A licensed premises formerly known as Downey’s on Upper George’s Street is arguably the most famous bar to ever open in Dún Laoghaire, as it is still renowned for a strike that lasted fourteen years, which is quite possibly the longest of all time.
According to an excellent book by Kevin C. Kearns, Dublin Pub Life & Lore An Oral History,all hell broke lose in February 1939, when the proprietor Mr. James Downey sacked a bar man called Patrick Young for no apparent reason.
Downey flatly rejected a union demand to re-instate him. When the union called a strike, and prohibited union members from working on his premises, Downey reportedly “couldn’t care less.” I’ve heard that he was the first publican in Dún Laoghaire to hire barmaids.
A war of attrition dragged on and on. It was written about all over the globe, including a story for Time magazine, and lasted longer than both World Wars put together.
During World War II, a German u-boat stopped a ship called The Irish Elm. The weather conditions were atrocious, so rather than the customary check of identity papers and permits, the Germans interrogated Captain Patrick Hennessy by shouting over the storm.
When Hennessy told them he was from Dún Laoghaire, Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Oskar Bernbeck reportedly roared, “Is the strike still on in Downey’s?”
The strike came to an eventual end when Patrick Downey died in 1953 and the union reached an agreement with the new owner. After changing hands a few times, Downey’s was demolished in 1976 to make way for the Dún Laoghaire shopping centre.
I think Downey’s is a good starting point for a series about Dún Laoghaire’s old pubs, which is inspired by the amazing series called Alphabet of Lost Pubs over at Spitalfields Life, which is one of the best local history blogs I’ve ever seen and a hugely entertaining and informative resource about East London.
I’d love to compile a list of the old pubs of Dún Laoghaire. I’m wide open to suggestions of any bars of yesteryear with an interesting back story, so please place your suggestions in the comments below, or drop me a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sláinte, and Happy New Year!