Cheek by jowl with Glasnevin Cemetery, final resting place of the most famous figures in Irish history (among them, Messrs. O’ Connell, Collins and Parnell) John Kavanagh’s is more commonly known as ‘The Gravediggers’. Outside of the city, in the north Dublin suburb of Glasnevin, tourists can tag a trip on to the fancy award-winning museum in the cemetery to make the most of the trek (details at end of post).
The pub has been in the Kavanagh family for six generations…of course it has. And thankfully it hasn’t changed much since they took up shop in 1833. 1833, which makes it…(hands up who’s been paying attention!) Victorian. Very different from Ryan’s of Parkgate Street, (polished, bright and restored) and Kehoe’s, (a buzzing and bustling modern city pub), The Gravediggers is darker and grittier, and quite basic really. No bells, whistles or careful placement of antiques. Nothing to prove.
I’d never been there before, though I’d heard of it of course. But walking through the swinging doors, I was taken aback—whoever it was who told me about this place didn’t do a very good job! HOW had I never been here before?! This has to be a filmset! Old-wordly and a bit haunting—in an exciting, ghost stories-by-the-fire sort of the way. Folklore and Lady Gregory’s fairytales, the banshee and barstool politics. I can’t put my finger on it. But there’s definitely a touch of the Pat McCabes about the place.
I wasn’t too far off the mark with the filmset theory either. They shot a scene here for the 1970 well-meaning romantic comedy (read: harmless Paddywhackery) Quackser Fortune has a Cousin in the Bronx featuring Willy Wonka and Lois Lane, sorry Gene Wilder and Margot Kidder, and my grandad’s cousin and legend David Kelly (Waking Ned). Wilder does well to push Kidder all the way from St Patrick’s Cathedral in the city centre to The Gravediggers in a wheelbarrow. Cough cough. I’ll swallow the kidding a Kidder gag. (I hope he borrowed the messenger bike out the front for the way home). Here’s the link of the pub scene:
Kavanagh’s has also set the scene for a Smithwicks ad and more recently, the best looking boy in town, Gabriel Byrne, was here filming for Quirke, the BBC adaptaption of the John Banville ‘Benjamin Black’ novels.
It’s no coincidence that a family running a business within a stone’s throw of Glasnevin Cemetery would have an acute sense of Irish culture, and the good judgement to preserve it. Not a television or radio in the place, the characteristically Dublin penchant for storytelling and talking ráiméis the only humming backdrop noise.
There was a lounge built on to the pub in 1980, quite a practical move given how small the pub is, and without interfering with the DNA or the structure of the old bar. Younger punters are catered for with twice-weekly tapas evenings, with bookings out the door.
Missing lunch time, I didn’t eat here, but Ciarán Kavanagh, proprietor Eugene’s son, was pretty convincing when recommending the food. And having heard great things about it since, I’ll have to go back and right that wrong. They do have a promising, well-thought out menu that includes the traditional Dublin ‘coddle’ – harking back to a ‘Strumpet City’ Dublin of yore that I can’t pretend I’m familiar with, or brave enough to try!
It’s not often somewhere so close to home can surprise or lend a new perspective to your own back garden. Well worth the visit. And for the tourists, locals won’t thank me for sharing this secret with you. But they’d never tell you to your face. Don’t miss it.