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The Easter Rising holdout where a Leinster captain pulled pints: The incredible history of the Swan Bar

“I stuck the rugby jerseys up on the wall, they were all in the hot press.”

MEDIEVAL INN, HOTBED of republicanism, rugby pub – The Swan on Aungier Street has had many identities over the years and witnessed a hell of a lot of history.

The pub has stood proudly on the corner of the thoroughfare since 1661 and its name harkens back to that period.

“The name is very much based around the time,” says Ronan Lynch, whose family have owned the pub since 1937. “Back in those days, people couldn’t read so all the pubs were named after symbols and that’s where the name came from.”

Lynch says the pub holds one of the oldest licenses in the city. The current building dates back to the early 1800s, while the interior goes back to 1897.

“There was a guy named John O’Reilly who had it,” says Lynch. “He put in the bar we have until this day. It’s all intact.”

Indeed it’s one of the best examples of a Victorian pub in the city with many of the original features still visible. For example, you can still see a cash kiosk and two barrels behind the bar, all of which would have been functioning features up until the 1950s or 1960s. There are also old taps, which Lynch has been trying to get back working, but to no avail.

“It’s a labour of love, but we will get around to it at some stage,” he says.

Even the counter itself dates back to the period and serves as a very specific purpose. 

“The counter is Scottish granite because you didn’t have refrigeration back then,” notes Lynch. “So the actual counter is made of a granite slab. It’s always cold so it keeps your beer cold. These Victorians were very well up on these things.”

Over the years, the pub has played a supporting role in many of the capital’s most critical moments. 

During the Easter Rising, it was occupied by rebels and used as a signalling post of sorts. The building was later used during the War of Independence. 

“It was the highest building on the street so it was used extensively in operations against the British Army,” says Lynch.

Indeed, the building still bears some scars from that period.

“There are all these bullet hole pockmarks on the front of the building from the civil war,” says Lynch. “You can see them on a sunny day.”

Lynch’s grandfather purchased the pub back in 1937 upon returning from the United States. He settled above the pub with his five sons, all of whom went to St Mary’s in Rathmines. It was there that Sean Lynch, Ronan’s father, started his rugby career.

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For years, he played with and captained Leinster – all while running The Swan full time. Eventually he was selected to play for his country.

“He was the first bar owner to play for Ireland,” says Lynch proudly. 

Lynch was subsequently picked for the Lions Tour in 1971, which saw the Lions win the Test series against the All Blacks. To this day, they are the only Lions squad to defeat the All Blacks. 

Dotted around the pub are mementos from his father’s rugby career including a number of framed jerseys and awards. Not that Sean Lynch had anything to do with it. 

“My Dad would be very modest,” says Lynch. “I stuck the rugby jerseys up on the wall about fifteen years ago. They were all in a black bag in the hot press and I said, ‘Jesus Dad, what use are they in there?’ Let’s tell people because it’s a great story.”

“People come over from New Zealand just to meet my Dad, but people wouldn’t know anything about him here. He wouldn’t be blowing his own trumpet.” 

In 2002, a group of customers came together to erect a bust in Lynch’s honour in acknowledgment of his sporting achievements.  

“He was overwhelmed when he got it,” says Lynch. “It’s very unusual to get, especially as a bar owner because usually all bar owners get is abuse.”

It was a nice touch. It’s a good story. People just don’t know about it.

More: ‘It has the best view of any pub in Ireland’: The secret behind the great pints at JJ Bowles>

More: ‘It put another string to my bow’: How one of Ireland’s best-known trad musicians came to own a pub in Westport>

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Amy O'Connor

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