Bewley’s was the place where I spent quite a lot of time in my student days back in the ’70s. I studied English in TCD, which meant only a few hours of lectures and lots of time for reading. Of course, I could have studied in the College Library, but my friends and I preferred Bewley’s and often commandeered a table for the entire day. Tea, coffee, Almond Buns and Mary Cakes were our drugs of choice back then.
You can see the re-invented Mary Cake below; the original was smaller and round.
Reading occurred between friends coming and going. Medical and science students, engineeers, generally everyone else had heavy timetables; I was often there for the day.
Bewley’s was where we met to give advice on love, where we met to have post-mortems after parties and cure our hangovers and even where love stories began.
Closed for over three years so that restoration work could take place, it has been re-opened for a year and a half and when I discovered that one of my former pupils was giving tours of the iconic café, I organised to go see what he knew and what I had forgotten.
The atmosphere in Bewley’s was always friendly and welcoming and nothing has changed there.
Cian met us and following a historical introduction took us on a tour of the cafe. We were there early and got to see everything before the Saturday crowds took over. Bewley’s is a family-owned Irish company with a fascinating history and the cafe was built to rival the best tea houses in Europe.
I loved the tour down memory lane and was surprised by how much I had forgotten and in some cases had never known! Many of the original features have been lovingly restored. Below, you can see the new wallpaper; the design is very much based on the original, though the colour is different.
Harry Clarke’s stained-glass windows still have pride of place and though I always admired them, I don’t think I understood their significance. Cian enlightened us.
And a new window has been added. Below you can see artist Jim Fitzpatrick’s window, which used to be in Bewley’s Mary Street Cafe, featuring Cruithne, the mistress of Cu Chulainn.
I wasn’t aware that our celebrated artist Pauline Bewick had been commissioned to produce two new stained-glass windows and these are worth a visit to the third floor. As expected, they are quirky and surprising.
You will learn about the original buildings: the cafe is actually two houses. I never knew that.
Although the cafe is about the tea, coffee and famous buns, it houses a lunchtime theatre, it pays homage to Irish writers and poets (Joyce has a room named after him) and it is also an art gallery of sorts, housing works from Paddy Campbell and Graham Knuttel among others. Below is a sculpture (by Paddy Campbell) of Mata Hari, the exotic dancer executed for treason during WW1.
I could give you the full history here (there is so much more to see and learn) but a tour of the iconic building would be far more interesting where you could experience it for yourselves, hear the stories, view the art, savour the atmosphere and, of course, enjoy the tea/coffee and the sticky buns. The tour was created by Pat Liddy, author, historian and noted for his walking tours.
As Brendan Kennelly, poet and one of my much-loved college lecturers, described it: “Bewley’s is the heart and the hearth of Dublin…the atmosphere is full of lovely rattling music made up of cups and chatter, gossip and laughter, watchful eyes and gadabout tongues”.
So if in Dublin, pop in for a coffee and a sticky bun and if there on a Saturday, book online for a tour. You will appreciate the beauty around you even more.