Irish pubs seem to be an Annapolitan staple but as a Georgia-transplant myself, I couldn’t help but question the seemingly deep rooted ties between Annapolis and Ireland. There are at least eight traditional Irish pubs in Anne Arundel County, an Irish Traditions store on Main Street, and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is the biggest parade of the year. So, I decided to look for answers, thus setting on a quest to finally find out the history of the Irish Pubs in Annapolis…
Just when did all of our Irish neighbors settle here?
Well, that information is a bit unclear. Annapolis began as a shipping port in the early 1600s, and typically watermen were Irish. The name Baltimore, comes from the Irish Bal ne Tighe Mor and was named for Ceclius Calvert, whose family crest provides the black and yellow backdrop on Maryland’s flag. So, it’s reasonable to believe that our Irish neighbors lived here all along. However, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the Irish Pubs in Annapolis became a trend.
Let’s assume, for all intents and purposes, that Galway Bay, which opened in 1998, sets the standard for the history of Irish Pubs in Annapolis. Yes, McGarvey’s and O’Brien’s are older establishments, but their intentions and aesthetics are less focused on traditional Irish fare than Galway Bay’s. In fact, O’Brien’s was actually named after former owner and Redskins player, Fran O’Brien, and originally served as a steak and seafood restaurant. So, by all accounts, the 90’s was the genesis of Irish pubs in Annapolis.
Shortly before Michael Galway and Anthony Clark transformed the old Campus Tavern, another Irishman made his mark on Main Street. Vincent Quinlan, a Dublin native, opened Castlebay in 1998. I asked Sean Lynch, general manager at Galway Bay, if opening two Irish pubs within six weeks of one another created a greater sense of community among local Irish, “I can’t say we were what caused it, but I like to believe played a role.” he cautiously replied.
Lynch and I chatted about the difference of being an Irish pub on Main Street versus on Maryland Avenue, a less trafficked section of downtown. “The focus is different on Main Street,” he remarked, “You have a different audience than you have here.” He went on to describe the pub’s unique trivia night, and that there are some patrons who have attended every Tuesday Trivia since Galway Bay opened.
What differentiated Castlebay and Galway Bay from the other seemingly Irish bars at the time was the focus on the menu.
“You can’t really call yourself an Irish pub if you don’t sell Irish food!” Lynch jokes.
“We want to make it clear that there is more to Irish food than beer.” he adds. Which is exactly what they did. Galway Bay continuously updates their menus, and you may have heard of their stint on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
Another vital characteristic and constant motif in the history of the Irish pubs in Annapolis are the interiors and architecture. Lynch claims that Galways Bay’s owners, “lucked into certain things and had to work around others” when they acquired the building. You’ll notice there are no TVs in the pub, which was intentional. “When you go to a pub in Ireland you’re there to have conversation. We wanted to encourage that here as well. If you want to watch a game then you will go to a sports pub.” he explains. Castlebay offers the sports pub experience with its open floor plan and mahogany tables.
Both Galway Bay and Castlebay are run by Irishmen, which definitely make their establishments feel more authentic. It wasn’t long after the two downtown staples opened that Galway and Clark opened Killarney House in Davidsonville, and Brian Boru in Severna Park. In 2010 Irish Traditions moved from the Eastern Shore to join Castlebay on Main Street. Fado soon followed on West Street.
Opening the pubs didn’t cause the Irish to flock to Annapolis, but rather provided an authentic sense of home to those already here. The familiar smells, sounds, and traditions lent into the preexisting community, who clearly know a thing or two about hospitality (and pubs, for that matter).