Tag Archives: Victorian

Kavanagh’s/’The Gravediggers’, Dublin 9

Glasnevin Cemetery is next door to The Gravediggers by Lucy Coniglio







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.

Twitter: @thegravedigger2

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Nancy Hands, Dublin 8


Upstairs, a galley-like Guinntiquesville


Staircase originally from Trinity College, tread upon by Michael Caine in the movie ‘Educating Rita’


Downstairs, front/coffee bar: Victorian apothecary glass cabinets and antique cashier’s desk


I love this jazzy jukebox-like archway

One of the wind-up clocks, they all have a different design


Engraved doorway in the snug cosy bar

Lots of gems to be seen, like this gorgeous engraved dresser


There were 7 green bottles…


Cellar-like Whiskey and Cocktail bar.

Okay, so you’re headed to Parkgate Street anyway, to check Ryan’s out (previous post). Stall the ball. (That’s Hiberno-English for “hold on”. We want to keep this authentic folks.) There’s a noteworthy neighbouring haunt here worth a visit: Nancy Hands. A much larger venue than its quaint Parkgate Street companion, and much younger in its current form – although refurbishments were in keeping with the original Victorian style. The beauty of Nancy Hands is that, despite the vast scale of the two-storey premises, it manages to keep that cosy, almost ‘country pub’ feel to it. This is down to the division of the place into areas, the downstairs has three bars referred to as the Coffee Bar, the Whiskey and Cocktail Bar and The Snug Bar. The restaurant and piano bar are on the second floor.

‘Coffee Bar’ undersells it a bit, it’s definitely not a coffee bar, and you don’t need to have lived in Italy to know that. Yes it serves coffee, but so do petrol stations, and I have my doubts over whether anyone comes here for that purpose. (And if you do, that’s your own fault really.) My mother, who grew up a few miles down the road from Nancy Hands, says she had “the best beef & Guinness stew of my life” here, and actually we’ve eaten in the bar and upstairs in the restaurant many times, I’ll happily endorse the food (fantastic steak). A small, casual area with average barstools and tables, what stands out here are the fabulous Victorian glass cabinets behind the bar, bought from a chemist when Nancy Hand’s current owners took over. And they do lend a sort of apothecary feel to the bar, full of jars and glass vials and potion bottles. There’s a lovely old cashier’s desk sitting on the countertop, a wooden and glass casing with ‘cashier’ painted on the glass.

The Coffee Bar gives way down a few steps to the Whiskey and Cocktail bar, a dimly-lit, raw brick, cellar-like space with a gorgeous brick archway and fireplace. Vintage Guinness memorabilia is hanging everywhere – or to use the correct term (I learnt a new word): Guinntiques.

Traditionally, the snug or the snug bar was where the ladies would sit in Victorian pubs, while men would sit at the bar. The Snug Bar (believe it or not) is a great example of this – a lovely little pub in its own entity, with a separate entrance – keeping in line with the open fire, bare brick, memorabilia-laden atmosphere of the Whiskey and Cocktail bar, on a cosier scale. I think I might like to have a girls-only area of the pub nowadays…

The staircase is most definitely worth a mention, it was once housed in Trinity College, believe it or not, and featured in the movie ‘Educating Rita’ with Mr Michael Caine. They’re some pretty impressive staircase credentials.

Upstairs – what can only be described as a galley-like Guinntiquesville – has less of an authentic Victorian feel than downstairs, more of a mixed-bag and definitely more modern, but that’s okay too. Bit too much wood/pine for my taste but it definitely has character, and in fairness it’s the dining area rather than the pub. Lots of little gems to take it – the antique clocks and furniture, and a really jazzy archway I think looks like a 1950’s jukebox!

Very warm, chatty staff and a nice crowd – locals, people working nearby and in the courts, tourists.
30-32 Parkgate Street, Dublin 8

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