Turning a corner – Frank McNally on the mysteries of one of Dublin’s more unusual civic honours
By the 1920s, the Phibsboro Junction was firmly established as Doyle’s Corner, and is still known as that. Image: Google Street View
Next to a statue or the freedom of the city, perhaps the most select honour you can earn in Dublin is to have a street corner named after you in perpetuity. It’s a very rare distinction, available mainly – it seems – to publicans, whose premises command an important junction for a substantial period. It’s also entirely in the public’s gift, not officialdom’s. And the vast majority of city corners are never so named. I can think of fewer than 10 that have been, including Doyle’s, Hanlon’s, Hart’s, Kelly’s, and Leonard’s. Some of those names have long outlived the original businesses, although that said, “perpetuity” may be overstating their lease, as the case of Doyle’s illustrates.
Anyone who was at the annual Bloomsday re-enactment in Glasnevin last Sunday will have been reminded that Doyle’s Corner, in nearby Phibsboro, used to be “Dunphy’s”. As such, it was mentioned in Ulysses for its prominent role in city funerals, including the fictional Paddy Dignam’s, as the last right-angle turn towards the cemetery.
Hence, as Leopold Bloom’s interior voice records: “Dunphy’s corner. Mourning coaches drawn up drowning their grief. A pause by the wayside. Tiptop position for a pub. Expect we’ll pull up here on the way back to drink his health. Pass around the consolation. Elixir of life.”
His reference to the famous motor race may have been a nod to the haste with which some corteges used to move in those years, under pressure from the cemetery’s restrictive opening hours. In a series of newspaper essays, The Streets of Dublin 1910-11, the then Alderman Thomas Kelly complained he had never seen in any other Irish city “the galloping which, more especially on Sunday’s, disgraces Dublin funerals”.
That same alderman – a future Sinn Féin TD – was the Kelly for whom Kelly’s Corner is named, an honour all the more unusual because he owned a shop rather than a pub. But for apparent immortality in those years, his corner would have had to bow to Dunphy’s, which enjoyed a whole different level of fame. As he also writes, “Rounding Dunphy’s Corner” had become a popular Dublin euphemism for life’s last journey.
Even in 1904, however, Dunphy’s pub had already made way for one called Doyle’s, and the corner name gradually followed. There must have been a period when it was known as both, because the news archives for 1906 have a story about a collapse of scaffolding at “Doyle’s Corner”, during rebuilding of the premises there. Among five people injured, incidentally, was “a man named Coleman, from Exchange Street”, who had also survived the sewer gas tragedy in a manhole on Burgh Quay the year previous (to which there remains today a monument). Talk about luck.
No doubt even the indestructible Coleman rounded Dunphy’s Corner eventually. In any case, by the 1920s, the Phibsboro Junction was firmly established as Doyle’s Corner, and is still known as that, its latter-day notoriety secured by regular mentions on AA Roadwatch. Nobody calls it Dunphy’s Corner anymore.
Mind you, the same location proves that mere changes of ownership do not in themselves confer naming privileges. For a time in the middle of the last century, I gather, there was also a Murphy’s pub on the site, the owner of which erected a sign proclaiming “Murphy’s Corner”. The public did not take the hint.
But getting back to Dunphys, plural, I noticed on Sunday an interesting mural on another Phibsboro pub, The Back Page. This sports-themed bar is not at a major junction, but it does have a prominent gable wall, on which it now displays the quotation, apparently once uttered by a well-known TV soccer pundit: “This fella Ronaldo is a cod”.
Maybe in time, the old name for Doyle’s Corner might migrate down the road to there. In the meantime, while trying to establish when it last featured in regular use for the Phibsboro junction, I was interested to find an apparent mention in this newspaper’s sports pages from 1977.
That was in a report on a League of Ireland game involving Shamrock Rovers, then embarked on a short-lived attempt to become a major force in European football under the management of John Giles. On this occasion, they had struggled to a draw in Athlone, with the help of another former Irish international. But knowing what I knew, there was an air of terrible finality about their 87th-minute equaliser, including as it did the phrases “Dunphy’s corner” and “headed home”.