavanagh, who therefore proposed another establishment. Which, it turned out, had barred Drew. And so it continued until, at about the fifth attempt, they thought of a venue that had no objection to either.
Kavanagh wasn’t called “the Barred of Inniskeen” for nothing (actually, he wasn’t called that at all – I just made it up). But he wouldn’t be the only writer whose portrait now adorns pubs like a wanted poster and who, in the same places, wasn’t always wanted in the past.
Anyway, if you consider yourself the victim of an unfair pub ban, Dr Paul Stokes, is waiting to hear from you. You can contact him via the School of Sociology, UCD, Dublin, or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
It so happens that, while checking a detail for this column, I chanced upon the website of that well-known Dublin literary bar, Grogan’s. Where, under the heading of “history”, I read this: “It was in 1972 that Grogan’s became a favoured meeting place for cutting-edge Irish writers of the time. Renowned barman Paddy O’Brian, formerly of McDaid’s pub, began working in Grogan’s, bringing with him regular customers of McDaid’s including the likes of poet Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien, JP Donleavy, Liam O’Flaherty. Thus cementing Grogan’s popularity amongst the city’s artistic avant-garde.”
Hmmm. I don’t know much about Dublin in 1972. But I can say with confidence that, by that time, Flann O’Brien and Kavanagh were both barred from Grogan’s – and indeed from every other pub in Dublin – on the grounds of being dead. Perhaps they were there in spirit. As for their corporeal presences, those had had been banished from this mortal coil in 1966 and 1967, respectively, and told not to come back.
Even so, I’m grateful to Grogan’s for reminding us of that now-neglected writer, Liam O’Flaherty. Who, almost alone of his generation, still doesn’t have a summer school, or even a literary weekend, dedicated to him. Neither does JP Donleavy, of course, but he has the impeccable excuse of still being alive.
Happily, this very evening in Galway, an informal gathering of O’Flaherty enthusiasts will discuss ways of reviving interest. They may also discuss his brother Tomás, a noted writer and political activist himself. Either way, the event takes place in Galway’s City Library, between 6pm and 8pm. And if you can’t attend, but want to contribute, you can do so by e-mail to Jenny Farrell, via email@example.com