A brief history of Copper Face Jacks

Have you ever felt more alive as Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ blasts out on the multiple-stereo sound system, a drink in both hands screaming the lyrics as though it had just topped the Pops earlier that week? Dirty Dancing, casino runs, gold-card mates, and outdoor heaters burning the back of your neck. Shuffling in the shadows of the Galway girls, unbuttoning that button on your shirt you were unsure about in front the mirror earlier. I’m just sayin’, in Copper Face Jacks you’ll find a classic and resilient combination which has lured the middle-class man into her depths for decades. But like most mistresses, there’s more than meets the eye with our dear old girl.

Coppers was named after a gentleman called John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell, whose nickname derived from his occasional red complexion which ironically arose because of his drinking habits. Copperfaced Jack served as Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench for Ireland from 1784 to 1789, in times when the British rule over Ireland was resolutely in place. However, a more ominous name attributed to him was ‘The Hanging Judge’, owing to his particular fondness of hanging Irishmen for rather trivial crimes on many occasions.  Even more disturbingly was his sinister practice of executions. Traditionally, he would hang his victims over his shoulder, rather than sending them to the conventional gallows, for a more personal menacing touch. I’m sure all the entrepreneurs of Coppers wanted was a jolly red-faced man who drank a little bit on the excessive side, but we all have baggage.

John Scott, 1st Earl of Clonmell

It’s 1996 in the capital of a catholic Ireland. A new nightclub is opening on Harcourt Street and there’s an omnipresent electrifying buzz around the city centre. The stage is set, the kegs are in, and your parents are getting ready to go out and meet each other for the first time. What happens first? Nay what’s only right that happens first and foremost!?  Yes you’ve guessed it – A good long mass. Down in the basement of Coppers, preceding any sort of boisterous and rowdy activities gathered a religious assembly of people, and an ordained member of the clergy. The building was blessed and prayers were uttered with every hope of success for the future. Nothing could go wrong for our dear Coppers.

Now while I’m sure the extravagant profits do more than enough to trounce any doubts about the bizarre events that took place in the basement of 1996, but with a range of incidents inducing headlines such as “Coppers fling leads to hunt for baby’s dad” and “Woman loses claim after ‘dirty dancing’ at Copper Face Jacks”, it grows harder to believe that there is divinity in play here. God does work in mysterious ways though. And if it’s His will, that our beloved treasure has the most successful cloakroom in Europe, we’re not to question.

Despite the odds, she’s made it. Every night, dozens of eager voyagers grace her floors to atone for their sins. It’s important to note, we’ve all been there, and will probably be there again at some stage. So next time you find yourself popping back in to revisit, share the stories and make your own history. Because you can be guaranteed in twenty years time, they’ll writing about the poor unfortunate gobshite who thought he was Patrick Swayze. And that gobshite, could be you.

Phil Ellison

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