Harbour Bar changes hands but stays in the family

The Bray pub once called the “Best Bar in the World” by ‘Lonely Planet’ has been bought by an 84-year-old local

Joe Duggan, the new owner of the Harbour Bar in Bray, Co Wicklow, is handed the keys to the pub from the former owner, Paul O’Toole. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Joe Duggan, the new owner of the Harbour Bar in Bray, Co Wicklow, is handed the keys to the pub from the former owner, Paul O’Toole. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Fri, Aug 16, 2013, 08:13


An 84-year-old local man has bought the renowned Harbour Bar in Bray, Co Wicklow – once dubbed as the “Best Bar in the World” by the Lonely Planet Guide.

Joe Duggan, who along with his family owns and runs the Martello Hotel and the Ocean Bar and Restaurant on they Bray seafront, bought the rambling venue for an undisclosed sum, from in-laws Paul and Maureen O’Toole, whose family has owned and run the Harbour Bar since 1932.

Beloved of rock stars and filmmakers the bar is home to the large head of a moose, donated by the actor Peter O’Toole who drank there on occasion in the company of fellow actors Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman and filmmaker Neil Jordan.

Originally opened in 1871, the bar was immortalised in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

Bono, who lives nearby, has been known to drop in. Bray’s Ardmore studios also ensured a steady flow of the famous through the doors and the likes of Laurence Olivier, Katharine Hepburn (pictured) and Brendan Behan have all graced its dark interiors.

So too have actors Brendan Gleeson, Cillian Murphy, Beverly D’Angelo, and singers Sinéad O’Connor, Mary Coughlan, Shane MacGowan, The Dubliners, Christy Moore and Damian Dempsey.

Boxer Katie Taylor trains next door in the boxing gym which famously had no toilets and the Olympic gold medal winner has been known to drop in to use the facilities.

A sign on the pub door now reads: “Toilets for patrons only (and gold ,medal winning Olympians)”.

Sitting in the snug yesterday purchaser Joe Duggan and vendor Paul O’Toole (75) were every bit the image of the very old friends they are.

“We couldn’t ask for better buyers than the Duggans,” said Mr O’Toole, who added that the pub had been brought into his family by his father James, a Civil War and War of Independence veteran who was jailed by the British and then the Free State before moving to Bray.

James later became a TD for Wicklow. Paul himself had a career in the merchant navy and travelled the world before inheriting the bar with his brother Desmond, who died about four years ago.

Mr Duggan said: “We understand that we are not just buying a business but an institution. People can rest assured that we will be keeping what makes the Harbour special.”