Any tavern worth its salt becomes Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. But for some, March 17 is like any other day of the year — just amplified. It begins at dawn with a ceremonial first pint (usually Guinness) and a traditional breakfast of black pudding, rashers, potato farls and baked beans. A band plays “Whiskey In the Jar” and “Wild Mountain Thyme.” The Irish enthusiasm starts early and lasts all the way to closing time.
This is true even if St. Patrick’s falls on a Monday, as it does this year. Places like Salt hill Pub, Cara Irish Pub, Shaskeen, Wild Rover, Mel Flanagan’s, RiRa and Peddler’s Daughter embody a spirit that’s unconnected to plastic shamrocks and green beer. Each strives to be a public house first and foremost. It’s an essence that can’t be tapped into a glass or hung on a wall.
“You can go online and buy an Irish pub bric-a-brac kit and put it up in a day, but that does not an Irish pub make,” said Josh Tuohy, who, along with his brother Joe, opened the first Salt hill on the Lebanon Green just over a decade ago. “It’s the community atmosphere inside. … Every pub I’ve ever been to in Ireland, there’s kids all over the place; it makes the environment.”
Cara Irish Pub owner Tom O’Dowd agrees.
“There is no such thing as an Irish pub in Ireland; there are public houses … what’s important is an ability to converse,” he said.
Cuisine at the Dover restaurant/bar sits between pub fare and fine dining; Irish potato cakes share the menu with chili garlic pan-seared sea scallops and the like.
Both establishments are pulling out all the stops on St. Patrick’s Day. For several years, Salt hill gave away a round trip for two to Ireland at its flagship location; this year, the Newport and Hanover locations are also offering the grand prize, along with roving bagpipers, a comical faux priest named Father William Hughes, and a range of traditional music from performers like O’hAnleigh and Irish Balladeer Jim Barnes.
Cara is literally flying the Emerald Isle to New England. Oracle, from Country Kerry (O’Dowd’s Irish home), appears on Sunday and Monday. Originally, the group was set to play three days, but an airline work stoppage in Ireland scrapped a Saturday show. Sunday’s set is a sit-down concert in the upstairs Chameleon Club, with step dancers and bagpipers.
“It’s music as it is in Ireland today,” said O’Dowd.
Jordan Tirrell-Wysocki discovered the fiddle at a second-grade contra dance and has played since age 7. This year, he and his trio kicked off Salt hill’s 10 days of festivities on March 7, then he and guitarist Matt Jensen drove to the Adirondacks to perform a week of shows with Finnegan’s Farewell, an Irish version of Tony & Tina’s Italian Wedding.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Tirrell-Wysocki and Jensen provide first pint music at the Newport Salt hill and then move to Manchester for an afternoon set with the JT-W Trio at Shaskeen Pub. In the evening, the group appears at Stone Church, a few blocks away from the fiddler’s home in Newmarket. It’s a place where he and guitarist Jim Prendergast host a weekly Irish session Thursdays at 6 p.m.
The fiddler is a native New Englander who learned to love Ireland.
“I have some Irish blood, but it’s not first generation or anything — I can’t explain why I go for the music so much,” he said.
With over a decade of busy St. Patrick’s Days under his belt, he’s highly in demand this time of year.
“It’s a crazy day, and I usually get totally ill from exhaustion,” he said. “It’s not even a hangover, because I don’t have time to drink. But it’s totally worth it, it’s a blast, and then you live off of it for the next month.”
As seen in the March 13, 2014 issue of the Hippo.