Out of the Ashes, Ireland’s Four Courts Returns
The beloved Arlington pub will reopen Sept. 7, one year after a tragic accident left it in flames.
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
The Irish poet John O’Donohue has been living inside Dave Cahill’s head for the last year and he’s grateful for it.
When an out-of-control car came crashing into his beloved Ireland’s Four Courts in August 2022—“6:42 p.m., Friday evening the 12th,” he remembers reflexively—Cahill knew then and there that his life, and the lives of his staff and patrons, would never be quite the same.
“I was in the back when we just heard a massive explosion,” he told a local TV station. “It takes a lot to scare me. But on a scale from one to 10, I was a 20.”
More than a dozen were hurt that night when an Uber driver plowed into the pub on Wilson Boulevard in Courthouse. The resulting conflagration, jet black smoke rising into the air, could be seen for miles.
Employees and patrons—a volunteer Fairfax EMT named Timo Klotz luckily among them—sprang into action. Of the nine people sent to the hospital, four had critical injuries. (“If it would have been 20 seconds more, I don’t think they would have made it out,” Klotz told a media outlet after the fire.) The driver, who police concluded had suffered a medical emergency, was not charged.
But Four Courts was totaled. Its 44-foot bar? Charred. The fireplace? Burned up, as were pictures, signed sports jerseys, even the mulling mugs belonging to regulars.
“The handles just melted,” Cahill says. “Gone.”
Restaurants don’t just spring back to life after a tragedy. Staff have to find new work. There are insurance claims to file and building permits to obtain. Care for the injured and unemployed must be ensured.
And that doesn’t even cover lost revenue. To an Irish pub, missing not just one, but two World Cups—including the men’s tourney last December and the women’s this summer—is financially devastating. That kind of windfall comes once every four years.
“We’ve got a lot of supporters [of the game],” says Cahill, the pub’s managing partner. “World Cup comes and we’d be moving out furniture [to create more room]. It’s like a mini-St. Patrick’s Day, every day for a month. So look, we missed it, but, you know…”
And so for Cahill, who grew up in County Limerick and still bears its sweet lilt, it’s been O’Donohue’s poem that has stayed with him. “It’s given me great comfort over the last 12 months,” he says. “The first two verses sum up the first six months.”
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light
One year later, bartender Mary Reilly, from County Dublin, has turned the corner. “There are certain things, like loud noises,” she says, “loud bangs that I still kind of jump. I’m a lot better than what I was after, but it took me about three or four months. You have to move on. You can’t let it take over. Just stay as positive and busy as you can, which is what we’re doing.”
Indeed. In June, the staff gathered for a quick reunion—a team photo amid the rebuilding. Workers on scaffolds trimmed Sheetrock and the sound of drilling and hammering had replaced patrons cheering, pints in hand. But optimism was everywhere.
“Yeah, just full of excitement, full of relief,” Cahill said. “Just counting down the days until [we can reopen].”
In the days and weeks after the fire, support poured in. Much of it was never requested; it simply arrived.
Bars and pubs across the DMV collected money, Cahill recalls, shaking his head in wonder. Many, including Samuel Beckett’s in Shirlington, Ireland’s Four Provinces in Falls Church and Kelly’s Irish Times in D.C., offered temporary employment to the staff, promising to give them back once Four Courts reopened.
“We were really humbled,” he says, “not so much by the ‘what can I do to help?’ but rather the ‘I’m doing this to help you.’ ”
Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham and DC United supporters designed and sold scarves to raise money. Longtime regular Mike De Robbio started a GoFundMe the night of the fire. Two weeks later, it had raised almost $100,000.
There’s something about an Irish bar, says employee Patrick Doody. “You know, it’s not just a bar. It’s a neighborhood place to gather. People are so looking forward for us to get back.”
“Family,” Mary Reilly chimes in. “Family.”
That’s what patrons are going to get when the bar reopens in September. The same faces (“We had about 45 full-time and part-time employees, and 90% of the back-of-the-house staff are coming back,” Cahill says); the same food (Reilly can’t wait for a Reuben sandwich; others are dreaming of the corned beef); the same Guinness flowing freely from the tap.
One last thing: While 44 feet of the beloved bar may have burned in the fire one year ago, the Department of Half-Full is here to tell you that some 20 feet of mantle behind the bar was saved.
You’ll see it the next time you’re sharing a pint with a friend, watching some football match. On it, Dave Cahill plans to inscribe the final verse of that John O’Donohue poem he loves so much:
If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
Editor’s Note: Ireland’s Four Courts will reopen its doors to the public on September 7, 2023.