With St. Patrick’s right around the corner, you can probably already taste the Guinness and the corned beef. A worldwide celebration, St. Patrick’s Day is the occasion where everybody is just a little bit Irish, even if you aren’t Irish at all.
For those with the blood of the Celtic countryside coursing through their veins, St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of heritage, culture and, perhaps most importantly, good times with good friends and family around plentiful food and drink.
Rhode Island doesn’t skimp on the celebratory nature either, as it has the third highest percentage of Irish Americans in the country. To sample the festivities around the city, you don’t need to travel far.
Right on the line of Cranston and Warwick, in the heart of historic and scenic Pawtuxet Village is O’Rourke’s - a true-blooded Irish pub with a lineage that dates back to 1930s Ireland, specifically the small town of Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan.
It was from there that Laurie O’Rourke’s late husband’s family called home, and since the bar and grill opened in 2006 (and acquiring its liquor license, perfectly enough, the day before St. Patrick’s Day) it has been extending a warm family-feeling experience to patrons from all over.
“There's a sense of pride. The Irish are very proud people,” said O’Rourke on the topic of St. Patrick’s Day, their busiest day of the year. “There's a sense of friendship, just like the Claddagh, there's friendship and loyalty. It's about people gathering together to celebrate the many blessings we have.”
On St. Patrick’s Day O’Rourke’s opens up its second floor function room to increase its capacity, and will feature traditional Irish music from Sean Connell during the day and Shawn Reilly at night.
For O’Rourke, St. Patrick’s Day is the embodiment of the restaurant's mission.
“We pride ourselves on the fact that, for me, it's about giving back to the community,” she said. “There’s never a cover charge, everything stays the same price. There’s a sign outside the bar that says ‘It's a Wonderful Life’ and it’s just like the movie. It’s about being kind to one another and celebrating each other and St. Patrick's Day.”
Across the city and across Greenwich Bay is Finn’s Harborside of East Greenwich, who have their own storied tradition with St. Patrick’s Day. At Finn’s, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day once isn’t enough, and they actually hold a “halfway to St. Patrick’s Day” party every September as well.
“It's kind of a tradition at the Harborside because it's been going on long before we had the business, which we're going into our sixth season,” said owner Mark Finn. “It's always been a cool get-together on the water. It's kind of a before the [busy] season starts type of thing.”
Finn’s will have Guinness specials and green Jell-O shots to accompany their live Irish music. Shawn Reilly (pulling double duty with O’Rourke’s later) will be playing during the day, and The New Nasty will tune it up during the evening hours. Corned beef sandwiches and Reubens will be plentiful.
Back in Warwick, a true authentic Irish gem exists in County Cork Irish Pub. Now entering its seventh St. Patrick’s Day season, the cozy venue will serve up around 200 pounds of corned beef during their St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
“Last year we had a little less than that and ran out by 6 [p.m.],” said the appropriately named Patrick Tetreault, who co-owns the pub with his wife, Cora McAuliffe, who was born in Cork, Ireland.
Everything about County Cork Irish Pub screams authentic, from the Guinness on tap to the familial atmosphere of its staff and patrons. A bartender who doesn’t recognize you will ask what your name is, and how you heard about the place. If the bartender does recognize you, they’ll greet you with a friendly face (or a jeer, depending on your temperament) and start pouring your favorite drink right away.
“What's nice about the place and what I like about the place is if we're there we know almost every person who walks through the door,” Tetreault said. “Everybody is friendly and everybody knows each other. One of the things Cora always emphasized on everybody is to greet everybody who walks through the door.”
Tetreault said that some of the menu items, like the Irish stew, are the same recipes Cora learned from her mother that she enjoyed from childhood. The couple has been together for 25 years as of Monday.
St. Patrick’s Day, expectedly, is their biggest day of business. They set up a 20-by-20 foot tent in the back with a space heater to take pressure of the modest bar and seating area inside. It’s corned beef and fried food for options, as they even have to turn off the gas stove to make more table space inside.
However the friendliness and attention to authenticity pays off in their reviews, which hover around 4.5 out of 5 stars depending on what source you look at.
“I always ask ‘What do you think, how do you like it?’ The word I always like to hear and hear a lot is 'comfortable.' That's mainly what we strive for,” Tetreault said. “You know if you go down to County Cork you're going to be comfortable and you're going to be able to hang out and enjoy yourself.”
Whether you’re out for the perfect corned beef sandwich or you just want to enjoy a cold Irish draught with a couple good friends, the hospitality options around Rhode Island should make for a good night, whether you’re Irish for your life, or just for a day.