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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 17 October, 2018
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'A country pub in the city': How the Royal Oak in Kilmainham became a pub for everyone

Dee Costello on how the ‘pub you might find up a mountain’ has changed down the years.

TUCKED AWAY ON Kilmainham Lane is a pub that looks wonderfully incongruous with its urban surroundings. The Royal Oak is a hidden gem of a pub and bills itself as ‘a country pub in the city’. It has been serving the good people of Kilmainham for close to 180 years and is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Dee Costello’s parents took over The Royal Oak in the early 1970s. Her father was from Tipperary and her mother was from Galway, hence the pub’s distinct country vibe.

“I think my Dad wanted to recreate something from home,” she says.

Indeed, the pub soon became the family home and Costello recalls being part of the last generation of children raised in pubs.

“My sister and I were just recently saying that we were the last kids who would grow up in a pub where we literally did our homework on the counter with the customers,” she says. “It’s probably not acceptable anymore.”

When Dee’s father passed away, the family retained the pub but hired outsiders to run the business. That remained the case until an opportunity arose for Dee to take over the business.

“I was doing something else, a different career, and I decided I didn’t want to do it anymore and the opportunity came up to take over the pub,” she says. “And I said, ‘Yeah, it’s time for me to do it.’”

Pint bliss

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Asked to describe the pub, Costello recalls a comment she heard from a customer.

“It’s like something you’d find down the country up a mountain,” she recalls him saying. “I think that best describes it.”

But while it may outwardly have the appearance of a traditional auld lad pub, Costello is keen to stress that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Even though it looks like an auld fellas pub, we don’t really have that type of client base,” she says.

Instead, she says the pub attracts a young, diverse clientele, one that’s reflective of the changing face of the area. She prides the pub on being inclusive.

“Everyone’s welcome regardless of who you are, what you are, what you believe in,” she says. “As I said to one guy, ‘I don’t care if a man comes in in in a tutu. That’s fine by me.’”

Not only are humans of all persuasions welcome, but the pub is also extremely dog-friendly. When regulations allowing businesses to welcome domestic animals at their discretion were introduced last year, Costello decided to allow dogs in the pub.

It was a change she decided to implement having lived in London and observed people bringing their dogs everywhere.

“It just makes no sense not to have dogs in the pub,” she says. “We grew up with dogs. We had dogs in the pub until they died fifteen years ago. They were part of the furniture back in the day.”

“If you want a neighbourhood pub, that’s part of the whole thing. Dogs are like people’s children so why not bring them to the pub? Why leave them at home?”

Every dog who pops in gets a treat and a bowl of water.

“They’re a customer as well, you know?”

One of Costello’s favourite things about the pub is how it figures into people’s romantic lives.

“There are a lot of first dates,” she says. “You can see the Tinder dates as well. They can be kind of funny to watch from behind the counter.”

“There was a gay couple who had their first date in the pub and they’re getting married because they had their first snog outside the Royal Oak. That’s just so sweet.”

She credits the customers with keeping the pub buzzy and spontaneous. It’s the type of place, she says, that someone can rock up with a band and start an impromptu session. Her attitude? “Fire away.”

The recent weather has also helped keep the pub busy.

“For the last four or five weeks, it’s been outside all the time,” she says. “People are staying out until the bitter end because it’s been so warm.”

But it’s a welcome treat after the long winter, she says.

The snow was bedlam in the pub. Once the red alert went up on the Wednesday night, everyone just went, ‘I’m not going to work, great. Let’s get pissed.’ And it was mental. It was chaos. We ran out of Guinness. It was just madness.

❤️ u oaky #repealthe8th #togetherforyes

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Under her stewardship, the pub was a vocal supporter of Yes in the recent referendum to repeal the eighth amendment. While some businesses may have been cautious about taking such a public stance, she says it was a no-brainer.

“A lot of people would disagree with that and say, ‘Yoy shouldn’t be doing that. You shouldn’t be putting your views out in public,” she says. “But I went, no, we are. I’m a female who’s running it. This is a human rights issue for us. It’s women’s rights and it’s important. So if you’re not going to stick your neck out for it…”

It’s just another way in which The Royal Oak has evolved under her stewardship.

“It was a sort of seismic shift when I took over in terms of how it was always older men behind the counter,” she says. “That’s all changed. New era, new reality of 2018.”

It’s very much a new Ireland.

More: ‘Come for the view, stay for the craic’: The mountain magic of the Blue Light pub>

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Amy O'Connor

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