Extracted from ‘The Irish Pub’ (Thames & Hudson, 2008)
‘You might say it’s all about 33’, says Jim Lenehan. ‘I was born in 1933. Kilkenny beat Limerick in the All Ireland in 1933. And it’s thirty-three yards in a single run from this end of the bar to the other’.
The building in which Jim Lenehan lives and runs his bar has stood here for at least 200 years. The name of its original publican is unknown. In the late 1890s, Laurence Long, a tea, wine and spirit merchant from County Tipperary, set up shop in the building, securing a market that included the employees of the Gas Works and soldiers from the British infantry barracks on Ballybough Street. Jim produces a photograph of a garrison on parade just outside the pub in 1899. Weeks later, they sailed for South Africa where scores of them were killed, wounded and captured in the bloody battle of Colenso.
During Laurence Long’s day, Jim’s grandparents Dan and Rose Lenehan ran another pub, the Kilkenny House on John St, now called O’Gormans. In 1911, they purchased Long’s pub at 10 Barrack Street for their son William. William married Catherine Hogan in the early 1920s and Jim is their son.
Lenehans is the sort of pub that becomes extremely busy on a Monday morning for no particular reason. Both Jim and his wife Carmel are fourth generation publicans so they are sure to have inherited a few trade secrets along the way. Today, their long, wooden panelled interior offers customers a welcome respite from the escalating mayhem of the streets outside. Awaiting your drink, you can lose yourself along a wall covered in classic advertising posters – Clarke’s Plug, Players Navy Cut, Quaker Oats, O’Connell’s Dublin Ale, Corcorans of Carlow, St Bruno Flake, Smithwick’s Ale, Lambs Brother Jam and Burma Sauce which boasts the immortal caption, ‘The Only ‘Sauce’ I Dare Give Father’.
Elsewhere, shelves are festooned with antique National typewriters, ceramic chamber pots, sooty calendars and photographs of the ever-victorious Kilkenny Cats, Ireland’s most successful hurling team.
‘I did a bit of hurling myself’, admits Jim. ‘Got myself a few broken noses and so on’. A crackling log fire is reflected in a massive Lambert & Butler mirror. Roughshod chairs and sturdy stools roll along the black mahogany bar into the old bottling room, where light lunches of soup and sandwiches are now served. Behind the bar, barrel tops set into sagging shelves proclaim: ‘Whiskey’, ‘Port’ and ‘Brandy’.
In 1925, the Lenehans renovated the building by rearranging rooms, laying flagstone floors (since tiled), adding a pitch pine ceiling and rebuilding some of the walls with a concoction of brick, lime and horsehair.
They also installed coal chutes and a range cooker. Many relics survive, including the spice and herb drawers and the graceful bins where Laurence Long kept his tea, flour and oatmeal.
The Lenehans were always good at diversity, aided by a small farm to the rear of the pub. During the Second World War – or the Emergency as it was called in neutral Ireland – the pub enjoyed a bountiful export of poultry and rabbits to the Billingsgate market in London. Cattle were also lucrative, particularly after the Kilkenny Mart opened at Christmas 1956, just a few hundred metres from the pub.
The cattle mart has since been sold to Tesco’s and the farmers now do their business in a new market in the suburbs. This has inevitably had major repercussions on the farming populace who once frequented Lenehans. ‘We’re in the middle of mighty changes’, says Jim. ‘We used to have five and thirty farmers drinking here, waiting for their lot number to be called’.
The pub still derives good business from teachers, nurses and clergy in the locality, as well as the soldiers in the barracks and workers from the Labour Exchange. Jim likes the fact they are off the beaten track. They have the hurling grounds of Nowlan Park around the corner and that ensures plenty of trade. ‘Next Sunday we’ll be buried in people because of the hurling’, he predicts.