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Hole In The Wall
story of my pub

'It takes a month to put them up': The story of the Hole in the Wall's legendary Christmas decorations

How the Dublin 7 institution built a place in the community.

SITUATED AT THE edge of the Phoenix Park is The Hole in the Wall, one of Dublin’s most renowned watering holes. 

The building dates back to the seventeenth century and was historically used as both a coaching station and a tavern. The name refers to the days when soldiers stationed in McKee Barracks near Phoenix Park used to sneak off to the bar for a clandestine pint.

“They were served drinks through the hole in the wall into the park,” explains the pub’s current owner Martin McCaffrey. 

McCaffrey has been involved in the pub for over thirty years, having dabbled in other pubs around Dublin 7 for a period.

“This was a family pub and then we bought Nancy Hand’s and Ryan’s on Parkgate Street,” he says. “I sold those and came back here and took over.”

Since then he has fully immersed himself in The Hole In The Wall, overseeing its rapid expansion. At over one hundred metres long, it is said to be the longest bar in Europe. 

“What we’ve done is bought up cottages all along Blackhorse Avenue and it is now three hundred feet long,” he says. “It’s long and getting longer all the time.” 

“By this time next year, it will probably be another hundred yards long.”

The space is now home to a pub, a restaurant, a coffee shop and a wine shop. McCaffrey says he has made a concerted effort to keep up with modern trends while clinging on to the pub’s unique charms.

Some of the trends it has embraced? They have collaborated with Rascals Brewing Co. to create their own house beer known as The Holer. There are plans afoot to launch their own gin early next year and they will soon be serving woodfired pizza in the pub.

“It’s traditional but it’s authentic. We have embraced current food trends, current coffee trends, current wine trends. It’s not as if we have stayed in the bygone era.” 

“But it’s an authentic pub as opposed to a pseudo pub. People build these pubs and try to copy places like here. It’s not a faux pub.”

It’s the type of pub that attracts people from all walks of life – locals, tourists, celebrities. Patrons over the last few weeks have included the All Blacks and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

What McCaffrey really values, however, is the fact that The Hole in the Wall has become what he describes as “a real community pub”. Indeed it has its own 256 member-strong running club, a cycling club and a wine club.

 “It’s a very special thing,” he says.

The pub really comes into its own at this time of year. Every year, it is transformed into a winter wonderland with the exterior and interior decked out in twinkling lights, tinsel, miniature Santas and whatever else you’re having.

“That tradition was something we brought from Nancy Hand’s,” recalls McCaffrey. “We did a big job there and people just really embraced the decorations. Over the last twenty years, it has just gotten bigger and bigger.”

“Now it takes one month to put the decorations up. We start on the 29th October and we aim to have it done by the night of our wine and craft fair. People in the area see it as the launch of the Christmas season.”

“It’s not tacky. We spend a lot of time and effort and energy to get it right. People are really shocked by the beauty of the place when they come through the door. It’s the beauty of the actual building and how it lends itself to this magical experience.”

Over the course of the Christmas season, the pub plays host to countless Christmas-themed events like breakfast with Santa Claus or a wine and craft fair. Proceeds from these events are donated to local charities like St Vincent’s on Navan Road and Temple Street Hospital.

It’s just their way of giving back to the local community, says McCaffrey. For instance, he explains how the annual craft fair raised over €3,000 for St Vincent’s on the Navan Road. 

“We asked them what they felt would be the most beneficial use of €3,000 and they said, ‘Mats for kids with autism,’” he says. “So kids with autism can set up a gym, they can jump on a mat and they’re safe. That kind of thing is really nice to see.”

The way McCaffrey sees it, it’s the least they can do.

“We’re in a fortunate position where we’re in a good location and we have a good community.”

We’re just lucky to have the opportunity to run it and the energy to think up mad ideas all the time.

More: ‘Someone will walk in and it’s ‘Oh, you’re back from Australia!”: How Tigh Neachtains became a home from home> 

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