Frank McNally

The Irish Times - - Comment & letters -

If chairs could talk, this one would re­call that it was once sat on by both Patrick and Wil­lie Pearse

An ac­quain­tance of The

Ir­ish Times was in the process of try­ing to buy a house re­cently when an item of fur­ni­ture – the chair pic­tured – came up in the con­ver­sa­tion. It wasn’t part of the sale, for rea­sons that may be­come ob­vi­ous. But pend­ing im­mi­nent re­lo­ca­tion, it added to the prop­erty’s am­bi­ence.

If chairs could talk, this one would re­call that it was once sat on by both Patrick and Wil­lie Pearse.

In its con­tin­u­ing si­lence, how­ever, that event has been recorded by oth­ers, be­cause the chair was lo­cated in a bar­ber­shop at the time.

When the Pearses oc­cu­pied it on Easter Thurs­day 1916, it was for their last ever hair­cuts, as at least one of the broth­ers must have fore­seen.

They had been reg­u­lar cus­tomers at the shop, Do­ran’s of Rath­mines, although it wasn’t long open then. Re­al­is­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of this visit later, John Do­ran (a brother of James, who founded the busi­ness) would re­call they hadn’t spo­ken much. But then again, he said, they never did.

In any case, they were newly coif­fured as they headed for their ap­point­ment with his­tory. And the fame of sub­se­quent events ex­plains why, after a re­tire­ment spent in the fam­ily home, the chair will most likely end up in a mu­seum.

As for the bar­ber­shop, it still stands on Castle­wood Av­enue and, although no longer in the orig­i­nal own­er­ship, it’s still called Do­ran’s.

In­deed, by sur­viv­ing this long, the busi­ness has made his­tory of its own.

It was launched, four months be­fore the Ti­tanic ,on Jan­uary 2nd, 1912. And although 105 years seems rel­a­tively youth­ful by Dublin stan­dards, those chron­i­clers of the city’s so­cial his­tory, come­here­, have de­clared it the old­est bar­ber­shop in town.

Speak­ing of towns, for much of its ear­lier life, Do­ran’s town would have been Rath­mines. The shop is still in Rath­mines now, of course, but that’s a mere sub­urb these days, whereas back then it would have a near-Cat­alo­nian sense of its own sovereignty.

When Do­ran’s pre­vi­ously fea­tured in this news­pa­per, in 2002, the then-re­cently re­tired Jimmy, a son of the founder, made this point force­fully. He had been born above the shop in the same year the Pearses made their poignant visit. And nearly nine decades later, he was still declar­ing his in­de­pen­dence from the mu­nic­i­pal su­per­power.

“I’m not a Dubliner,” he in­sisted. “I’m a Rath­mines man [...] Dublin didn’t come in here, to Rath­mines, un­til 1930. Rath­mines Ur­ban District Coun­cil used make its own elec­tric­ity un­til then.”

In like vein, Jimmy Do­ran dif­fer­en­ti­ated be­tween his mother (“a Rath­mines woman“) and his fa­ther (“a city man”). He also men­tioned the Pearse chair in pass­ing (“My grand­chil­dren sit on it to use their com­put­ers”). But hav­ing spent 68 years bar­ber­ing, from 1930 to 1998, he was es­pe­cially in­sight­ful about the ups and downs of that trade.

The Trou­bles of 1916-23 were not a ma­jor chal­lenge, clearly: peo­ple still have to get their hair cut dur­ing revolutions. But 1960s pop cul­ture was a disas­ter. “When the Bea­tles came in all the fel­las kept their hair long,” he re­called. Hun­dreds of hair­dressers went out of busi­ness as a re­sult, but Do­ran’s were lucky: “We kept go­ing and we came up again, by God.”

Speak­ing of God, but mov­ing to a dif­fer­ent part of Rath­mines, read­ers may re­call a re­cent col­umn here on the sub­ject of a mys­te­ri­ous mes­sage, writ­ten in stone, on its domed Catholic Church. As men­tioned then, it’s the num­ber “77”, formed by blocks in an arched lin­tel.

But it had es­caped the at­ten­tion of lo­cal his­to­ri­ans un­til some years ago when a vis­i­tor from US claimed it to be the work of her em­i­grant fa­ther, an anti-Treaty Repub­li­can who, when ren­o­vat­ing the church in 1923, left it as a re­minder of the num­ber of his col­leagues ex­e­cuted by the Free State gov­ern­ment.

But it seems there may be at least one counter-claimant. For my for­mer Ir­ish Times col­league Sea­mus Mar­tin has since told me that, ac­cord­ing to a fam­ily tra­di­tion, it was his ma­ter­nal un­cle, Matthew Mullen, who did it. “Un­cle Matt” was a brick­layer and stone­ma­son. And not only was he anti-Treaty, he was ar­rested while work­ing on the church and jailed in Kil­main­ham.

Whether the true au­thor­ship of the “77” can ever be proven now is not clear.

The one thing Sea­mus knows for cer­tain is that Mullen was ar­rested the same day as two other repub­li­can no­ta­bles. One was Seán McEn­tee. The sec­ond, an­other stone­ma­son who may also have been work­ing on the church, was Stephen Be­han, fa­ther of the play­wright.

The Pearse broth­ers had been reg­u­lar cus­tomers at Do­ran’s of Rath­mines

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