Friday, April 21, 2006

The Panvulgarium - Another Low for Social Life in Dublin

Elmer Gantry - Strictly a Grogan's ManHow ironic it is that Dublin, a city that has seen the lives and talents of so many of her citizens washed away on a sea of booze - Myles, Kavanagh, Behan, God have mercy on them all - should lose all conception of what a public house should be. The latest monstrosity inflicted on a increasingly beaten population is John M. Keating's, which opened on Mary Street at Christmas. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

To describe John M Keating's, it's necessary to coin a new word. Taking my cue from John Milton, An Spailpín Fánach's nominee for greatest English poet, may I suggest "Panvulgarium," a collection of all that is vulgar in the world? It will certainly do to be getting along with.

John M Keating's is built on St Mary's Church, one of the earliest examples of a galleried church in Dublin, according to the John M Keating website. It seems the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Culture, Gaeltacht and the Islands has classified the building as one of "intrinsic historical interest," and a comprehensive programme of conservation and restoration has been carried out since 1998.

How odd that an intensive programme of conservation and restoration should result in a church turning into a boozerama - did someone switch the blueprints along the way, resulting in optics replacing organs, porter taps subbing for pulpits and great spumes of Aftershock vapours rising to rafters that once led all the way to God? Is the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Culture, Gaeltacht and the Islands in charge of boozers too? What a busy man he must be.

We are told, again on the John M Keating website, that many famous personages are buried here, including Mary Mercer and Lord Norbury, the man who sentenced Bold Robert Emmett to the gallows. Rich in history again, but once more begging in the question - who in God's name let them turn this place into a pub?

Churches have been deconsecrated before; a city, like Nature, is a Heraclitean fire, forever changing yet staying the same. Yet at the same time most deconsecrated churches, once deconsecrated, have their churchly effects moved on - in John M Keating's, they're still there. An Spailpín presumes they're still there for effect, that some interior designer on a hearty commission thought it was cool, but to An Spailpín's tired and despairing eye, it's just vulgar, cheap and too awful.

When you walk around John M Keating's, you still see plaques on the wall in memory of St Mary's preachers and churchmen down through the years. The language of the memorials is high Victorian, talking about labouring in the fields of the Lord with upright dignity and this sort of crack. It made me very lonesome to read them - I don't know if those dead churchmen's bones still lie in vaults behind those marble plaques, but I'm sure their shades have long since fled the building, appalled at what we as a society now consider of value. The high Protestant Victorians had their faults but it's very hard to fault the courage of men who trod the Khyber Pass and sailed up the Zambezi river with nothing for protection but the King James Bible. They might have been wrong, but at least they believed in something - unlike the clientele of John M Keating's, who only seem to believe in standing on sepulchres of braver and better men, talking about house prices with beer dribbling down their whiskers. These be thy Gods, O Israel! God help us all. Time for Evensong in Mulligan's, or perhaps John Kehoe's if I can get a seat.

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