In Irish pubs, tradition's on tap Holiday: Custom dictates that the Irish, and those who wish they were, hoist a pint on St. Paddy's Day.


Joseph Patrick Byrne, as Irish as the green hills of County Wicklow, where his people came from, will celebrate this St. Patrick's Day just as he has all the others for more than a decade.

"We'll be pulling pints as fast as we can," says Byrne, who is 67 and bears himself with the warm, comfortable and firm mien befitting a proper Irish pub owner.

Even though he uses just the name J. Patrick's for his pub in Baltimore's Locust Point, he says Byrne is the second most prevalent name among the Irish. On St. Paddy's Day, the most popular surely has got to be "Guinness."

"It's a good business day," says Byrne. "But it's bad for the customers." They'll be shoulder to shoulder and packed tighter than the Joycean wordsmithery of "Finnegan's Wake" today at J. Patrick's.

The Irish and the once-a-year Irish swarm to the Irish bars today, pub-crawling in limousines and buses, in cars and on foot, and perhaps later weaving along with the help of some friends, from Fells Point to Locust Point to Canton to Belair Road.

"People start to come in at 10 a.m. to make a nest for themselves," Byrne says. "They stake a claim and some of them never leave until closing time."

J. Patrick's Pub is at 1371 Andre St., not more than a couple of hundred yards from where Irish immigrants landed during the years of The Great Hunger, the "potato famine" that drove close to 2 million men, women and children from their homeland between 1845 to 1852.

In 1847, at the height of the Hunger years, Baltimore probably received more Irish immigrants than any other port in America.

Some of those families stayed in Locust Point for generations. They worked the docks they arrived on. But only about 200 Irish-Americans now live on the Point. About 20,000 live in the city, and more than 400,000 have dispersed into the metropolitan area.

The Irish have always been with us in Maryland, like the Biblical poor, and often they were the poor. There's a good chance that Irishmen were aboard the Ark and the Dove in 1634 when Maryland's first settlers landed -- not among the "20 gentlemen" whose names we know, but among the anonymous "300 laboring men" who would do the work of establishing the colony. Cecil Calvert, the British lord, recruited Irish farmers from around Connaught and his County Longford estates for his venture in the New World.

So when you raise the question of Irish pubs these days, you're talking about a long history.

Up on Charles Street is Mick O'Shea's Irish Pub. The bartenders there will be pulling a few pints today, too.

Managing partner Colin McClure, 27, thinks they may sell 40 kegs or so of Guinness and Harp lager and Murphy's stout. And you get 100 to 108 20-ounce "Imperial" pints from a keg. Twenty bartenders will be pulling eight taps each of Harp and Guinness from about 9 a.m. until closing.

Then O'Shea's will be closed all day tomorrow: They call in carpenters and rug cleaners.

"It takes a while to wash the lake of Guinness up off the floor," McClure says.

O'Shea's is somewhat more upscale and yuppified than J. Patrick's, which still retains a lot of its corner-bar-in-Locust Point charm. But the real difference is the music.

"We have only traditional Irish music down here," says Byrne. Today he'll have Rigadoo, the house band that's played for a decade of St. Patrick's Days at his pub.

At Mick O'Shea's, where the sounds are often more Irish contemporary, The Flying Cows of Ventry will play this afternoon and O'Malley's March this evening.

Joe Byrne quips that Martin O'Malley, the city councilman from the Third District who leads the March, is "the Mick Jagger of Irish rock."

His pub also has a political edge missing at O'Shea's. Among the multitude of Irish emblems and memorabilia on the wall are posters of two martyrs to the Irish Republican cause, Bobby Sands, who died in 1981 in a Belfast prison during a hunger strike, and Michael Collins, the assassinated Sinn Fein leader of the 1920s, in full military dress as a general in the I.R.A.

Out at his bar on Belair Road, Mike Fahey, a genuine Irishman from Galway, says it's a wonderful thing for pub owners when St. Paddy's falls on Tuesday.

"You don't want St. Paddy's Day to fall on a weekend," he says. Weekends are already busy.

Irish Mike, as people call him in the neighborhood, bought Flanagan's old bar, at Parkside Avenue, and renamed it the European Union. Along with pictures of the great Irish authors Joyce and Yeats and Wilde and Beckett lined up like villains in a wanted poster, the 15-star E.U. flag hangs across from his bar.

"I can do all the holidays of all the European countries," says Fahey. "We'll even let the limeys in on St. Patrick's Day."

He'll serve ham and cabbage today and boiled potatoes.

"We don't do the corned beef," he says. "Corned beef is not Irish." But even if it was invented in America, corned beef is Irish enough for J. Patrick's and Mick O'Shea's to serve.

None of them will serve green beer.

"You'll find no green beer here," says Jason Tinney, O'Shea's 24-year-old production manager. "No green bagels and no green corned beef and cabbage."

But McCallister's Cameo Lounge, at 4711 Harford Rd. in Northeast Baltimore, will pour nine ounces of green beer for a symbolic 17 cents between 5 and 7 o'clock, and they'll have corned beef, cabbage and potatoes for $3.17. The Crossroads Bar and Restaurant -- "a Highlandtown tradition for 30 years," where John and Robert Kennedy are revered just short of canonization -- is serving "Green Eggs and Ham cooked by Sam I Am" beginning at 6 a.m.

But Irish Mike Fahey still advises: "Don't drink green beer under any circumstances."

He likes to take a pint at J. Patrick's and O'Shea's, and he also praises The Cat's Eye in Fells Point. He worked at the Cat's Eye for about a year after the death of its rambunctious and legendary owner Kenny Orye, a longtime supporter of the Irish Republican cause.

The "girls" of St. John's Tenth Ward Oldtimers club will make a stop at the Cat's Eye today on their St. Paddy's cruise. They celebrate what was the last really solid Irish neighborhood in the city: the old Tenth Ward, south of Greenmount Cemetery.

The "girls" and many of their "boys" went to parochial school at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church at Valley and Eager streets, the heart of the Irish community in East Baltimore -- and maybe the whole city -- until the end of World War II.

The church closed in 1966 but the ties formed in the old neighborhood may be stronger than ever. Hundreds of oldtimers party every Sunday at Jerry D's Parkville Hall, fill up the Commander Hotel down the Ocean every summer and, of

course, march in the St. Patrick's Day parade every year -- nowadays often with their grandchildren.

To live in the old Tenth, they used to say, you had to be Irish, Catholic and Democratic. And the Tenth Ward did provide plenty of Democrats when Irish political power was ascendant in the city and the bosses were named Frank Kelly and Sonny Mahon and Willie Curran and Joe Kelly, a b'hoy, or ward leader, who ran his precincts from his famous Irish saloon at Forrest and Hillen streets in the old Tenth.

But Joe Loiero, 65, owner of Braemar Press on Harford Road, says there were lots of Germans and Italians in the Tenth Ward. In fact, he says, Nancy Knott came from the only Irish family on his block of Valley street and he married her in 1955.

She's been converting him ever since. Every year he prints a St. John's Old Tenth Ward Calendar computed according to the Irish Year -- from March to March.

And the Ancient Order of Hibernians has rewarded his outstanding service and dedication by re-christening him Joseph Loiero.

Of course, everyone finds their Irish heritage on St. Patrick's Day.

At the Waterfront Hotel on Thames street in Fells Point, which is decked out in St. Patrick's Irishness, the grand factotum and former elections official, Gene Raynor, who grew up in Little Italy, recalls that his great-grandmother was Irish.

"Amanda Donoho from Connemara in Galway," he says. "She was 18 and she brought her 12-year-old brother. They were orphaned during the famine.

"She married the captain of the ship, Harry Raynor, and they settled in Oxford," Raynor says. "He died and left her a wealthy widow with a small son."

He fits the measure of Irishness defined by the Rev. Michael Roach, an Irish cleric who was pastor for 18 years in the Irish parish of St. Peter the Apostle in Southwest Baltimore.

"The Irish are great ones for remembering their roots," he says. "A lot of people will say they're Irish. But if you know where your people are from, that's it. At least the county they came from in Ireland."

He traces his own Irish heritage to his great-grandparents in County Clare and County Kilkenny.

His old St. Peter the Apostle parish was formed in 1842 to minister to the spiritual needs of the Irish who worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at the Mount Clare yards. Only remnants of the old Irish community remains. St. Peter's doesn't have a pastor. And Father Roach has been assigned to St. Bartholomew's Church in Manchester, way out in Carroll County.

But Tommy Rowley's lovely old pub survives at Pratt and Schroeder streets. Rowley died about 15 months ago. He was the quintessential Baltimore Irish barkeep.

He was born in the neighborhood and he lived most of 80 years above the saloon. He laid out both his father and his uncle in the bar, as was the custom among Irish bar owners in the old days.

Rowley never put up a sign. He opened pretty much when he felt like it and he signaled that the bar was open by turning on the green traffic light over the door.

"It's the only green light on Pratt Street you stop for," he said.

For years, he served mostly short beers because he didn't like to see people get drunk. And he set up nearly as many as he sold. He didn't like profanity and his bar was immaculate. He served beer on crocheted doilies, like a friendly cup of afternoon tea.

His wife, Frances, keeps the bar pretty much as Tommy left it. Father Roach married them and Rowley's final mass was at St. Peter's.

Rowley was Irish to the core. His people came from Swindon in County Mayo. But he never opened on St. Patrick's Day.

"I can't stand the Irish when they're drinking," he said.

Pub Date: 3/17/98

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