Palace of inspiration: Sculptures of writers unveiled

 

A SET of commemorative plaques on the footpath outside a bar is a fitting honour for four of Ireland’s greatest writers in a profession known for its fondness of a drink.

Flann O’Brien (Myles na gCopaleen), Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and sports journalist Con Houlihan have all been well-known patrons of the Palace Bar on Fleet Street in Dublin, outside which Minister for Arts Jimmy Deenihan yesterday unveiled bronze sculptures of the writers.

Kavanagh once described the bar as “a temple of art” and it still attracts the likes of Seamus Heaney, while other famous writers such as Samuel Beckett were known to be past regulars.

Owner of the pub Willie Ahern credits the Palace’s unique place at the heart of Irish literary history with its close proximity to The Irish Timesbuildings, past and present.

The four writers honoured yesterday, like many giants of Irish literature, frequented the premises where one of the most famous Irish Timeseditors, Bertie Smyllie, held informal meetings almost daily during his reign from 1934-1954.

“He basically used to hold court in the back room and the aspiring writers, journalists, poets, they all used to congregate around him and if you got a nod off him, you nearly had made it,” said Mr Ahern with a laugh. “Back in those days there was no mobile phones. A lot of the journalists did their work from the pub where there was a phone box.”

It was not just journalists who were active in the Palace Bar, however. During a time of strict censorship, ideas flowed freely between the great minds that gathered inside.

Mr Ahern, standing in the back room of the bar, whose walls carry pictures of Irish writers, said former attorney general John Rogers had told him “what happened in this room here in the 1940s and 1950s shaped Irish music, Irish poetry, Irish writing”.

“They were all geniuses, at the time they were probably thought of as a bit eccentric – Flann O’Brien, he’d come in here and he’d ask for a small and he would pull out his own measure out of his pocket and he’d put it in and see that you were giving him the right amount.” Also present were former world champion athlete and Senator Eamonn Coghlan, Dublin city manager John Tierney, and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.