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Dublin: 19 °C Saturday 20 April, 2019

'He worked in the International Bar for 40 years. He'd seen it all': Tributes to one of Dublin's longest-serving barmen

John Francis Smith came into contact with the likes of Phil Lynott, U2 and the best of Irish comedy during his 40 years behind the bar.

He was one of them good guys – he hadn’t a bad bone in his body. Always had a smile on his face. To be 40 years in a bar and not to dislike anybody is incredible.

JOHN FRANCIS SMITH was finishing up his shift in the International Bar like he had so many times since he started working in the Dublin city pub back in February 1979.

Alongside him was his colleague of 33 years Alan Martin and younger bar staff as they were doing the necessary bits before shutting up shop and going home.

It was to be the last day in work for one of Dublin’s longest-serving barmen – who was called John F by many patrons and friends – as he would later die suddenly on Friday 8 March.

IMG_3558 John Francis Smith stood behind the bar in Dublin's International Bar since 1979

“I was dumbfounded,” his workmate Alan told “He was a healthy guy. He swam three or four times week. He’d often walk to and from work.”

John F stood behind the bar of the International for so many years, but never slowed down as poured pints across the three floors of the popular Dublin hotspot. 

“He was a fresh 60 years of age. He’d just turned 60 in December” his colleague said. “John was always running. He was quite fast for a barman of his age.”

The barman also bore witness to the changing landscape of Ireland over the past four decades.

Alan said: “There was one story he told last year when Pope Francis came over. He remembered starting work here back in 1979, and it was a few months afterwards that Pope John Paul II. He was only 21 at the time.

John was due to work the day of the mass in the Phoenix Park. And it so happened his dad was going to be in a band that was playing for the pope that day. He would have been so proud to see his dad there in front of the million-odd people there. So he comes to work and sees a sign saying ‘all bars instructed to close till 5pm today’. So he got to go in the end, and he was there with the 1.5 million and got to see his dad.
He was telling me then when Pope Francis came last year, ‘imagine telling Dublin pubs these days to close for the pope’. It was a sign of the times. He’d seen it all. 

Over the course of his time working in the busy International Bar on Dublin’s Wicklow Street, the Cavan native came into contact with so many recognisable faces from the world of music, comedy and journalism. 

shutterstock_1009994641 Source: Shutterstock/BOULENGER Xavier

Phil Lynott would often come in at the start of the 1980s. U2 frequented the pub in the early days too. It was a regular haunt for Hot Press journalists during that time such as Declan Lynch, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews, Alan said.

And, over the past few decades, the International has played host to the Comedy Cellar which gave numerous comedians who’d go on to gain wider fame their start as well as featuring the best of Irish comedy still today. 

“We had the Apres Match lads, we had Ardal O’Hanlon, Des Bishop, all of them,” Alan said. “It was nice to see a good few of that old crowd at the funeral earlier this week.”

When John F passed away two Fridays ago, Alan Martin spent the weekend going through old phone numbers and old address books, ringing around various people to inform them of the news.

“We really got a great crowd then on Wednesday at the Pro Cathedral,” he said. “The speeches were lovely, and the eulogy was too.

It just shows you the man he was. So many people – some he might not have seen for years, decades – all remember him from the bar and turned out for him. 

According to his long-time workmate, John F would treat customers the same whether they were the office staff finishing up work on a Friday evening or world-famous musicians

His colleague said: “John hadn’t a bad bone in his body… he always had a smile on his face even after all this time. I’d often say to him ‘how do you go on like that?’.”

John F survived by his wife Susan. They’d been together 20 years but only got married late last year.

Alan said that John “lived for his holidays”, and made sure he got away every year. 

“When he was turning 60 in December, Susan text me to say she was bringing him on a surprise holiday to Milan, but she wanted me to make him think he’s going to Brighton because he’s been there and hates it,” he said.

One night after a shift, I said to him getting out of the car ‘any ideas where she’s bringing you? I read an article that said Brighton has great Christmas markets’. So I kept that up and then the night before he went away I said ‘enjoy Brighton’ as a joke. He told me to give him a real clue. I said ‘where do you work? That’s the clue’.
So, International – Inter – Inter Milan. He wasn’t a football man but he got it. Susan text me the next day and said ‘I can’t believe you told him’. They went then and had a great time. That was his last trip away. He didn’t know it would be his last trip away. 

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Sean Murray

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