EFFORTS TO revive Dublin’s 18th-century tradition of lively coffee houses are to be actively supported by Dublin City Council, a conference on “cafe culture” heard yesterday.
The conference was told by Dublin City architect Dick Grogan that a high-level group was seeking ways to promote activities such as coffee houses, which he said had an important role in fostering discourse within the city and “enlivening the public realm”.
The conference was organised by the Cafe Culture Project, which included many of those who campaigned to keep Bewleys open in Grafton Street in 2004.
The conference also featured a number of audience renditions of Leo Maguire’s Dublin Can be Heaven, along with lots of sticky buns and coffee.
Prof Kieran M Bonner of St Jerome’s University, Canada, said coffee houses, like pubs, were essentially a “third place” between the private realm of home and the place of duty which was work. The third place was a forum for public discourse, enjoyed particularly by lawyers, actors, journalists and politicians and one in which Dublin had a long tradition, he said.
He postulated the theory that a decline of the “third place” represented a decline in the life of the city, with the urban environment becoming just a “passageway” between work and home. This may have been why, he suggested, the threatened closure of Bewleys “had raised an issue of whether Dublin was in danger of losing its soul”.
Actor Glynis Casson read from a history of Bewleys by journalist and author Hugh Oram, which recalled the cafes as forums for Dublin characters such as
Micheál MacLíammóir, “with a cape and a magnificent toupee”, singer and wit Noel Purcell, author JP Donleavy and broadcaster Terry Wogan, among others.
Divisional librarian with Dublin City Council Maire Kennedy said 18th-century Dublin had a rich tradition of coffee houses, in which lawyers particularly met to gossip and swap news. Printers and publishers as purveyors of the news were also popular in the coffee houses, she said.
One late 18th-century coffee house at the Royal Exchange later became City Hall where the city council now meets, a fact recalled by Councillor Oisin Quinn.
The chairwoman, journalist Victoria White, said she was “only here for the coffee” but the gathering was fortunate to have Mr Gleeson as he was developing the city development plan.
After a number of coffee house owners said they were in difficulty because of high rents and competition from international chains with deep pockets, Mr Gleeson said the city council might relax licensing regulations for cafes using outside seating.