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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 23 February, 2019
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'Come for the view, stay for the craic': The mountain magic of the Blue Light pub

The Barnacullia landmark that’s a local to people from all over Dublin.

Image: Shutterstock/J.Hogan

WITH TEMPERATURES HITTING the high twenties this week, Dubliners of every stripe will likely be making the pilgrimage to The Blue Light.

Situated in Barnacullia and boasting unrivalled views of Dublin Bay, the pub might be the best loved suntrap in the capital, with punters regularly flocking from all over the county to enjoy scoops with a view.

The Blue Light is included on maps dating back to 1853, but is likely much older. There were once six shebeens on the same road, but it’s the only one still standing.

Best pint of Guinness in Dublin.

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“Nobody really knows how long it’s been there, but it’s hundreds upon hundreds of years,” says Anne Marie Healy.

Her father Pat Healy purchased the pub in 1981 and the family have run it ever since. It doubled up as their family home at one point, but they have since converted the upstairs to a two-bedroom Airbnb that can sleep up to six people.

The pub has a fascinating history. Even the name has an unlikely back story.

“Believe it or not, people used to smuggle wine and brandy into Ireland years ago to avoid tax,” explains Healy. “There was a customs officials patrolling Dublin Bay. The locals hatched a plan that someone on the inside would signal to Barnacullia when the customs officers went off duty and the pub would light a blue ship lantern, which could be seen from Dublin Bay, and let the smugglers know that the coast was clear for them to row in on little boats to bring the contraband into shore in Killiney.

“And of course to let everyone know that the pub would soon be re-stocked with wine and spirits from afar.”

These days, the pub is no longer involved in smuggling contraband items, but the blue light still shines every night from the front of the bar.

Healy describes Barnacullia as a close, tight-knit community with families living there for up to six or seven generations. The name means ‘top of the wood’ and is a reference to Fernhill Gardens, a private house and garden that recently opened as a public park.

Its proximity to both the Dublin Mountains and Three Rock Mountain Trail means it regularly attracts hikers, cyclists and even motorcyclists.

“There’s a group of Café Racers that come up with handmade bikes every Friday,” remarks Healy.

She says that these customers regularly stop in for a drink, either alcoholic or non-alcoholic, after their bit of exercise. This lends the pub an “apres-ski vibe”.

“You know that lovely buzz you get after doing some exercise and exciting stuff, and you can’t wait to talk about it?” she says. “It’s like that.”

Likewise, the pub attracts people from nearby Stepaside, Dundrum, Carrickmines, Rathfarnham and Leopardstown.

“A right of way footpath goes from Stepaside to Barnacullia through the wood,” she notes. “One of the nicest ways things to do in summer is to walk up have a drink in the Blue Light and walk back down.”

“It’s all part of the adventure.”

But really the pub’s customers hail from all over the place.

“We call them locals, but they actually come from all over Dublin,” she says.

Dublin City View 😊 #dublin #cityview #ireland

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Knock, knock open wide...

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The pub is obviously renowned for its spectacular views. On a clear day, you can see Wales and the Mourne Mountains, while the sky in winter is a sight to behold. Little wonder then that people gravitate towards it no matter the weather.

“The snow was one of the busiest times,” says Healy. “It snowed in and the road was closed, but you still had people walking from all over the place.”

This week, the country has been blessed with sunshine and Healy expects to be kept busy. Fortunately, they have ample space to cater for those chasing the sun.

“We’re very busy but we have an awful lot of space. We have a beer garden out the back that we rent out, but it wasn’t rented out this week. We have a good bit of space for people to sit in the sun and look at the bay.

“We’ve also opened up a little place called The Secret Garden, which used to be the garden of the house we lived. There’s a whole load of room for people up there and that actually has the best view because it’s higher up.”

The views are so exemplary that the garden is being used as a wedding venue more and more.

“Not just the day after the wedding,” clarifies Healy. “They’re actually getting married because it’s such a beautiful place.”

Night🤷🏿‍♀️🇮🇪

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She describes the pub as having “a craic focus”. A place you can knock into by yourself and instantly find yourself mixing with locals, where nobody cares who you are or what you work as.

“I feel like it’s the only pub you can go into without a newspaper,” she says. “You just walk in and there’s just immediate craic.”

“We have the TV on for matches, but it’s not one of those pubs where everyone sits quietly. It’s immediate craic. If you go up there with a few people, you probably won’t get to talk to the person you went with because you’ll be talking to everybody else.”

Her favourite feature of the pub is a room known as ‘the kitchen’.

“It has a tiny little window so you come to the bar with the most panoramic view of Dublin Bay and then you go into a room for six hours that doesn’t have any windows,” she laughs. “But it’s so much craic, you know?”

In keeping with the pub’s emphasis on fun, it hosts music sessions seven nights a week. The pub usually books bands to play, but is also open to people knocking in for a singsong or bashing out a tune on a piano gifted to the pub by U2. It’s also home to an informal Gaeltacht night every Wednesday in which customers speak Irish. As if all that weren’t enough, it’ll be serving freshly made pizzas from its onsite pizzeria.

Sessions, cycling, hiking, pizza, craic – there’s more to The Blue Light than just the breathtaking vistas.

“It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but you come for the view and you stay for the craic,” says Healy.

More: ‘We took over a careworn building’: How L Mulligan Grocer made an unknown pub famous>

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Amy O'Connor

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