Pubs in Edinburgh's Grassmarket District: Drink in the History

Today is St. Patrick's Day, one of my favorite little holidays (besides Halloween and Christmas).  I have some Irish blood bubbling in my veins, thanks to the hardy Irish stock on my mother's side, and so I take St. Pat's very seriously.  Yes, this year it falls on a Sunday, but that hasn't prevented me from brushing off my green velvet top hat and preparing to go out for a traditional green beverage at the local watering hole.

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I LOVE dorky St. Patrick's Day head gear!

I wanted to do a St. Pat's themed post today, but alas, I have never been to Ireland.  However, I was in Scotland last year - which is just as green and beautiful, or so I imagine.  (Really, the only way to truly compare is if I go to Ireland too... so you see, I HAVE to go now...)  While my husband and I were in Scotland, we visited many fantastic pubs, met some fantastic people, heard some fantastic live music, and ate some amazing food.  I love Scottish pubs, and so I imagine I'd love Irish pubs, too.  Actually, I like the atmosphere of pretty much all pubs, if I am going to be honest.

What I found to be a common theme in Scotland was that any pub worth its salt, a truly traditional pub that had been around for centuries, usually came with a great historical story attached to the building. While preparing for our Scotland trip, I had read all about the Grassmarket area and was ready for the wide range of old, tried and true restaurants and 'public houses', but I didn't expect it to be quite so fascinating and unique!

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The Beehive Inn serves a great steak pie, if you are so inclined!

There are tons of semi-famous establishments in Grassmarket: Biddy Mulligans (we liked that one because our cat is named Mulligan), the Beehive Inn, the White Hart, the Three Sisters, and the Dropkick Murpheys, to name a few.

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This public house holds a spot near and dear to our hearts - because of our cat (?)

Grassmarket also used to be an area designed for staging public executions.  In fact, you can still see where the gibbet (a tall post used for hanging felons) was mounted in the middle of the oddly-shaped square.

This is what a gibbet looks like.  Image courtesy

One pub is named "The Last Drop" in honor of this morbid piece of Grassmarket's rich Scottish history - it said that the condemned criminals would be allowed to partake in their final worldly drink at the pub before being shuffled off to the gibbet.

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The Last Drop Pub - quite possibly the creepiest pub in Grassmarket.  But cool!

One of my absolute favorite tales came from the pub "Maggie Dickson's Pub" in Edinburgh's Grassmarket District. Her story is so bizarre, it is basically local legend now. Her tale begins in 1723, when Maggie was abandoned by her husband in Edinburgh.  Destitute, she left the city to stay with relatives in the south.  During her journey, she stopped in the town of Kelso to work for a bit, in order to earn some money. She worked at an inn, where her employment offered her free room and board as well as some extra cash.  It also offered her the chance to meet the landlady's son, and soon she found herself with child.

Afraid of being fired from her job, Maggie hid the fact that she was pregnant.  What you must understand is that during this time in history, Scotland had a "Concealment of Pregnancy Act" in which it was illegal to hide a pregnancy. When the baby was born prematurely, and died a few days later, Maggie really freaked out and decided to dispose of the baby's body in the River Tweed.  She couldn't bring herself to do it, though, and so instead just left the corpse on the beach.

Maggie's crime was eventually traced back to her after the body was discovered, and due to the fact that she had broken that Concealment Act, she was sentenced to be hanged. On September 2, 1724, Maggie was tied to the gibbet in the middle of Grassmarket and dangled from the rope.  Her body was cut down, and was on its way to Musselburgh for burial when people began hearing sounds from inside the coffin.  When they opened it up, they found Maggie inside, very much alive!

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The "Shadow of the Gibbet" in Grassmarket, where the real gibbet used to stand.

The courts determined that Maggie had indeed served her sentence (the ruling had only said she was to be hanged - but no where did it state 'to death', which was added forevermore after this incident). Maggie was allowed to live out the rest of her life in freedom.  She lived in Edinburgh until her death many, many years later of natural causes, and was known as "Half-Hangit Maggie".


  1. I've never been to Scotland, but whenever I get there I'm going to have to find a few of these pubs. The names alone are great, but the history behind them are fantastic - I mean that last story, wow.

    1. I love countries with thousands of years of rich history and heritage! Canada and the U.S.A. have their own stories for sure, but for me, nothing beats medieval / Renaissance European history! Scotland was excellent for that.