The oldest family-run pub in Dún Laoghaire is O’Loughlin’s, 26, Lower George’s Street. Established in 1929, last year the O’Loughlin family celebrated 90 years in business.
O’Loughlin’s (or Lockie’s as it is affectionately known) is a precious link to Dún Laoghaire in the rare ‘auld times. More importantly, it is a terrific pub that serves one of the best pints of Guinness in Dublin or beyond.
Vincent Browne wrote about it in a pub column in Village magazine sometime in early noughties when a pint cost €3.40. It is still a very reasonable €4.50 in 2020.
“This northern part of Dún Laoghaire, near the library, is rundown,” Browne writes. “People have left the area over the last several decades, rehoused in places like Monkstown Farm. But there remains a sense of community there and most of the clients in O’Loughlin’s know each other. There is the familiar repartee. Tom says the chat in the bar is primarily about sport, secondarily about sport, only about sport. No politics, no religion.”
Senior Barman Maurice O’Loughlin (pictured above) reflects on their success. “It’s a great tribute to the father and what he first set up in in 1929,” he says. “My father used to work in what is now Dunphy’s (41 Lower George’s Street), which was John Giblin’s at the time. Business was down and the father got a chance to buy his own pub, so he came here. Many people warned him not to, but he took a chance and it worked.”
In 1929, electricity came to Dublin and Galway after the Electrical Supply Board (ESB) took over the Shannon hydroelectric scheme. Despite such progress, Ireland was badly hit by a severe recession partially caused by the Wall Street Crash that year. “You wouldn’t get many in the pubs during the day back then,” Maurice says. “People had to earn a living and they were hard times.”
O’Loughlins also ran a bottling operation at the back of their premises. “We bottled our own stout, as did many pubs back then,” Maurice says. “You had to have seventy dozen bottles to make up what they called a hog’s head, which were huge barrels with the O’Loughlin’s label on them. We did a few hog’s heads a week and got a great name for doing a nice bottle of stout, along with O’Donnell’s up the road, where the shopping centre is now.
“We also supplied quite a few places. The British Legion were based in Clarinda Park, which was mostly a Protestant club of former soldiers. We bottled for them, the Eblana Club, the National Yacht Club, and a place up in the (Monkstown) Farm called Lowry’s, which was a small shop with an off-license.
“The business grew to the present day. Over time selling pints rather than bottles became the norm. Bottling went out around 1970, when Guinness bought the franchise to bottle for all of Ireland. We moved in on doing a good pint and got a good name for it.”
The proof is in the pint. It is so good it is difficult to just have the one. “Not to be vain, but our pint is known all over, both cold and warm,” Maurice says. “The pint began to bring them all in and we began to build up a good trade with regular customers.”
What is the secret to a great pint? “The nearer the keg is to the tap the better,” Maurice answers. “When the keg is just under the counter you couldn’t ask for a better set up. Years ago, I was changing a barrel, back when I was able to. There was a man sitting there wearing a lovely suit and all, watching everything I was doing. I changed the keg and served him. He said to me that he’d worked in Guinness for years and this was the best system you could possibly have for serving a good pint.”
O’Loughlin’s is also perfectly proportioned for pouring Guinness. “A lot of the shops aren’t as lucky as us because of their construction,” Maurice explains. “We got it by chance. When Guinness changed the size of the kegs this counter was only being built. The carpenter was great. He used to be a shipwright. When the new kegs came in we realised that we were blessed and had no need to put in a cellar. Without ever trying we had the perfect structure to do a good pint.”
While Browne notes in his Village piece that among O’Loughlin’s attractions is ” a complete absence of famous people”, Lisa Stansfield, Ricky Ross of Deacon Blue, Liam O’Maonlai and Neil Morrissey of Men Behaving Badly fame are just some of the stars who have popped in for a quiet pint over the years.
Indeed, Lisa Stansfield used to be a regular when she lived in Dalkey, and there is a signed picture from her on the wall among a treasure trove of Dún Laoghaire pictures and memorabilia.
Many pubs have come and gone on Lower George’s Street, let alone Dún Laoghaire town. O’Loughlin’s has been a comforting constant through the years, a family affair in a chain pub era. “Dad died in 1966 and Michael, Tommy and I took it over,” Maurice explains. “I worked in the grocery trade but came back when Dad died because Tommy needed another hand. We got in lads who were great, such as Stephen, who is still with for the last 37 years. Customers say to me at least once a week that I’m very lucky to have that fella. I could go away for a year, and Michael too, and he’d have it all down.”
As well as pouring a terrific pint, O’Loughlin’s is a warm and cozy boozer. “The place thrives because its homely and everyone knows everybody,” Maurice maintains. “We get very little trouble from strangers. We’re at it for so long now that we can nearly spot them.”
As a barman for decades, Maurice O’Loughlin has witnessed many changes in Dún Laoghaire over the years.
“Dún Laoghaire has changed for the worse I’m afraid,” he says. “Generally speaking, I think the rates have closed up shops to such an extent that it has become a quiet town. You can go up the town on a Saturday evening and see plenty of people around, but only for one day a week.
“There has been a slight return lately. This end of the town is beginning to open up a bit more. It may drift back, but the boat going was a terrible disaster. I believe the berthing rights for the ships got too excessive. It’s all Dublin port now. Take a simple thing like Welsh rugby team playing in the Aviva on a Saturday. The place used to be absolutely packed with Welshmen. They’d stay here a night or two and be great spenders.
“When you look at Marine Road now it is deserted. You used to see great crowds coming up and down. When we were younger the boat came twice a week. It would come in on a Tuesday and go out again that night, and also on Friday. Fares were reasonable and it was usually packed. Eventually, flying took over. The boat going during the last few years is a big hit. It practically chased all the B&Bs that were left out.”
Much has changed in Dún Laoghaire, but Lockie’s is here to stay. “We can’t go too far forward in anyone’s life, but Michael and his son Sam will be here, so it is in good hands,” Maurice says. “No one can paint the sign out there unless they can spell O’Loughlin.”