Wednesday, 18 May 2022

The Loop-Liner - Dublin's Lost Porter Measure

I have a tedious fascination with the various terms for measures of alcohol served around Ireland in our past and have featured some previously such as the 'Meejum' (Medium), so finding a new one is always of interest. In this case it is a measure that is uniquely from Dublin and confined to a certain area of the city - perhaps ...

A 'Loop-Liner' was a 'pint' - or perhaps a measure - of porter that retailed at cheaper than the norm, that being 1½ d. (one and a half pence) and appears to have also been attached to the public houses and publicans by the term 'Loop Liners' that sold porter at that price either side of 1900. It was served by pubs on Arran Quay and others along which the Loop Line railway (Officially called the City of Dublin Junction Railway, which connected to a number of larger railway routes.) travelled, so hence the name.

The first mention I can find is in Dublin's Sport newspaper from April 1894 which briefly discusses how new beer and stout pricing will not affect the consumer. It states that 'This will be particularly good news to patrons of "the loop liner," which means a pint of porter for three halfpence. The tariff for the "loop liner" is mainly confined to the quays.' There are mentions in various newspapers in 1907 too, where it stated that licenses would not be issued to publicans who served these reduced pints as 'the [rest of] licensed trade were against such practice, and the police objected to the disorderly class of customers such practice brought to the house.' 

Indeed in an infuriating cut off report in the Evening Irish Times from November 1907 under the headline '"Loop-Liner" Doomed' there is a writeup on a court case of a publican wanting to transfer a licence from an establishment on Golden Lane in Dublin where the licences was being objected to on the grounds that the publican was selling 'Loop Liners' and it was 'attracting the worst classes' and the ensuing disruption required daily supervision by the police. (The side of the report is cut off in the copy I have but we can get the general gist of the article.) This also shows that the practice was not just confined to the quays at this point.

By 1908 the Evening Irish News and other newspapers from October states that 'the "loop liner" trade had altogether disappeared in the Arran Quay district' due to those serving beer at this price being cautioned by the police. (Edit: It was rightly pointed out to me by Cian Duffy on Twitter that Arran Quay is nowhere near the Loop Line itself, but perhaps the practice spread along the quays and tramlines too, and ended up being focussed on certain areas beyond its initial starting point.) Interestingly an article on the passing of the "Loop Liner" in the Irish Independent in that same month states that it had 'its origin during the construction of the Loop Line, when some publicans, to win the trade of the workers, gave a measure of porter over and above a pint for 2d. Opposition traders in the district, as a countermove, began to sell "pints" at 1½ d., and these were dubbed by the navvies "loop liners."' This seems extremely plausible to me as an origin story and as the Loopline bridge over the Liffey was started in 1889 and completed in 1891 it gives an approximate origin date too.

It may be conjecture but my feeling is that a 'Loop Liner' was not actually a 'real' pint - even though some of those articles say it was - but a smaller measure closer to the 'Meejum' referenced above, and possibly served in a smaller glass than the official pint measure, as hinted at in the origin story. Indeed one reference in the Northern Whig from October 1907 states that it was a measure 'between a pint and a half-pint, and which enabled some publicans to sell porter at less than the regular price' and the same newspaper in May of the following year states the same regarding the measure size. Either that or it was in some way diluted or mixed with something else to achieve this pricepoint in a way that would make financial sense to both parties.

There is a further mentions in 1911, 1916 and 1917 but only in an anecdotal and somewhat jokey fashion. (Although one mention in the Irish Independent in October 1912 regarding the transfer of a licence seem to imply that the practice is still common at this time and attracting a 'criminal element' that requires extra policing.)

But it appears that a unique Dublin name for a measure of porter disappeared into our beer history some time before the 1920s.

And a small part of me is a little sad about that...

Liam K.

Edit: John Stephens via Twitter reminded me of the line in The Ragman's Ball, a traditional song famously recorded by The Dubliners on their debut album, that contains the line 'We drank Brady's Loopline porter until around the floor we rolled,' so it is nice - and fitting - to see the name has been immortalised in such a song!

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