london pubs

HELP US: Irish Theme Pubs

We’re keen to hear from people who drank at, worked in or were otherwise involved with Irish theme pubs in England between the 1980s and the early 2000s.

Here’s a list of specific pubs and chains we’re interested in:

  1. Flanagan’s Apple, Liverpool — converted from a warehouse by local entrepreneur Bob Burns it opened in 1984 and is still trading.
  2. Minogues, London N1 (Islington) — formerly the Islington Tup/Tap it was converted into an Irish pub in 1986; it became the Pig & Butcher in 2012.
  3. Mulligan’s, London W1 (Mayfair) — an Irish pub from c.1991.
  4. Waxy O’Connor’s, London W1 (Covent Garden) — opened in 1995; still there, still massive.
  5. Mid-1990s chains: Scruffy Murphy’s (Allied-Domecq), Rosy O’Grady’s (Greene King), J.J. Murphy (Whitbread) and O’Neill’s (Bass). We’re really interested in what they were like in their prime which ran from about 1994-1998.

Guinness promotional clock, South London.

And, going back a bit further, because it can’t hurt to ask…

  1. Any of the Murphy’s pubs that operated in London between the 1930s and 1980s, e.g. The White Hart on Mile End Road. (More info.)
  2. Ward’s Irish House, London W1 (Piccadilly Circus) — in the basement of the London Pavilion where you will now find Ripley’s Believe it Or Not.
  3. Any branch of Mooney’s, found across London up until the 1970s, e.g. at 395 The Strand.

Comment below or, even better, email us at if you can help.

PS. We’re also still after reminiscences of theme pubs (especially the Nag’s Head, Covent Garden) and prefabs.

Main image adapted from ‘Flanagan’s Apple’ by Adam Bruderer via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

20 replies on “HELP US: Irish Theme Pubs”

Drank in a Scruffy Murphy’s a few times. Bare floor boards, Oirsh tat. It’s now back to being the Britannia. And there’s still an O’Neill’s in Woking if you feel you’ve missed out…

I spent most of my uni years in Brum drinking at one of 2 O’Neill’s pubs, the one on Broad Street, which is still there, and one which was near a cinema that I can’t remember for the life of me where it was in relation to Bristol Street and the Smallbrook Queensway.

The one on Broad Street was everything you’d imagine an Irish ethno-pub to be, wooden floor boards, solid wooden furniture (the one that can’t remember the location of had a massive wooden table that could easily seat 15 people), the occasional wing backed leather armchair, of the kind I wish I had in my own house these days. Friday nights were always humming there so I would be there reasonably early to get my preferred seat, at the bar, with a wall to one side so I could watch the throng. A random thing just popped into my head, there was a collecting tin on the bar with two cherubic Anglo-Saxon looking angels and an African child with the slogan being something like ‘help the poor pagan child’.

On the drinks front it was mainly Caffrey’s, Guinness, and Carling, I was more of a Caffrey’s drinker back then, though in the unknown location I had my first shots of poitin while singing the Fields of Athenry celebrating Celtic winning the Scottish league in the first time in ten years (1998). Whenever I ate there I had the beer batter fish and chips, and sometimes the treacle pudding – simple tastes really.

In many ways those pubs are still the archetype of the kind of place I love drinking in, even if they are painfully cliched and almost cartoonish.

Thanks, Al — useful stuff, and you’re not alone in having a soft spot for these kinds of places.

So-called Irish pubs were at best patronising of the Irish people and at worst downright racist, as in Scruffy Murphy’s. Some of them provide a living for local musicians who can play jigs and reels at 90mph, interspersed with Black Velvet Band, Wild Rover and The Fields of Athenry. A friend of mine, who is a respected local traditional singer and musician, plays this kind of music in such venues purely for the money, but he doesn’t regard it as real Irish music.

I don’t recall going into an ‘Irish’ pub that sold a decent pint. I often walk past Flanagan’s Apple, but it’s some time since I’ve been in there as it doesn’t interest me.

Nev — we’ve picked up on some of the contemporary kick back around racism and stereotyping, notably from a nice long article in the Irish edition of The Sunday Times (“Don’t English people ahve anything better to worry about?” says one Dublin bar manager) and a similar report from What’s Brewing that summarises local CAMRA groups’ complaints and campaigns. There was nearly one called Beastie O’Shagg’s in Norwich but they thought better of it at the last minute!

I said something rather favourable about them – or at least their design – nearly twenty years ago:

“But some of the better executed conversions, in particular the various Scruffy Murphy’s outlets, actually have a lot to be said for them as pieces of pub design. They may be pastiche, but it’s a pastiche of something with genuine character and atmosphere. The designers have obviously taken a lot of care to obtain authentic memorabilia and to build in cosy snugs and boxes, partitions, black and white tiled floors, wood panelling and impressive mirrored backfittings. The encouragement of live traditional music in “Irish” pubs is another big point in their favour.

“In short, what they’ve created, underneath the Irish veneer, is real pubs, and, unless they’ve destroyed an interior of character in the process, which has not generally been the case around here, there’s nothing you can really object to in terms of the fabric of the place. If only half as much effort had been applied to many of our “Victorian” pubs, which so often are no more than a few Victorian trimmings applied to a modern plan – whoever heard of a raised seating area in the last century?

“With a bit of luck, once the vogue for Irish pubs has passed, they’ll be able to turn them into some very nice English alehouses without needing any structural work at all. “

There was both a Rosie O’ Grady’s and an O’Neill’s in Oxford. I frequented both around 1996. In O’Neill’s, “failte” was spelt in about 6 different ways on the walls. I also remember that the staff were trained to trace a shamrock into the top of a head of Guinness with the last trickle from the tap – trendy coffee bars do similar things to their flat whites now.

“In O’Neill’s, “failte” was spelt in about 6 different ways on the walls.”

That’s a nice detail!

There is still an O’Neill’s on Oxford’s George Street, on the corner with New Inn Hall Street. I believe that it’s now a chain within Mitchell and Butler.

Rosie O’ Grady’s was originally a Morrells pub on Park End Street, and has been through several name changes since. It still trades, although I’ve no idea of its current name.

I think I’ve been in two Irish pubs in my life, not counting drinking joints that are actually in Ireland. One was a chain, the other wasn’t – it turned into the Roadhouse IIRC (although nothing I can find online about the Roadhouse confirms this). I remember it had the line about “no strangers here” above the door, on the outside of the building. It was quiet the night I was in – it was a weekday evening – so when a fight broke out & two guys started rolling around the floor battering each other it was hard to ignore. You can’t buy that kind of atmosphere.

I can’t separate my memories of the pubs from my memories of Caffrey’s, which was a truly awful beer

I seem to remember Waxy O’Connor’s having some sort of tree in the middle of the pub. It may still be there, or I may have made that up, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in there.

In the late nineties O’Neill’s in Blackheath would have some sort of table service, which was particularly helpful on busy Friday nights if you wanted to avoid the scrum at the bar. This may have been a general O’Neill’s thing? It certainly felt novel at the time.

That’s interesting — thanks, Steve. Part of a general sense, perhaps, that, being Foreign, Irish pubs had leeway to mess with the essentials pub formula.

Jessica & Ray.
There seems to be very little info on the net re: Ward’s Irish House Piccadilly’ i first drank there in 1967 & worked there from 1972 for a few years on & off. We sold a staggering 120 keg’s of draught Guinness a week + 150 Cases of Newcastle Brown Ale [ 12 Pint bottles per case], the St James’s Tavern on the corner of Windmill Street sold roughly 10 Kegs of Guinness. It was a right dump but had a great atmosphere’ in fact an American came in one day & said it was his first time back in London since WW2 [roughly 30 years] he was glad to see we hadn’t bothered to wash the concrete floor. Though not offically an early morning house’ the taps were running from 06:oohrs till 23:00hrs 7 days a week. There were 4 pubs around the Circus at that time, when i cycle through there now the neon signs & pubs have all gone’ i suppose it’s progress.
Best wishes, Conn.

I used to supply wine to Minogues. It was owned by Paul Lawenson and Ethel Minogue. Great brunches with oysters and Guinness and Champagne. Yuppies were just starting and the surrounding streets were beginning to fill up with Porches.

Comments are closed.