Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The Pubs of Ringsend Walking Tour - Episode Seven - John Clarke's The South Dock


Coming later this year, following the successful ‘The History of Sandymount’s Pub Walking Tour’ and ‘The Pubs of Rathmines Tour’, we will be bringing you ‘The Pubs of Ringsend Heritage Walking Tour’. To whet your appetite for some of the stories and tales you will hear, we will bring you over the coming weeks some of the histories of the pubs no longer open.


This time we are looking at the history of 12-16 Bridge Street, Ringsend which is today in the hands of the Clarke family who for a number of generation originally traded in nearby Irishtown. Located in the shadow of St. Patrick’s Church, the popular hostelry has had a colourful history and probably more name changes than any other pub in Ringsend. As of January 1st 2022 there are three pubs trading in Ringsend, the Yacht, The Oarsman and John Clarke’s, that is a significant decrease on the ten pubs that operated in the village (not including Irishtown) in 1853.


Now just a memory, but for many of an older generation in Ringsend and Irishtown, Peter North’s pub on Bridge Street in Ringsend brings back happy memories. Alas long gone but if you walk through the lounge door of John Clarke’s public house today you will have walked the route of many of North’s customers. Peter North was a colourful character but the pub in which he spent so much of his life also has a colourful history.


Peter North was a popular publican who received extensive coverage in Irish newspapers in October 1967. Peter was celebrating his hundred birthday and was described in the Irish Press as ‘probably the oldest publican in the country’. While still living above the pub, he had retired from serving pints to the locals just three years earlier as his health began to fail.


He had been born on Upper Baggot Street and served his first pint, aged sixteen, in the pub that had been opened by his father Morgan North in Ringsend. A lively sportsman, Peter, along with his brothers Francis and Bartle, played for the Isles of the Sea GAA hurling club and they won the Dublin County Championship in 1890. Peter later recalled,

‘it was some sight with 42[1] players on the field. There used to be some awful scrimmages.’


His brother Bartle was the first superintendent of the electricity generating station at the Pigeon House when it opened in 1904[2]. His son Bartle junior became a popular bookie in Ringsend with a shop on Fitzwilliam Street. Morgan North’s public house was located on the corner of Fitzwilliam Street and Thomas Street as it was known then, now known as Irishtown Road. The newspapers reported that in 1910 Peter North of 16 Fitzwilliam Street was fined by the courts for allowing children on his premises despite the fact that their mother was with them.

Today that former North public house is home to the National Council of the Blind shop. Morgan’s only daughter Mary Catherine married Valentine Nelson, the son of another Ringsend publican Joseph Nelson. The Nelson’s also ran a butcher shop on Bridge Street. In the early twentieth century, following a Pembroke Estate decision to renovate many of the properties on the part of Fitzwilliam Street that connected with Cambridge Avenue, by 1916 the North’s had moved their public house to a building next door to the Nelson’s on Bridge Street. Peter often fell foul of the licensing laws and was raided and fined on a number of occasion for serving outside permitted hours including on Good Friday 1940 after which he was fined £2 and had his license endorsed. The following June he was raided again for serving afterhours with thirteen customers on his premises. He was fined twenty shillings and was lucky not to lose his license. Peter North’s younger brother Patrick, who died in 1959 aged 87 years old, owned the Yacht on Thorncastle Street for over 25 years.


The pub on the Fitzwilliam Street had seen previous owners Michael Holden in the 1830’s and Edward Smith in the 1850’s before the North’s arrival. Following Morgan North’s premature death at the age of just forty five, his pub’s license was operated by Anne Lowe who seemingly employed the young Peter North as a barman until he became of age to run the pub himself. Having celebrated his centenary in October 1967, just three months later in December the popular local Ringsend publican passed away peacefully and enjoyed one of the biggest funerals seen in the south Dublin suburb.


The pub now ran by John Clarke and Family at 12/14 and part of 16 Bridge Street can trace its roots back to the late eighteenth century. In the early 1800’s the pub was run by local fisherman and ship repairer John Voysey. In 1833, one of Voysey’s boats ‘The Ellen’, a fishing smack, sunk off Skerries with the loss of all the crew except for one survivor. With John’s death in 1858, John Jnr took over the running of the Ringsend businesses. Another son Stephen is recorded as taking a lease on 2 Caroline Row from the Pembroke Estate at half a crown per week.


In 1892 the pub was sold to Nicholas Horan but it was put up for sale again in 1900 following a legal dispute between Horan and the Pembroke Council over unpaid water charges. This saw the arrival of the North’s and the subsequent union with the Nelson’s. By the 1960’s the pub was being run by Bartle and John North. Following the death of Peter North in 1967, it was only a couple of years before the pub went up for sale in 1972.

The Dwyer brothers were next to pull the pints on Bridge Street and the Dwyer name would adorn many public houses across the city. In 1975, the Dwyer’s applied for and gained planning permission to extend the pub from No.12 into Number Fourteen. Fourteen had been Nelson’s grocery business in the past. The Dwyer brothers were Michael, Patrick and Seamus.


In the 1980’s it was renamed once more as Bunit and Simpson’s, a reference to two men who had the lease of the Oyster Beds on the River Liffey near Ringsend in 1744 and supplied many of the eateries in Ringsend with fresh fish. There was the sad and strange case of Denis Coughlan in 1992. The former native of Ringsend, was wanted by Gardai following an armed raid on the pub in March 1992. Following the raid, he moved to London and while the former taximan was working as a doorman at a London hotel, he was attacked in 1993 and beaten to death. The Metropolitan police believed that he had fallen foul of some of London’s gangland criminals. It was sold in the mid 1990’s to Mudlark Limited. In 2003, it was sold by Jim Dunne, according to the Irish Independent was retiring from the business. There were several name changes to follow before the arrival of John Clarke who had originally been in business on Irishtown Road. The premises then became known as the Hobblers End, which was a reference to the men who guided ships into Dublin port prior to the arrival of pilots. Raytown Inn was yet another name over the door while the pub was called The South Dock while in the hands of the late Willie Bambrick[3] just before the arrival of the Clarke family from Irishtown.


[1] 21 per side was replaced by the current 15 a side

[2] Died September 1936

[3] Before his arrival in Ringsend the Bambrick family operated a very popular pub on South Richmond Street near Portobello.