Enter Capel Street
In Part I I described an account in 1861 of a favoured bar in Dublin, a resort of the legal profession, called by the writer “Flanigin’s”.
I can now relate more information, including for the beer so admired by the anonymous writer. We know more from a memoir published in 1902, Recollections of Dublin Castle and of Dublin Society, also anonymous, credited simply to “A Native”.
A Native issued from an upper-echelon Irish family and, as the 1861 writer, was of the legal world, a barrister in this case. He must have been in his mid-70s when writing the book as he recalls events of 1837 when “a child”, and refers often to life in the 1850s and 60s.
It seems finally he decamped for London, but at any rate knew Dublin well in the mid-century (might the two have been the same person? It is possible).
From the 1902 account we can see Flanigin was the proprietor, while the bar itself was called The Dolphin. Moreover the bar was in Capel Street:
Oftentimes I think of the Dolphin Tavern; I know not why, but it touches a chord. The Dolphin was an old-fashioned tavern out of Capel Street, celebrated for its fine old “October ale,” which, as an old uncle of mine used to say, was equal to “meat, drink, and clothes.” It was really noble stuff. Flanigan of The Dolphin used to tell his patrons with some pride how once the great Bass firm had sent a quantity of ale to Dublin which had all “spoiled” and had to be replaced. In their embarrassment they appealed to the faithful Flanigan, whose cellars were stored with their barrels, and who generously came to their rescue and surrendered all his stock. Flanigan’s was the regular lunching-place of the Bar. It was about a quarter of an hour’s walk from the Four Courts. I have had a good experience of lunching-bars, but I have never tasted anything really better than the things Flanigan set before you. He had a speciality of lobster sandwiches, admirably dressed and flavoured, and kept simmering hot on a gas stove.
The only place comparable to Flanigan’s was Mrs. Linden’s in Belfast. In London we have no idea of such a lunching-place as was hers. It was perfectly astounding. You entered a cavernous sort of tenement and saw stretching away to right and left two counters absolutely laden with every known delicacy; sandwiches of every conceivable kind; cold and hot things by the dozen. You walked on and on and on. Her reputation particularly rested on her wonderful currant tarts. Nothing could be better. She even exported them in quantities. Every one knew Mrs. Linden, and ordered her things – a plain body of a woman, seen always behind her counter and looking after her business. I always cherished this Linden tradition, for she was of the Bar, the gentlemen of the Long Robe (ridiculous formula) being her chief patrons. For me she was associated with many notable families in the North, whom her name brought up before me in a sort of vision.
So, Flanigin’s old ale much lauded in 1861, was not Irish but English, from Bass Brewery in Burton-on-Trent. Likely it was the famed “Burton” variety, strong and brownish in the 19th century like amontillado sherry.*
This brew was the historical type associated with the Trent Valley. The more famous Burton India Pale Ale – paler, less strong, more biting – emerged in the 1820s.
We see incidentally too that shipping beer could be chancy in the 19th century, even apparently if “old” – extra age and handling on the journey didn’t necessarily improve it, in other words.
Notable as well is the food quality of the upmarket tavern. The remarks particularly for Mrs. Linden in Belfast attest to quality in excelsis. The image clashes with received wisdom, that Britain and Ireland offer indifferent public eating, a notion finally under revision.
The 1902 writer continues his account (see pp. 216-217) by stating he searched for Mrs. Linden’s bar 20 years after the last visit. It was nowhere in sight, and policemen and others in the area couldn’t help him, had never heard of it.
How often this still happens! No matter the reputation of a place, once disappeared it is quickly forgotten. The American Henry Voigt, who collects historical menus and keenly evokes their time in his blog The American Menu, has often made this point; there is no better illustration that the remarks noted.
Finally, as to Capel Street, this historic artery was a commercial locus in the 19th century. After a period of decline in the 20th century it once again is a lively centre, for bars, restaurants, and shops.
While the image shown (from Capel Street’s Wikipedia entry) is ca. 1800, likely it is closer to the street Flanigin and his devoted customers knew than the Capel Street of today.
A fine image at Bing.com shows the hub the street is once again. And the licensed trade still goes strong, if not the Dolphin itself.
Slattery’s is a noted example, also with roots in the 19th century but somewhat post-dating the era I evoke.
I conclude with Part III (Canada, United States covered)
*This sherry, while not as brown as oloroso, say, can be dark amber tending to brown. It seems doubtful at any rate the old ale as described in 1861 was any form of pale ale. The taste description (“amber”, “liqueur”) and glass style suggest, as does the term old ale, something of the old Burton style.