Anthony Cronin’s book ‘Dead as Doornails’ is a wonderful recollection of his relationship with some of Ireland’s literary giants from the 50s through to the 70s. The book recounts the lives of Patrick Kavanagh, Flann O’Brien, and Brendan Behan, as well as others, as he knew them.
The book recounts well their genius in the literary world, but also dispels some romantic myths about their relationship with the pub and with alcohol. Many of the figures from that time, Behan in particular, did not seem like reliable or pleasant companions, mostly because of their fondness for alcohol. Patrick Kavanagh was obviously well liked by Cronin,and that comes across in the pages of the book. He did, however, describe in detail his fondness for drinking, and gambling.
He recounts that on one Good Friday (a day on which pubs must remain closed, but there are/were loopholes for certain clubs) Kavanagh happened to bump into ‘The Pope’ O’Mahoney, a barrister and political satirist, who was a member of the Zoological Society. Apparently, as a member, O’Mahony could gain access to the members restaurant in Dublin Zoo, where drink was served, even on Good Friday. And so, off they went to have a pint in the Zoo.
Cronin was in McDaid’s the next day (the haunt for much of Dublin’s literary drinkers), and overheard one person say “I believe Paddy Kavanagh went up to the Zoo yesterday lookin’ for drink.” A barman named John (nicknamed Whitehead by Kavanagh) retorted “It’s a wonder they didn’t keep him there”, before adding, “I suppose they thought he might frighten the animals.”
Of course there are plenty of people who would be looking for a drink on Good Friday, both then and now, so we can’t draw too many conclusions about Kavanagh’s excessive fondness for alcohol from this one episode. It does, however tell us a small bit about the man, and also about the history of the Good Friday prohibition.
If you’re looking for more information on the Dublin literary scene of that period, then we would recommend Cronin’s ‘Dead as Doornails‘, as well as John Ryan’s ‘Remembering How We Stood‘. Ryan was a publisher, and once publican of The Bailey on Duke Street.