Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day 2008

ST. PATRICK'S DAY 2008 And All Things Irish

This March 17th fell on a Monday, so I thought that because it was a school and work night, it wouldn't be as popular as those St. Paddy's days that fell on a weekend. And I was right.

I put on my father's Irish wool cardigan that my brother had brought back from the old sod and drove the back Piney roads to Egg Harbor City to McKee's Pub, where I spent some of last St. Patrick's Day with my friend Mike Fadden, his wife and their friend's, the McKee's Pub owners.

What a really nice place it is, too. About five blocks down the steet off the Pike that McDonald's is on, set back in the neighborhood, and really neat neighborhood it is too. Wide streets, trees, typical Americana, St. Nick's parish church a block away.

And McKee's is a good place to go after mass.

The owners were born in Ireland, and of course, every Irishman's dream is to own his own pub, so now they're living it. And the inside has the feel of an Irish pub.

After enjoying my time there quietly reading the morning papers over a pint, I moved on to Somers Point, and my most recent stomping grounds. I decided that if I was to be doing any drinking I had to pace myself, and so limited consumption to one pint per place.

At the Anchorage it was good to see Don Mahoney, and that the bagpipes are still making their rounds.

From there it was up to Gregory's where most of my old crew were hanging out. John Dean, Hank Merik, Tom Major, Bob Dean, Evelyn and the girls from the hood, and Tom the bartender.

One and out, that was the rule, and I stuck to it, but not before reminiscing with the crew.

God Bless George McGonigle, the old Irish bartender who manned Gregory's bar for decades.

I have a photo of George and my brother Leo holding up a huge green, white and orange Irish
flag banner that read: Somers Point Brigade, and used during the march down the boardwalk for the Atlantic City's St. Patrick's Day parade, which was held on the Sunday before St. Patrick's Day for the first ten years or so.

There's an old article I wrote about the origins of the Atlantic City St. Patrick's Day Parade that I'll have to dig up because most of those people are dead now, except for Joe Shields, who I think is still around town somewhere. Maybe still bartending.

Tom Major remembers.

He also remembered George McGonigle, and went out to his grave site at the Vets Cemetery and left a bottle of Guinnis for George, and also paid his respects to John "Wolfman" McGonigle, both of whom will be remembered as part of the old crew at the Point.

From Somers Point I drove down the Expressway to Williamstown and stopped by Brian's Library IV on the Black Horse Pike. Brian O'Keeny is as Irish as you can get, and it was good to see him greeting people at the door and taking care of business.

There was a young duo playing guitar and singing, but Brian said that Sean Fleming would be in about 8 and play a few sets later that night.

Now Sean Fleming is a New York Irish troubador legend, who has played the Library before, including Brian's wedding, but it being only about five in the afternoon, I told Brian I wasn't about to sit around his bar drinking for three hours waiting for Sean to show, like I would a few years ago. I would leave and return a few hours later, was the plan, that didn't actually work out.

Once I got on the road again I just kept driving, and once home safe, I stayed home. I hung up Dad's sweater and sat down by the fireplace and listened to the Chieftons and Pogues and enjoyed myself alone.

But I'm going to go out of my way to see Sean Fleming again someday, maybe in New York, where Brian said Sammy has two new places going, a pub in the village and a classy joint on the upper east side.

Sammy and Sean go back a long time together. For a long time, in the late 70s, early 80s, Sam was the manager of Flannigan's, the flagship of a five Irish pub chain in Manhattan. Flannigan's was, probably still is, a sawdust joint, where you could spill beer on the floor and nobody would notice. It had good burgers and late night snacks, Irish bartenders, and Sean Fleming's band which would whip the audience into a frenzy.

Sean's an interesting character himself. Born in Ireland, he came to America and ended up in the US Army in Vietnam. Sean rulled Fleming's, and after a decade or so, Sammy and Sean got together and figured out how to make some real money. They rented a Statin Island ferryboat, charged $20 a head and packed it with Irish music fans and circled the island of Manhattan while Sean Fleming's band played and everybody got drunk. They eventually made enough money to buy their own joint, Fleming's, which was about twenty blocks north of Flannigans, around 80th street.

I don't know how long that lasted, and I only visited the place a few times, but it was always the same, people having a great time drinking and dancing to Sean's Irish music.

Now I missed Sean on St. Patrick's Day this year, but I see his name on occassion on the markee at some Irish pubs in Philly, and the next time I go to New York I'll be sure to look up him and Sammy, as I know they'll be around a pub there somewhere.

One of the things about Flannigan's that I thought was neat was the story on the back of the menu about seven Irish rebels who were caught by the British and condemned to be executed, only to be pardoned by the Queen and exiled for life to the prison colony in Australia. Some years later, the Queen was astonished to learn that one of the men she had pardoned was the Prime Minister of Australia. It was later established that the other six also became quite honorable, one as Prime Minsiter of Canada, another Mayor of New York City, a general in the American army, etc. When I went to Australia, I looked up the story and bought a book that detailed the biographies of these men.

While there's more to come on this subject, I've subtitled it All Things Irish, I will return and share some of my flashbacks of my visits to the Emerald Isle, and other stories with an Irish bent, like the one I wrote for the SandPaper, Why the Irish Are Obnoxious.

More to come.


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