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Tucked away just south of the Temple Bar District and about 75 yards from Grafton Street in Dublin is a classic, Victorian-style Irish pub. While bars like McDaids, Davy Byrnes and the Brazen Head may be more well known, O’Neills is worthy of any local or tourist. Add to that its long colorful history, ornate interior, comfortable fireside, perhaps the best carvery in the city, general hugeness, and Irish authenticity, and you’ve got a rather stellar pub in O’Neills.
While not under the current name, O’Neills has existed as a licensed establishment since at least 1755 when the Coleman family operated it in addition to being a grocer and tea, wine and spirit merchant. Prior to that, the land on which O’Neills now stands was used as a “Thingmoot” (Viking parliament building and mound), staging for public executions, a palace for King Henry II, a castle for the Earl of Kildare, and offices of “The Press” newspaper. Since then, the pub was purchased by the Hogan Brothers in 1875, and was christened “O’Neills” once the O’Neill family purchased it from the Hogans in 1927. Today, under proprietor Michael O’Neill, the rather large pub anchors the corner of Suffolk, St Andrew and Church Streets just opposite the Dublin Tourism Centre. A stately green clock, reminiscent of the Marshall Field clock on Chicago’s State Street, hangs from the Suffolk Street side, which compliments the green and white wooden trim on what is a four-story building.
Step through the Suffolk Street entrance and down a few stairs and you’ll find a curving bar area divided into a warren of “snugs” (nooks and crannies to drink in separated by wooden partitions) and strangely lit by fluorescent recessed lighting. Walk past the snugs and you’ll find another long wooden bar that serves as a carvery, located towards the Church Street entrance. Oak-smoked Irish salmon, roast beef, turkey and lamb sandwiches, roast rib of beef, turkey, honey-baked Limerick ham, loin of pork, corned beef, and traditional Irish stew are highlights from the mouth-watering lunch menu, served every day from noon until 3:00 p.m. with prices ranging from €4.50 to €5.95. An ala carte menu is offered from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., which offers an impressive array of appetizers, soups and salads, pastas, sandwiches, burgers, steaks, and seafood most of which is available for less than €7. Tourists: the Irish do not eat late in pubs so take note or go hungry.
The carvery stands just opposite seating around a fireplace and an elegant banister with a chandelier hanging above it. These stairs lead to a large second floor with lots of table seating, a big screen, a wooden split-level bar that runs along the length of the outside wall, and tasteful paned glass windows that overlook both Church and Suffolk Streets. When Mother Nature calls, you’ll be happy to note that the bathrooms are roomy and adorned with ceramic tile. All in all, the black stuff is poured at five separate bars at O’Neills for a crowd that primarily consists of students and professors from nearby Trinity College, stockbrokers and bankers from Dame Street and College Green, and the inevitable influx of tourists. As for being out on the pull, consider this comment from the now-defunct DublinPubs.net: “Overall Most certainly a Dublin institution, O’Neill’s is definitely worth a visit if you’re coming to Dublin but don’t expect to meet any women.” A quiet pint, some food and a bit of a chat with whomever you’re with should be your objective.
My one and only visit to O’Neills was part of the Dublin Literary Pub Crawl. As such, I just had enough time to urinate, pound a pint of Guinness and successfully avoid eye contact with the score of German tourists with us. In recognition of its achievements in pubbery, O’Neills has received the prestigious James Joyce Award. This award is only presented to pubs in Ireland that can be truly be described as “authentic.” As described on another classic Dublin pub’s website, John Fallons on the Coombe: “James Joyce identified and described the characteristic ambience of Dublin pub life so successfully that the characters in Ulysses may be fictional but they are based on a multitude of living beings, characters who Joyce found in pubs just like this one. This establishment remains an outstanding example of the tradition which Joyce immortalized in his works and is a truly authentic public house, which throughout the years has retained its down to earth genuineness of atmosphere, friendliness and presence of good company.” So, when you find yourself in Dublin, be sure to have a pint and a good meal at the labyrinthine O’Neills, never mind the Germans, and remember that old Mr O’Neill is “yer only man” as the locals say. For more information, check out the O’Neills website. Slaint€.