Elisabeth Sherman

This bar in the Irish countryside is the picture of authenticity. Just prepare yourself to use an outhouse. 

Elisabeth Sherman
February 05, 2018

There are 751 pubs in Dublin, and, as is true of every city you'll visit, determining which spots are “authentic” can be tricky. First you have to decide, of course, what you think authentic means, or if it’s even important to you, but here’s what I ask when I’m deciding what bars to visit when I’m abroad: Would a local drink there after work? Has the décor or drink selection been modified to satisfy foreigners? How long has it been open, how bright are the lights, and has it been cleaned recently? These are just some elements of my own personal “authenticity” rubric. In Dublin, I found a place that met my criterion perfectly: Fagans Pub, in Moynalvery, Ireland, about thirty minutes outside of the city.

I had arrived there after exploring the Hill of Tara—the ancient seat of the Irish kings. Martin Mangan, the general manager of the Conrad Dublin, knew about it, and said that the pub could not be found on GPS, or any map available to tourists.

Here’s the only way I know how to explain how we got there: After leaving the Hill of Tara (which is in a village called Castleboy, in County Meath), we drove in a tour bus for about 15 minutes through the countryside, following a series of narrow and winding roads alongside the River Boyne. I looked out of the window of the bus, trying to get my directional bearings, and saw mostly empty green fields and overgrown vines, but I did not see a single person—only a couple dogs running in the front yards of their homes.

The former owner of Fagans used to live across the street from the bar—he’s since died, but his now derelict house still stands among the unkempt brush across the street. The pub is split into three sections: There’s the bar, which you enter through a door on the left, plus two other rooms, which you enter through a door to your right. Those two other rooms were there, traditionally, for female customers of the pub.

Up until the 1970s, women weren’t allowed to order pints at the bar, which was considered unfeminine. Men would drink their Guinnesses in the public room, while the women were relagated to hidden rooms built alongside the bar. The law changed, but the extra rooms stayed.

You have to duck when you enter the pub’s main room, where you’ll find a small bar, a couch, a low wooden roof and wood walls, and a stove attached to the far left wall. Mary Gibbons, our guide, commented that she could not believe the pub had gotten that stove past health and safety inspections for so many years. (I highly recommend Mary as a tour guide if you plan to visit the Boyne Valley; she seems to know the name of every single king in the history of England, Scotland and Ireland, their wives, and their children, and will happily discuss politics over lunch when the tour is over.)

The bartender—that day a young woman—greeted almost every person who walked through the door by name and seemed as though she was just a little annoyed with everyone who ordered a drink. For one glass of whiskey and seven pints of Guinness, our bill came out to just 40 euros, about $50. There are just nine types of liquor behind the bar, and no bathroom inside. You have to use an outhouse.

At the bar, I saw mostly silve- haired men wearing quilted jackets, with short, scratchy looking beards, and clear, cold eyes, who sat on their stools without speaking to one another although they all seemed to be acquainted. I expect this is the usual demographic. We drank our pints of Guinness in the same silence—ours however, was mostly awed—got up from the couch and filed out, leaving our (perhaps disgruntled) hosts to their peace. Another aspect of the authenticity rubric: You should feel like a bit of an intruder when you walk in.

The group retreated back to our bus, a little embarrassed that we had disturbed this local sanctuary, though honored to have been among the very few outsiders to catch a glimpse of life in 20th-century Ireland. We knew we’d never be able to find it again, that cozy little room offering refuge from the rigors of daily life and the country's biting cold.

If you decide to search for Fagans yourself, be respectful—sit quietly, don’t take up too much space, and don’t treat it like a museum piece or an attraction to gawk at. There are plenty of pubs in Dublin—around 751 of them, in fact—where you’re perfectly welcome to act the part of the tourist.