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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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'He's working on the leather and I'm pouring beer': The story of Dick Mack's in Dingle

Half-pub, half-leather shop, Dick Mack’s has been a fixture in the town since 1899.

dm Source: Instagram/dickmackspub

There’s a famous sign outside Dick Mack’s that reads, “Where is Dick Mack’s? Opposite the church. Where is the church? Opposite Dick Mack’s.”

The slogan was the brainchild of a relation of Tom MacDonnell, who first opened the pub in 1899 – and it’s a testament to how deeply rooted the pub is in Dingle’s culture.

As Tom’s great-grandson, Finn MacDonnell, who runs the pub today, explains:

[Tom's uncle] ran an ad in the Irish Times and he put that motto in an ad. He put that ad in the paper – purely that information, nothing more – and it went from there. It was a very original idea and it caught on. People photograph that sign every day.

From day one, Dick Mack’s was a pub with a difference:

Tom worked on the light railway that ran into Dingle and he had an idea that people travelling into Dingle might need leather work done. He opened the bar and leather shop, which we continue today.

To this day, one half of Dick Mack’s is a standard pub and the other half is a leather shop.

The latter operates from Monday to Friday from March to October. “We have a guy making belts, keyrings, that kind of thing,” MacDonnell says.

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MacDonnell is the fourth generation of the family to be involved in the running of the pub. Since taking over, he has sought to leave his own mark on it and made a concerted effort to make it a whiskey bar starting a few years ago.

“I have a passion for it,” he says. “Fortunately two or three other people who are full time here have jumped on that bandwagon. It’d be a really key part of the bar.

They now stock over 250 bottles of whiskey including a bottle of Midleton Pearl, which retails for €11,000. Shots range in price from as little as €4 to over €100 or €200. The more expensive shots are generally bought by tourists looking to push the boat out or those marking a special occasion.

“It won’t be a regular, it won’t be a drunk guy. It’ll be someone planning to do it.”

It’s a point of pride for MacDonnell.

When you walk into a family bar, you want to have your own impact on it, you know? I’m here in my tenth year now. I feel now I’ve left my contribution to the bar. I’ve developed that and hopefully it can continue to be looked after.

More recently, the pub has opened its own microbrewery in a former cowshed and developed its own beer called Dick Mack’s IPA.

“More and more people were coming in to the bar looking for something local or different, and we didn’t have a whole lot to offer them,” explains MacDonnell. From there, he hatched a plan with a few others to create a beer and the rest is history.

Originally the beer was only going to be stocked in Dick Mack’s, but it’s now stocked in pubs throughout Dingle. Don’t expect to find it in craft beer pubs around the country, though.

It will only ever be in Dingle. It will be a local beer for people who come here. We won’t be able to make enough to go any further and we don’t really want to.

It’s one of the many things that attract people from far and wide to Dick Mack’s. The pub enjoys a strong tourist trade as well as a strong local trade.

“We’re very lucky. Fortunately people have enough work that they can enjoy life. Our local trade would be Monday to Friday. At the weekend, you’re overrun with people on holidays. They all pile down at the weekends.”

As tourism to Dingle during the off-peak season has increased, so have the numbers visiting Dick Mack’s – a far cry from when MacDonnell started work in the pub.

“It’s good down here now. You’re never on your own in the bar. When I started, you could have been on the bar on your own for a whole night. Middle of November, January, February, you could have been on your pub counting down the time until you shut.”

Asked for his favourite part about the pub, MacDonnell cites working there during the daytime.

I love being in the pub in the daytime. Right now, Bryan is working on the leather and I’m behind the bar pouring beer. People wander in and they’re completely blown away by the look of the bar, and the fact you have a guy doing craftwork on one side and a guy pouring beer in the other half.

Younger visitors are equally tranfixed.

“When they watch Brian doing the leather work, they put down the phone and they kind of kneel up on the bench, and they watch him for a whole half hour doing the work,” says Finn.

I love that. It’s what the pub should be about, people engaging with each other and not plugged into their phones.

Hear, hear.

More: 10 little-known Irish parks you should visit this spring

More: 4 events for… anyone sick of chocolate this Easter weekend

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Amy O'Connor

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