The History of The Oval Bar
Established in 1822
A Mark of Heritage…
Steeped in the social, cultural and political heritage of Ireland, The Oval is one of Dublin’s most historically fascinating pubs. The Oval is unique amongst Dublin pubs in that it was caught up in the maelstrom of revolution during the 1916 Rising, again during the Civil War in 1922, and though severely damaged has survived as one of Dublin’s great licensed landmarks. But what is most intriguing about The Oval is that it is the only licensed premises in the Abbey Street area that has remained on the same location while involved in the same commercial business since its first licence in 1822.
The Oval opened its doors to the citizenry of Dublin in the summer of 1822 when the second city of the British Empire was richly enjoying the fruits of Dubliner Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, some eight years earlier. But this was the age of Individualism, and the age of the Temperance Movement which was receiving significant support from the pillars of establishment. And following the American Revolution the British were well aware of how the seeds of revolution could be germinated in taverns. James Cooney was the man behind the pumps here in those halcyon times. James was succeeded here by Daniel Shelly in 1840, who in turn sold out to Bernard Dunne some five years later.
The Royal Mail Coach…
Bernard Dunne saw out the horrific famine years in this pub when the population of Ireland literally halved through starvation, disease and emigration. The horrors may have been too much for Bernard as the names of Bridget and Peter Coyle appeared above the door in 1848 just as the Young Irelanders were about to stake their abortive claim for Irish independence. Peter was a coach builder by profession and was attracted to this licensed hostelry because the ticket office and embarkation point for all coaches to Enniskillen, Cavan, Sligo and Westport was located next door at No. 77. So while Peter repaired the coaches, Bridget pulled the pints and entertained the pilgrims of travel. She had lively competition across the street at No. 76 through the charismatic Peter O’Donoghue, who ran The Shellfish Tavern.
The Ryan Brothers Arrive…
In 1855 The Oval greeted the arrival of one of Dublin’s most enterprising licensed trade families, the Ryan brothers. The Ryan’s were seasoned operators who also ran a thriving business as wholesale and retails spirit merchants, wine and cigar merchants on Great Britain Street. Peter O’Donoghue’s Shellfish Tavern across the way had now blossomed into The O’Donoghue Hotel. Middle Abbey Street was an increasingly important location in Dublin’s narrative and the Ryan brothers thrived here until L.J. Doran bought them out in 1868.
I’m afraid L. J. Doran favoured the short haul rather than the long one and he succumbed to the temptation of Philip Gilligan’s chequebook in 1873. Philip wanted a thriving city pub right where the action is – and he wasn’t disappointed. This pub was then doing a great trade with Victorian merchants after work, and with the newsmen and compositors on The Nation newspaper at No. 90. The O’Donoghue Gin Palace across the way was sweeping up the trendy Victorians. Within a few years of arriving Philip acquired a new neighbour in W.H. Smith, Newsagent, who would eventually be succeeded by Eason & Sons. Philip was a very popular host at The Oval and remained in situ until the imaginative John J. Egan acquired the pub in 1902.
The Oval is Rebuilt…
John J. Egan was a progressive publican who also traded at No. 81-82 Talbot Street. and resided in fashionable Glenageary. After he purchased The Oval in 1902 he immediately closed it and completed a lavish Edwardian refurbishment, which was the toast of newsmen across Dublin when re-opening in 1903. In the following years this pub established a firm reputation amongst the fourth estate: Independent Newspapers were situated at No.s 87-90, previously No. 111 Middle Abbey Street; Eason & Son were next door; The Evening Telegraph at No. 83, and the Sporting News and The Freeman’s Journal at No. 84.
In the years leading up to 1916 this pub found favour with more that the fourth estate. Uniformed members of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers frequently dropped in to The Oval after manoeuvres while waiting for trams. But a busy pub in a busy city centre was the perfect meeting place for members of the I.R.B., who also found favour with the pub, and who tactfully interacted with the swelling clientele.
Easter Monday, April 24th seemed a day like any other at The Oval until the Irish Volunteers captured the nearby GPO and proclaimed the Irish Republic. The week that followed would bring chaos, devastation, death and destruction both to the city of Dublin and to The Oval. By Wednesday the HMS Helga had sailed up the Liffey and commenced shelling Liberty Hall and the GPO. At precisely 10am on Thursday April 27th the fate of The Oval was sealed. New trajectories were set on the Helga and the GPO and surrounding buildings were all hit. Fires blazed in Sackville Street and Abbey Street. Before long an inferno had engulfed the city centre. The Oval and surrounding buildings were destroyed. Abbey Street and Sackville Street smouldered for days as ruin and rubble scattered the pavements.
The Oval Re-opens – just in time for Civil War…
John J. Egan’s Oval remained closed for six years until it was rebuilt in 1922. By now John Egan had taken over the pub you see before you today. But within weeks the Civil War erupted, and within months many of the prestigious hotels on Sackville Street, which had been commandeered by the Anti-Treaty forces were shelled and destroyed by the Pro-Treaty army. These were anxious times for The Oval, which was forced to close its doors during the savage fighting.
The End of an Era…
In 1952 the revolutionary cycle of ownership of John Egan came to a close – exactly 50 years after it began – when James Browne acquired the historic Oval. James was to remain here for 12 years until John O’Dwyer relieved him in 1964. In 1966 john saw out peacefully and gloriously the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising which 50 years before had engulfed The Oval in flames, forcing it to close for six years.
Now The Oval Heritage Pub prepares to joyfully celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising. Let’s hope there are no fireworks!
Chronology of Ownership of The Oval Bar
James Cooney 1822- 1840
Daniel Shelley 1840 – 1848
Bernard Dunne 1845 – 1848
Bridget & Peter Coyle 1848 – 1855
The Ryan Brothers 1855 -1868
L.J. Doran 1868 – 1873
Philip Gilligan 1873 – 1902
John J. Egan 1902 – 1952
James Browne 1952 -1964
John O’Dwyer 1964 – ?
Charlie Chawke 1994 – to date
(c) Eamonn Casey
A very heartfelt thanks to Eamonn Casey for this account of The Oval’s History.