Barney Kiernan's

Barney Kiernan's

In Brief

Most of the action of Cyclops takes place in "Barney Kiernan's," a public house that is no longer in business, though its painted-over façade remains. It is located a block and a half west of Capel Street, just around the corner from a courthouse on Green Street and not far from the Four Courts. The legal milieu had a powerful influence on the pub's clientele, conversations, and furnishings.

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This grim little establishment adorned its walls with memorabilia celebrating insurrections, trials, and executions, a fact reflected in the episode's frequent references to law courts, hangings, police blotters, and heroic violence. Given the fervid spirit of Irish nationalism that prevails in the bar, it seems hugely ironic that it is located (as we learn late in the chapter) at "8, 9 and 10 little Britain street."

The proprietor of the pub never appears in Cyclops. It seems possible, even likely, that he is the gentleman to whom Joe Hynes refers just before suggesting a visit to Barney Kiernan's:

— What about paying our respects to our friend? says Joe.
— Who? says I. Sure, he's out in John of God's off his head, poor man.
— Drinking his own stuff? says Joe.
— Ay, says I. Whisky and water on the brain.
— Come around to Barney Kiernan’s, says Joe. I want to see the citizen.
— Barney mavourneen's be it, says I.

The House of St. John of God was a facility for people with mental illness in Stillorgan, a southeastern suburb west of Kingstown. The implication is that the pub owner has entered the asylum to recover from the DTs, the fruit of "drinking his own stuff."

As of mid-2019 the building that housed the pub was for sale, and a rumor (perhaps fueled by wishful thinking) was circulating that a developer had proposed bringing the establishment back to life. Were that to happen, Barney Kiernan's would instantly join the short list of top sites for the world's Joyce tourists.

JH 2019
Photograph of Bernard Kiernan's public house, date unknown, held in the University of Southern Illinois Library. Source: Pierce, James Joyce's Ireland.
Old man in Kiernan's looking toward a poster of the Invincibles, in a 1946 photograph by Lee Miller. Source:
Site of the former pub on Little Britain Street, in 2019. Source: John Hunt.