An Irishman’s Diary about James Joyce, the temperance movement, and Mulligan’s pub

Counter revolution

 Mulligan’s Pub, Poolbeg Street, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Mulligan’s Pub, Poolbeg Street, Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley


Dublin’s Poolbeg Street is these days best known for a pub – the famous Mulligan’s, a subject to which we’ll return. But perhaps ironically, it was also once the home of a temperance society, aimed at sailors.

I learned this detail from a project called “Hidden Gems and Forgotten People”, a cross-border history website to whose launch I’ve been invited; although, funnily enough, I’m almost certain that I myself helped launch the same website three years ago.

Never mind – as sailors and PR people know, you can never have too many launches, especially if the President will do one, as is happening next Thursday in the National Library. The project will be well and truly launched this time. I wish all who sail in her well.

Among the features of the website (, by the way, is a map of Ireland, inviting you to click on any county to see what historic secrets lurk there.

Naturally I clicked on my native Monaghan, which is where I found the story of Ann Jane Carlile, a woman of Huguenot stock who was born near Monaghan town in 1775 but, after marrying a Presbyterian clergyman, emigrated to Cavan – a notoriously dangerous passage even today – where she lived for a time in Balieborough.

She was indeed, until recently, a forgotten person in those parts. But earlier this year, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys, unveiled an Ulster History Circle plaque in her honour.

Carlile may be better remembered in the city of Leeds, for her part there in founding the Band of Hope, a temperance organisation now known as Hope UK. And one of the other interesting things about her is that for a time, despite her campaigning, she continued to drink alcohol – albeit only wine.

This wasn’t as hypocritical as it sounds, because it was to spirits, then the drink of the poor, that she attributed many of 19th-century society’s evils, including most crime.

In any case, it was Dublin that converted her to teetotalism.

Gently rebuked in the city by a female ex-prisoner that “you can afford to drink your wine and we cannot”, she took the pledge.

And it was from this high moral ground that she invited the wretches of Poolbeg Street to her “Mariners Total Abstinence Society”.

Which brings me back to Mulligan’s, a pub synonymous for decades with the good ship Irish Press Newspapers Ltd and its famously jolly crew.

Alas I well remember the sad night, 20 years ago, when that company went down in stormy waters. I had grown up reading its papers, and it was some consolation to me that I was by then a deckhand on The Irish Times, one of the lifeboats that picked up survivors.

Visiting Mulligan’s for the first time in ages recently, I was pleased to see that the pub now has a shrine to its one-time Press regulars, in particular Con Houlihan, whose portrait adorns a wall and who also signed a framed last edition of the Evening Press.

But I noticed too that the pub trades heavily on links with James Joyce. It has a montage to Ulysses, while its website includes the following, wilfully vague comment: “How much of the classic he wrote at the counter while sipping his Guinness is controversial, but he certainly made relevant notes there . . .”

Now I know it’s standard drinks industry practice to imply that Irish writers spent their entire waking lives in public houses. Even so, this seemed to be pushing it.

To the best of my knowledge, Joyce left Ireland in 1912, never to return, and wrote Ulysses in exile between 1914 and 1921. Perhaps he had his porter-stained notes from Mulligans with him in Trieste and Zurich.

If so, you’d think he might have name-dropped the pub in his masterpiece, as he did half the businesses in the 1904 Thom’s Directory. But almost scandalously, Mulligans goes unmentioned.

Where Joyce does feature the pub is in his Dubliners story Counterparts. And this is a dubious compliment. Counterparts is about a ne’er-do-well who has a row with his boss and has probably earned the sack, but in the meantime pawns his watch for a drinking binge, in a series of premises including the aforementioned, and after that goes home and beats one of his children with a stick.

Oh dear. In terms of propaganda, that might have been more useful to Ann Jane Carlile and her Poolbeg Street temperance society.

As for Mulligan’s, if I were it, I’d be keeping quite about Joyce making notes on the premises.