In James Joyce’s most famous work ‘Ulysses’, Leopold Bloom quips that a good puzzle would be to cross Dublin without passing a pub. Clever ad man that he is, Bloom is always coming up with brilliant ideas and this is another: the world’s first anti-pub crawl.
The puzzle stumped Dubliners for years. Until 2011 when it was solved by software developer Rory McCann. Six years on Dublin.ie decided to check out the route to see if it’s still pub-free. But before we got started, we wanted to talk to an expert – preferably someone who’d done the route before. We found John Geraghty of Publin.ie, and we read his blog. The man knows his pubs.
John explains to us how Rory’s route works. Using OpenStreetMap, he devised an algorithm that enabled him to chart a pub-free route through Dublin. It makes sure you’re at least 35 metres from a public house at all times. Rory did uncover other ‘dry’ routes across the city but this was the most direct: a line that describes that frontier where Dublin’s literary past and technological present meet in perfect harmony.
John describes the route as “uneventful”, in so much it doesn’t seem to go through anywhere especially exciting (view our video map). Maybe he’s right. When we start mid-afternoon from Wilton Terrace, heading towards Adelaide Road, the canal is exceedingly quiet. Nothing going on. Then the sun escapes from behind the clouds – and Dublin socks you in the gut with a moment of canal-bank beauty. That bench beside the Patrick Kavanagh statue beckons. But no, we’re on a mission here.
Taking a right off Adelaide Road onto Earlsfort Terrace, you begin to comprehend the ruthless efficiency of the McCann algorithm: there are no pubs here. None. A thirst begins to develop. We need to stay focused here. So it’s first left off Earlsfort Terrace, onto Upper Hatch Street and nip in the side entrance of the Iveagh Gardens. (This is a park, so it’s generally drink-free. Unless of course there’s a concert or a fair in progress – in which case there will be bars, they will be packed with punters, and our route will no longer be quite in the spirit of Bloom’s puzzle.)
In Joyce’s time, as it happens, there were significantly more pubs in Dublin than there are now. But these days a lot more restaurants and hotels are licensed to sell alcohol. And more drink is consumed at home. So Dubliners no longer have to rely on the pub as their main source of alcoholic refreshment.
John told us to look out for closed-down pubs on the route. ‘Aha!’, we think: so this route wouldn’t have actually worked in Bloom’s day. But these old public houses are among the more striking sights along the way. Going from Aungier Street to Peter Row we meet our first: the Aungier House. Abandoned, bereft, it’s been like that as long as Dublin.ie can remember. Unlike the still vital Swan Bar just a block away, its beautiful brickwork and arches hinting at a Dublin of bygone years.
Mother Redcaps on Back Lane is another fine example of a shutdown pub. But hang on a moment: Peter Row? Back Lane? Yes, the street names are beginning to sound less and less familiar. Staying 35 metres away from a pub in Dublin does involve a certain amount of sneaking and skulking, it seems. John tells me to look out for the mysterious new lick of paint on the front of Redcaps. Could there be plans for its reopening? Could this route soon be rendered obsolete? Fingers crossed!