Historian and author Lorcan Collins pays tribute to much-loved publican and patron of the arts Tommy Smith, who passed away over the weekend.
We were all saddened to hear of the passing of Dublin's finest publican Tommy Smith, co-owner of Grogan’s or the Castle Lounge on Dublin’s South William Street.
Cavan native Tommy Smith and his friend Paddy Kennedy bought Joe Grogan’s public house in 1973. At the same time, McDaid's pub, the main hangout for Dublin’s writers, artists and political activists, had been sold. Smith and Kennedy headhunted McDaid’s barman Paddy O’Brien, who brought the aforementioned clientele with him and Grogan's became the new centre of bohemian, cultural and artistic Dublin.
Very sorry to read of the passing of Tommy Smith, one half of the team which made Grogans the pub it is today. A lifelong republican, a champion of the arts, a brilliant conversationalist and a man who loved history but kept faith in the future. A sad day. pic.twitter.com/l59QYrcz3k— Donal Fallon (@fallon_donal) February 9, 2020
Encouraging debate and discussion and the art of conversation, Grogan's is one of the few Dublin pubs where there is no TV or piped music. Perhaps the lack of TV encouraged political activists, republicans, socialists and communists to frequent the bar enjoying the chance to debate politics. The number of activists who drank in Grogan's is reflected in the fact that the Special Branch kept a constant eye on the pub. Donal Fallon in his podcast Three Castles Burning says the pub was often known as "The War Office". Even during political splits within the republican movement, different sides continued to drink in Grogan's together. Fallon said "It says a lot about the broad respect for the establishment that literal warring factions could hold the peace."
The pub was never designed to be a restaurant but is famed for its toasted ham and cheese sandwiches enjoyed by everyone from politicians to students. Grogan's, because of Tommy’s welcoming attitude, was and hopefully always will be a home for people who don’t enjoy bars that have bouncers at the door or the blaring of dance music drowning out conversation.
The décor is 1960’s and comfortingly has remained so. Tommy felt that the Celtic Tiger destroyed a lot of bars. "They extended and built lounges for 500 people," he said in an interview with Storymap (watch above), "and thought they could fill them seven days a week. They weren’t living in the real world. We were losing the old traditional bar, which I would like to think we are. There’s a few of them left. When people go into a bar it’s the next thing to their sitting room and for a lot of people it is their sitting room where they communicate and where they talk. You go into a pub where there is a bit of communication and you’re feeling down or depressed you’re no longer lonely if you can meet a group of people and talk to them."
Tommy Smith allowed artists, amateur and professional, to hang their paintings on the walls of his pub. The pictures are all for sale, but Tommy Smith never took a cut. He commissioned two pieces from the artist Catherine Lamb who immortalised the pub regulars in two beautiful stained glass windows which are now a great legacy to Tommy.
Farewell to Tommy Smith, a gracious and erudite prince among publicans.— Rosie Schaap (@rosieschaap) February 9, 2020
When I first started working in bars in the '90s, the mantra I repeated to myself was: Be like Tommy. Be like Tommy. Be like Tommy. https://t.co/keVse31jwf
Grogan’s is one of the last truly great Dublin pubs, and Tommy Smith was one of the last of the great Dublin publicans.
Asked would he like to retire, he said "I’m happy in Grogan's. Grogan's makes me happy. I’m at an age where I could have put the feet up and decide to retire. But I don’t think I want to do that. I love people too much. People is the currency I like to have around me."