Sticky buns and the remembrance of things past.

This week came the sad news that Bewley’s Oriental Café on Grafton Street was to close permanently with the loss of 110 jobs. It’s a desperately difficult time for the people who worked there, as well as being very sad for the people who passed time there over the years.

I was invited to write a short essay to mark the café’s closure for The Business, and appreciated the chance to pay my respects. When I thought about it, a few things occurred to me. For one thing, perhaps as a Northsider, my No. 1 Bewley’s was the Westmoreland Street one, followed by the café on Mary Street. The Grafton Street café was mostly a night time destination, either after I finished work in the Gaiety nearby or after clubs on South Anne Street. But even if that Bewley’s wasn’t my Bewley’s, it important that it was always there not least as a part of Grafton Street that couldn’t have been Chester or any regional town in England.

I have to admit that I hadn’t been there since it had reopened, although I had snuck sneaky peaks in the side door at Clarendon Street while the renovations were ongoing. The new Bewley’s wasn’t for me and I wasn’t inclined to brave the queues of tourists to get a coffee or expensive lunch there. For me, missing Bewley’s, it’s also about missing Grafton Street when it still had some of its old character, with teenage goths and punks, the Diceman and ageing members of the domestic rock fraternity promenading the recently pedestrianised streets.

Punks on Grafton Street, c.1991 from the wonderful Where Were You? Dublin Youth Culture and Street Style by Gary O'Neill
Punks on Grafton Street, c.1991 from the wonderful Where Were You? Dublin Youth Culture and Street Style by Gary O’Neill

Only a little while ago, there was outrage at the suggestion that the flower sellers be moved away from the side streets. They are – were – almost the only original features left with so much of the character of the street gone. Now the shops are international chains, and the pace is different. Grafton Street feels faster than before, apart from all the tourists who are slow. Maybe the class is different too, it’s not that there wasn’t money there back in the day, but the level of ostentatious consumption wasn’t the same as it is now or the same as it was a couple of months ago, anyway.

I miss it. I’m wallowing in nostalgia a little, but I’m allowed. Now parts of my life feature in history blogs and books and exhibitions (I had been looking forward to going to the Diceman exhibition in the Little Museum before everything shut down) but I suppose a lot of it is that I miss the time when Dublin felt more like it belonged to the people who lived here, wherever they were from, rather than a Potemkin version for tourists, and where 20 Carrolls was a packet of cigarettes, not a description of town.

Anyway, here I am on Bewley’s.


Kindling the Flame

150 Years of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation

Final Cover 15 NovThis is a finely researched and readable account of multiple struggles over 150 years, in which themes of politics, class, gender and power are deftly interwoven through the story of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.

The INTO emerged in 1868 as teachers across Ireland united to fight for their rights. Men and women, Catholic and Protestant, they were all subject to poor pay, dire conditions and no job security, banned from speaking publicly about their grievances and ignored by the Board of National Education which oversaw them.


Against these obstacles, the INTO steadily grew in strength and influence to take on the Dublin-based education authorities which oversaw them, the London government which paid them and the priests who employed them.

Simultaneously, the organisation which was non-political (neither nationalist nor unionist) and non-sectarian negotiated the inevitable challenges thrown up in a country that was often split along national and religious lines.

After decades of fighting campaigns against the British administration for recognition and for decent conditions of employment, it had to fight them all over again against governments in Dublin and Belfast.

This is an important book that examines education, religion, politics, labour history and society on the island of Ireland from the Fenians to Brexit.


Puirséil, a professional historian and highly regarded author of the Irish Labour Party 1922-73, has written a book that is well researched, accessible and fluent…  This book does justice to the difficulties, achievements, mistakes and triumphs that have made the INTO a towering trade union and illuminates the implications of excessive religious control of primary schools as well as skilfully excavating the politics of education.

Professor Diarmaid FerriterIrish Times 

The INTO was never merely a trade union, but a curious mix of professional association and educational lobby, and it is that hybrid nature which makes the  sesquicentennial history of Niamh Puirséil such an engaging read. It reminds us, too, what a central role teachers have played in Irish society as a whole…

Kindling the Flame: 150 years of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation tells the story of an incredible movement, an appreciation of which presents valuable insights into the history of Ireland more generally. Niamh Puirséil is to be commended on her achievement.

Professor Daire KeoghThe Irish Catholic 

A very important contribution to the historiography of the period and demonstrates the importance of such studies in the understanding of the politics of education.

Professor Marie Clarke, Journal of the History of Education, October 2018 

A lively book with many fascinating asides and gems 

Dr. Caitríona Clear, Irish Historical StudiesDecember 2018


Kindling the Flame is available to order here.