From top: The Queens, Dalkey: A view of Sir John Hasler’s house in Dalkey by John Campbell (1757-1829)
The Queens in Dalkey is a pub which will not be opening this week. The pub is laid low with Coronavirus, staff have been made redundant; there is a possible unsightly end in prospect.
The Irish Times raised the possibility that it may be flattened to make apartments. The Queens in Dalkey is older than the Irish Times, so perhaps it is forgivable that it does not know its history.
Less forgivable is that the Queen’s pub does not know its own history. If it did, it would have more than enough reason to cry for its own preservation.
The Queens is Dalkey. More than you might think or know. I know more than most about it, so I’ll share it with you, but sit tight, because it is quite a ride. It involves shipwrecks, white slavery, hidden gold and a lot more besides.
Firstly, the key to this story is lost, missing in a typo. Like all the most important things, you wouldn’t find even if you were looking. That typo is there for all to see on the Queens’ website, under the history section, which reads:
Although The Queens was licensed to dispense alcohol from 1787 ( a date that makes it Dalkey’s and one of Ireland’s oldest inns) the origins of The Queens date back even further to medieval times when Dalkey was the commercial port of Dublin.
The Concert room of The Queen’s Royal Hotel, Dalkey, as it was then known, formed part of the famous “Castle House”, the “hospitable manor” erected by Sir John Mastor, who came to Ireland in the court of the Viceroy, the Duke of Rutland.
This very impressive claim gives a hint as to its history but would be a dead-end if you went to search further. The Castle House was indeed its name, but it was a Sir John Hasler who built this House. This is the story of how he came to do that. However, that story does not start here, it, as many good stories do, has its beginnings in Co. Cork.
On the 11th of November 1758, the HMS Litchfield set sail from Cork Harbour in a convoy of 11 ships, flying British royal navy colours, it was assigned to lead the squadron. Its mission was to transport troops to West Africa.
However, disaster struck after just 16 days at sea. As the crew bedded down, thinking themselves to be 350 miles from the African coast, they found themselves shipwrecked on the Barbary coast (modern day Morocco).
The resulting scenes are too horrific and repugnant to be repeated here. 220 of the 350 crew made it to shore, some women and children included, the others perished over a 3 day period as they tried to make it to safety. Those that did make it to shore were captured, enslaved and escorted to Marrakesh under the invitation of the Moroccan emperor.
You might ask yourself at this point, what this has to do with the Queens pub In Dalkey. Well, you could be quite sure that if that incident did not happen then, the pub that is no longer a pub would not be there in the first place. A Butterfly’s wing causes hurricanes, given enough time.
What happened next in this story, is that a John Hasler, an Englishman, was asked if he would act as secretary to the Governor of Gibraltar, the closest British port, to help resolve the crisis.
Having 220 British subjects enslaved in Morocco was not going down too well in Westminster. The Fleet street papers thought it a national disgrace.
John Hasler was sent into the court of the Moroccan Emperor and managed, to much acclaim, to successfully negotiate the slaves release after 18 months of captivity.
This success brought him some good fortune, but also the friendship of George Townsend, as in the Marquess Townsend, who was in the locale helping protect the Portuguese from the Spanish in the years that followed.
It’s the same George Townsend that became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1767. And who do you think he called up (it was pre-internet, so he had to ring him) to offer a job when moved to Dublin?
Our John Hasler.
And when he came to Ireland, where did he choose to buy?
Only Dalkey. The big shot and saviour of the Moroccan escapade. He was the Matt Damon of the day.
The Dalkey that he met in 1767 had seen better days. Although it had been a medieval port of significance, it had “dwindled to a few miserable fishing huts”.
There are illustrations, including a Gentleman’s Magazine article of 1771 showing it to be a scattering of houses, with 7 castles in various states of disrepair, along with a ruined but picturesque church.
Just the previous year, March 1766, two of four pirates who were hung in St. Stephen’s green had their bodies fixed in Irons on Dalkey Island, having found themselves to be a disagreeable sight in their first resting place in the New South Wall.
But this is where the story returns to it’s origins. John Hasler’s presence in Dalkey is well recorded in J.Gaskin’s very humorous book of 1874 “Irish Varieties – or Sketches of History and Character”. A book that is 150 years old, but still feels like a fireside chat with an old friend.
I’ll be honest, it seems to me that this old friend is drunk. I’ve found errors in the references, along with a cavalier attitude to page numbering, consistency in narrative and the absence of other such limits on free expression. There are thought to be 7 Castles of Dalkey, he lists 10.
Regardless, he gives a fascinating history of Dalkey, including the following paragraph:
The Concert hall of the Queen’s Royal Hotel, Dalkey, formed a portion of the celebrated “Castle House” – The hospitable mansion erected by Sir John Hasler who with his friend Sir John Lees, came over to Ireland in the court of the viceroys, the former with the Duke of Rutland, and Sir Harcourt with the Marquis of Townshend. *(I think it is the other way around).
The history of this house is replete with interesting associations of the past and present centuries- replete with vivid memories of scenes of festive gaiety, genial wit, good humour, and genuine enjoyment. Irish hospitality was dispensed as freely and cordially at the castle house as
it was at Ulick Burke’s “Open house” near the “valley of the diamonds” in the county of Wicklow, or in the early part of the last century, at the hospitable mansion of the celebrated Thomas Matthew, Thomastown, Co.Tipperary, where Swift resided as a guest for many month’s at a time.
In a footnote, he continues:
…the hospitable Sir John Hasler, who did so much in the last century to beautify Dalkey and preserve its ancient castles, one of which stood at the entrance to his gardens, which reached the sea……It was here the find of Saxon coins of the time of Edgar took place (referred to in this work) while removing the old castellated pillars of Sir John Hasler’s gateway. Portions of the walls and extensive stabling of this mansion are yet standing.
He goes on in a further chapter to identify, from a 1763 survey, 10 of the 7 castles which remain standing. John Hasler’s occupation of three of the Dalkey castles were identified, one used as a conservatory, another as a billiard room.
The good news for Dalkey was that they were in use, restored and roofed. The other identified was the “House castle” and garden, which became the Queens Hotel, which became the Queens pub in Dalkey.
Let us gather our thoughts for a moment. The Queens started as a House castle, roughly 1767, it was an open house, a seat of wit, good humour and entertainment.
This was initiated by John Hasler and seemed to evolve into a hostelry, licenced to sell alcohol by 1787. J.Gaskin, author of the book, first gathered there for a lecture given by the author on Dalkey’s history a few years before publication in in the Queens Hotel in around 1870.
If you want to add a middle to that story, you’d have to think that the Queens must have played a part in Dalkey’s fame for intelligent wit. Gaskin covers the “King of Dalkey” celebrations, which started out in 1787. It was said that 20,000 people turned out for the final coronation of that period in 1797. Is there any greater form of lampoonery of the King than to elect a new one every year?
You could draw a direct line to today starting at the king’s full title of “King of Dalkey, Emperor of the Muglins, Prince of the Holy Island of Magee, Baron of Bulloch, Seigneur of Sandycove, Defender of the Faith and Respector of All Others, Elector of Lambay and Ireland’s Eye, and Sovereign of the Most Illustrious Order of the Lobster and Periwinkle.” And l think you’ll find you hit Flann O’Brian’s “Dalkey archives” somewhere along the way.
Which brings us to our present day “Queens”; a furloughed pub with a forgotten history, assessed for site potential.
It should be remembered that Ireland’s history is an oral history. Our gift for storytelling and music-making has turned into an acclaimed international reputation in film-making, in literature, music.
We have our temples. Think what you want about Bono, but it is no co- incidence that he was drawn to the place. I’m sure Joyce had a night out there too. It is important that these stories are maintained. It is also important that where these stories are told are maintained.
While Saxon gold has been found within the walls of Dalkey’s castles, there is no need to go searching for the most valuable treasure; it is the walls. We have too few pictures, paintings, sculptures, records of the past. We should hold on to what we have.
The original “Castle” of Castle House was located where Peter Robert’s exceptionally fine fish shop is located at 24 Castle street in Dalkey today.
The relationship between that and the “House” part is not clear to me, but if you own 3 castles, perhaps you can have a concert room a block away.
The concert room was where it seemed to all happen, 100 meters down the street. I did find a record of the house.
This picture (above) was on a wall in a house in England for at least 100 years, it was auctioned here in Ireland in 2016, the auctioneers were kind enough to give me a copy.
If you would like to take a trip up to Dalkey, get out at the DART station, walk up to Railway Road, then look over towards the Queens bar, you’ll see something very similar (above).
Note: There may or may not be historical inaccuracies in the above article, I am an amateur in the area of historical research. If I have made any errors, please do let me know, I’d be happy to know the truth of these things. My interest lies in the fact that John Hasler had a grandson who was a local doctor in Dalkey at the time of the above Gaskin Publication. He in turn, had a grand-daughter, whose grand-daughter was my grandmother. Again. Stories. Talking about them is preserving them.
Further reading: I cannot recommend enough “Irish Varieties”, by J.Gaskin. A wonderful read. I believe that it was republished by Exchange book shop in Dalkey in the 1990s, there may be copies of that in circulation. There is another mention of the Queen’s hotel in it, regarding the “great number of Saxon coins found from time to time at and near Dalkey” and details correspondence on the subject in The Irish Times.
I would also recommend Joseph Robins’ fabulous “Champagne and Silver Buckles” if anyone would like to know more about Sir John Hasler or Dublin Castle during this period. He was Chamberlain to a number of Lord Lieutenants over a 30 year period and is credited with allowing the court routines to reach “an apogee of sophistication”. In reading that, it is clear that John Hasler was present in 1770, which predates suggesting by Gaskin that he arrived with the Duke of Rutland in 1784.
Luke Brennan is an Ireland born, Portugal-based writer and entrepreneur and regularly appears on Broadsheet on the Telly
With thanks to Aisling Gorry at Gorry Gallery for the Hasler painting photographed by Gillian Buckley.