John Kavanagh—better known by its nickname, “The Gravediggers”—was built into the wall of Glasnevin Cemetery. Established in 1833, the bar started off as a gift from John’s hotelier father-in-law.
In its early years, Kavanagh’s was a funeral-adjacent business, with mourners leaving hearses outside to come in and drink away their pain. When they dispersed, gravediggers filled the pub’s seats. So many grievers showed up drunk to—or were altogether absent from—funerals that the city cemetery committee enacted a bylaw to restrict burials to the mornings. The pub took a hit in the period afterward, which was only made worse when Glasnevin closed the nearby eastern gate into the cemetery in 1878. To attract new customers, John’s son, Joseph, added games, including a shooting range. Subsequent family members added a grocery in 1920, a lounge in the 1980s, and a food menu in the early 2000s.
Today, seventh-generation Kavanaghs take turns manning the original bar counter. Signs of age appear in the low ceilings and wood floor, damaged by well over a century’s worth of spilled Guinness and spat tobacco. An area where women once drank separately from men remains sectioned-off (just to preserve the historical scene; in actuality, anyone can drink there). Phone calls and music (“piped or otherwise”) are not allowed.
The pub only adopted its nickname within the last couple decades—both because of its history as a gravediggers’ haunt, and because legend has it that the cemetery workers had unique ways of ordering their drinks. One unproven rumor is that the brews used to be passed through a hole in the cemetery wall. The other story holds that the gravediggers would knock on the wall to let the bartender know he should waste no time readying their post-shift pints. Although both legends are entertaining, historian Ciarán Wallace says they seem “unlikely and unnecessary as the wall and gate and pub door are only 10 paces apart.”