Joseph Patrick Byrne

Joseph Patrick Byrne
(Alexander D. "Sandy" Mitchell IV)

Joseph Patrick Byrne, founder and proprietor of J. Patrick's Irish Pub, a popular Locust Point tavern with a reputation as a venue for Irish music that went well beyond Baltimore, died Saturday of cancer at Harbor Hospital.

The former Cockeysville resident was 81.

"It was a real gathering place for the Irish-American community of Baltimore, and it had the feel of a rural country bar, the type you find outside of Dublin. It was both warm and inviting," said Gov. Martin O'Malley.

"And Joe was a very hospitable man with a big smile. For years, he cared for his sick wife and he cared for the people of the neighborhood," he said.

Mr. Byrne was born and raised in Middleburgh, N.Y., where he graduated from Middleburgh High School.

He attended Syracuse University on a football and baseball scholarship and after leaving college in 1948 served in the Navy aboard the heavy cruiser USS Newport News.

After being discharged with the rank of quartermaster third class in 1952, he enrolled at Siena College in Latham, N.Y., where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1956.

Before establishing J. Patrick's Pub in 1987, he worked as an accountant for Shell Oil Co. in Towson and later New York City.

He returned to Baltimore, where he was chief financial officer and later chief executive officer of PharmaPlastics.

After leaving the company in 1985, he worked as a financial consultant for two years before opening his tavern at the corner of Andre and Clement streets.

"It was a lifelong dream, and when he retired, my mother said it was time for him to do it. He was its proprietor, owner and accountant, and did nearly everything else," said a daughter, Maureen Byrne Beahn, a lawyer who lives in McLean, Va.

"He and my mother lived upstairs and he was chief cook and bottle washer," said Ms. Beahn. "He was a huge fan of Irish music, and his hobby was making people happy."

"I had heard an Irish band, Ellis Island, in Annapolis in 1992, and they said their next appearance was at J. Patrick's Pub in Locust Point. I went to hear them. That was the first time I was ever in there," said Alexander D. "Sandy" Mitchell IV, a Baltimore writer and photographer who is a correspondent for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.

"J. Patrick's was not a professional plastic Irish pub with shamrocks on the wall and green beer on St. Patrick's Day. It was a throwback to an earlier era, when truck drivers and dockworkers came in for breakfast," said Mr. Mitchell, a patron for two decades.

"And then later in the day, the locals would go in. It drew people from Columbia, Washington, Bel Air and Cockeysville at night," he said. "It was a real community meeting place and cultural center, and a lot cheaper than taking a trip to an Irish pub in Ireland."

He described Mr. Byrne at first meeting as something of "a grump but once you got to know him, he had a warm heart."

"He used to say, 'If you walk in here a stranger and are one a half-hour later, it's your own fault,'" said Mr. Mitchell.

The pub with the green door and its comfortable Celtic surroundings became known not only locally but internationally as a destination for Irish musicians and their fans who came to hear ballads, jigs, reels and polkas.

For the thirsty, there was Guinness, Harp, Smithwick's, Bass, Boddington's and Magner's Cider, as well as Yuengling and Bud Lite on draft.

"The food was more Maryland than Ireland. One of Joe's specials was a boneless chicken, better known as a hard-boiled egg," said Mr. Mitchell with a laugh.

"This is as close to Ireland, music- and dance-wise, as you can possibly get," said Gearoid O'Hallmhurain, a world-renowned concertina artist who is a native of County Clare, in a 2003 interview with the Howard County Times.

"Joe liked traditional Irish dances, jigs and reels, and God save you if you came in with electric guitars, bass and drums," said Mr. O'Malley, whose band, O'Malley's March, had an unsuccessful tryout at the bar about 20 years ago.

"It was too much of a rock 'n' roll sound for Joe, and even though he didn't hire us, he was nice about it," he said.

The second day he was in business, Mr. Byrne hung a sign on the wall: "Loud Vulgar Language Will Not Be Tolerated. The Management."

"It's still there and he didn't take any guff off of anyone," said Mr. Mitchell.

Myron Bretholz, a longtime member of Ellis Island who plays with other Irish music-making groups, has performed at J. Patrick's since 1992.

"When I think about it, it's the real article. When Irish people came to town they went to J. Patrick's because they felt as if they were at home," said Mr. Bretholz, who plays the bodhran, an Irish drum.

"Joe made everyone feel special and he supported his musicians to the nth degree. If he was having a slow night, we'd tell him there was no need to pay us, that we'd take the hit, and he'd say, 'No, you're getting paid,'" said Mr. Bretholz.

The future of J. Patrick's, which remains opens for now, is uncertain.

"It's up in the air at the moment, and we're not sure what's going to happen to it," said Ms. Beahn, who said her father had not sold the bar.

Mr. Byrne's wife of 45 years, the former Geraldine "Jeri" Minnick, died in 2003.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Our Lady of Good Counsel Roman Catholic Church, 1532 E. Fort Ave.

In addition to Ms. Beahn, Mr. Byrne is survived by a son, Joseph P. Byrne Jr. of Winterville, N.C.; another daughter, Ann Byrne Slough of Richmond, Va.; a brother, Raymond Byrne of Plymouth, Mass.; a sister, Patricia Byrne Harder of Kingston, N.Y.; and 10 grandchildren.