It's been 30 years since I climbed the stairs to the first floor (in Europe, that's how they're numbered) and beheld the cramped majesty of the Hi-B. Somewhere up or down another set of stairs was the loo. The publican Brian O'Donnell was a legend even then, and as I write, it is my earnest hope that he's still alive and scowling.
|Brian O'Donnell in 2008.|
Barrie Ottersbach and I were in Cork, Ireland in 1987. In fact, we were there twice. The first time through town, we stayed at a ramshackle youth hostel and met briefly with a newspaperman named Tommy Barker. He's still at it.
After learning that U2 would be playing at Cork's soccer stadium in a week's time, we decided to wander the countryside and circle back. But first, Tommy directed us to the Hibernian (Hi-B) Bar, a legendary institution recommended to us by my cousin Donald Barry, who knew the Irish newspaperman when he was an exchange student in America.
We might have come back for second pint on another night. I can't remember, such was the merriment of what surely was the better part of an entire day spent drinking with a succession of incredible characters -- not to mention the proprietor Brian himself, with whom Professor Barry had become such good friends that they'd listen to opera together before, during and after hours at the bar.
One of our temporary drinking buddies was a bearded and bedraggled veteran of Ireland's UN peacekeeping force of infantrymen force in Cyprus, circa 1970. When asked if he'd ever witnessed combat in the war between Greeks and Turks, he said no, not exactly; it had been his sensible expedient to turn and run whenever shooting broke out.
Another, better groomed barfly at the Hi-B was a musician who modestly assured us that he'd played with every major pop and rock star of the sixties and seventies. His name didn't strike a chord, but there was an explanation for this, because he'd often appeared uncredited on albums to avoid tax and the prying eyes of ex-wives.
As the bar tab piled up (the two visiting Americans were happy to do the buying), I kept throwing names at the musician. From Van Morrison to David Bowie, and Rory Gallagher to Phil Lynott, he fielded them effortlessly, complete with record dates and concert gigs.
Finally, I thought I'd stumped him: What about Pete Townshend of The Who?
He paused, then admitted he hadn't ever played music with Townshend ... but one time he was driving on the motorway somewhere in England, and stopped to help some poor bloke who was trying to change a tire in the rain ...
That's right. It was Townshend, who offered the helpful good Irish Samaritan one of his guitars in return, but of course he couldn't accept it ...
So it went. We emerged in the wee hours reeking of cigarette smoke and walked back to the hostel, roughly 75 (Irish) Pounds lighter. Following are a collection of links, the most recent of which is from October, 2016.
Cousin Don has kept me posted about Brian over the years, and each update has warned of his friend's imminent retirement. The funny thing? My entire career as a curmudgeonly publican has come and gone since the last time I drank at the Hi-B ... and yet I'm not feeling retired quite yet.
Friends in Hi places lie low when Brian’s on warpath, by Dan Buckley (The Irish Examiner)
Saturday, December 01, 2012
... Yet every few years Brian has managed to attract a new generation to the Hi-B. This is just as well because every now and then he will decide on a mass culling of clientele, and if it wasn’t for the large proportion of young imbibers, there would be nobody left.
So why do people return again and again? Hardly for the decor and certainly not for the dungeon-like gents’. There is only one word for it — craic, beloved of hard drinkers and easy listeners.
And the more cracked you are, the better.
More recently ...
Hi-B, by Julie Daunt (The Culture Trip) 27 October 2016
Situated on Oliver Plunkett Street and up a flight of stairs is the renowned and sometimes notorious Hi-B. Its full name is the Hibernian Bar, but it is known far and wide by its shortened name. The bar is housed in what was once the Hibernian Hotel, and it is perhaps one of the most intimate and eccentric places to have a pint in Cork. What’s more, mobile phones are forbidden, meaning there is always a din of real conversation and laughter. This is enforced by the owner Brian O’Donnell, who is a Cork institution in himself. Fancy frills and sleek decor are left outside the door of this traditional pub. A step back in time, there is always a blazing fire, a cold pint of stout and story to be heard at the Hi-B.
Hi-B, 108 Oliver Plunkett Street, Cork, Ireland, +353 21 427 2758
The Hi-B - my favourite bar in Cork City (Ireland), by Daniel M Doyle (Authors Den)
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
The golfer asked Brian to order him a taxi. After a few minutes a rather agitated taxi driver ran up the stairs, stuck his head in the door and announced himself - “taxi!” He was probably double parked on the busy street outside and anxious to get going. Still seated, the golfer slowly turned to address him and eventually said:-
“I’ll be with you ……..in…………..three ………… hours.”