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Almost Time to Celebrate Samhain

The ancient Celtic harvest feast called Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, the “darker half” of the year. It’s celebrated on October 31-November 1, which is nearly halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice.

It was suggested in the late nineteenth century that it was the “Celtic New Year,” and over time, Samhain and All Saints’/All Souls’ Days merged to create our modern celebration of Halloween.

Several foods are traditionally eaten in Ireland at this time, especially Barmbrack, a yeast fruit bread. According to tradition, hidden in the Halloween Barmbrack were tokens to foretell the future — a ring for the bride-to- be, a thimble for the one who would never marry, and a small piece of cloth indicating the one who would be poor. Continue Reading

Food & Drink, Music, People, Photos

It’s All About the Lip Sync

Jimmy Fallon, eat your heart out! You may have made lip syncing cool, but last Friday night the Irish Immigration  Center of Philadelphia filled the ballroom of the Paxon Hollow Golf Club in Broomall with its Lip Sync Challenge.  Over 300 people turned out to cheer on the ten acts who performed like the entertainers they were channeling.

And the theme of the night was FUN.

One of the most important missions of the Immigration Center is its work with the seniors in the community,  including a monthly lunch at the Irish Center in Mt. Airy, so it was only fitting that two of the acts, The Jailbirds  and Seniors in Sync, were composed of seniors. Proving age has no season, they brought the house down with  their performances, including interpretations of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Beyonce’s “Single  Ladies.” Continue Reading

Dance, Food & Drink, Music

Northeast Philly Irish Festival 2015

Organizer Bill Reid kept the rain out and the Irish in, all of them gathered under the big tent behind the Cannstatter Club in Northeast Philadelphia.

Deborah Streeter-Davitt of MacDougall's Irish Victory Cakes

Deborah Streeter-Davitt of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes

Saturday was the first of two days celebrating all things Irish, with a raft of performers, including Deirdre Reilly,the Bogside Rogues, Belfast Connection, The Hooligans and the Fitzpatrick Dancers, plus lots of vendors hawking jewelry, T-shirts, whiskey cakes and scones.

There was a big dance floor in front of the stage, and although there weren’t a lot of dancers, those who stepped up did so with the enthusiasm dancers tend to have in buckets full.

We caught all of the action.

Mom and sonTaking up the whole table at the Northeast Philadelphia Irish FestivalTaking to the dance floor at the Northeast Philadelphia Irish FestivalHappy dancersSinger Dee ReillyOur dear friends at the Relik jewelry stand, Miriam Stamm and Stanton RossMaster of Ceremonies Bill Reid introduces singer Dee ReillyHappy customers at the shirt stand ... and happy sales guy, too.Fitzpatrick dancers rehearse under the watchful eye of their instructorFitzpatrick dancers of Bucks County warming up before their performanceFitzpatrick dancerDeborah Streeter-Davitt  of MacDougall's Irish Victory CakesClapping hands as Dee Reilly singsBogside Rogies and buddiesAn appreciative audience at the Northeast Philadelphia Irish FestivalAbsolutely love those faces
Food & Drink, People

A Garden Tea Party Fundraiser and a Community Coming Together

Tiernagh & Mia Moore and Meagan & Jenna Diver with Their Cards for Caolan & Conall

Tiernagh & Mia Moore and Meagan & Jenna Diver with their cards for Caolan & Conall

“It’s overwhelming how people just come together in situations like this. Situations that you don’t even think about before they happen.”

These are the words of Fidelma McGroary, and she knows what she’s talking about. Fidelma is one of five Delaware County women who organized last Sunday’s Garden Tea Party to raise money for two strong little boys who are fighting cancer.

Caolan Melaugh, the cousin of Fidelma’s sister-in-law in County Donegal, was diagnosed at four weeks with Neuroblastoma. Now four months old, Caolan is undergoing an 18 month protocol in Ireland to treat his cancer, but the best chance for a successful cure would mean treatment in either the U.S. or Europe. An expensive undertaking, the Caolan Melaugh Fund has been established online, and half of the money raised at Sunday’s Tea Party will be donated to Caolan.

Conall Harvey is much closer to home. The five year old, whose family is part of St. Denis Parish in Havertown and whose great-grandmother was the late Rosabelle Gifford, was diagnosed in March of this year with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.  The Leukemia was discovered when Conall was admitted to the ER with what his parents thought was dehydration from a stomach virus.  But instead of a stomach virus, Conall’s body had gone into septic shock from a bacterial infection that his immune system was too weak to fight off. Doctors amputated both Conall’s legs at the knee and part of his hand to save his life; the other half of the money raised Sunday will go directly to Conall’s family as he undergoes chemotherapy and rehabilitation.

“These are two special little boys,” Fidelma said. “And we decided we weren’t going to let another day go by without doing something to help them. We’ve been talking about giving back and paying it forward for years. I wanted to do something for Caolan, and then we heard about Conall. That’s how it started.

“This could not have happened without Louise Moore, Sharon Doogan, Kathy McGuinness and Colette Gallagher-Mohan. And the people who donated raffle baskets and food and their time. Everybody lifted the phone and said ‘What can I bring?’ And then the word started to spread, that’s the people of the Irish Community.”

Another group that was instrumental in making the Garden Tea Party so successful was their children. “They did all the decor. They did everything, we couldn’t have done it without them,” Fidelma said. “It was important that the kids were a part of this. I wanted them to grow up realizing how blessed they are and to learn to give back. So when they grow up and we’re old and gone, they’ll carry on.”

The special guest of the day was Mairead Comaskey, the Philadelphia Rose of Tralee. Beautiful and gracious, Mairead could usually be found with a trail of young girls in her wake. In addition to judging the best-dressed contests, she happily posed for pictures and shared her sash and crown with the crowd. In a few weeks, Mairead is off to Tralee for the International Rose Pageant, but on Sunday her heart was with Caolan and Conall.

At the time of the fundraiser, Conall Harvey was still recovering at CHOP, but his aunt, Rose Harvey Kurtz, was at the event. “Conall is just a beautiful bright light, a beautiful spirit,” she said. “He’s a fighter. His school dedicated a day to him, and the motto was ‘Conall Strong.’ We do down to visit him to brighten his day, and instead he brightens ours.

“The outpouring of love and faith is keeping us going. There’s something about Conall’s spirit that is bringing out the love and goodness in people. People’s faith is coming back. The positive thing is the strength of the family and friends who are so supportive, and the beautiful people who do beautiful things like this. It’s overwhelming how good people are.”

You can see all the photos from the Garden Tea Party below.

The fundraiser organizers: Kathy McGuinness, Louise Moore, Sharon Doogan, Fidelma McGroary & Colette Gallagher MohanTiernagh & Mia Moore and their card for ConallTiernagh & Mia Moore and Meagan & Jenna Diver with their get well cards for Conall & CaolanJenna & Meagan Diver and their card for CaolanBack Row: Laura McGroary, Olivia & Kayleigh Doogan, Sinead & Aisling Mohan, Mia Moore. Front Row: Tiernagh, Liam & Carly Moore, Leanne McGroaryPhiladelphia Rose Mairead Comaskey with a garden full of future RosesHelena Crossan Facciolo, Serena Crossan McCormack, Carmel Crossan Boyce & Collen Boyce Moran, all wearing hats designed by HelenaBarney & Carmel BoyceSarah MaloneySarah & Lisa MaloneySarah & Lisa MaloneyPat Bonner and Mary Beth Bonner RyanPat Bonner, winner of the best-dressed award, & Philadelphia Rose, Mairead ComaskeyJune McKenna & Mary McLaughiln w/ Philadelphia Rose, Mairead ComaskeyPhiladelphia Rose Mairead Comaskey with sisters Eilish & ShaniaLeah McBrearty trying on Mairead Comaskey's Philadelphia Rose crownAnna McCabe & Ava Facciolo, winners of the best-dressed awardPhiladelphia Rose Mairead Comaskey with best dressed girls Ava Facciolo & Anna McCabe
Food & Drink, News

McKenna’s Kitchen and Market Opens

Mmmmm. . .shepherd's pie.

Mmmmm. . .shepherd’s pie.

If you’re a fan of the Food Network, you’re going to love McKenna’s Kitchen and Market, the new endeavor of Pat and Nancy Durnin in Havertown.

When you walk in, just pull up a stool at the counter, which is made from a piece of wood from an old Norfolk, VA, shipwreck that the designer found abandoned in a barn.

From there you can watch Chef Lee McCarron from Derry City piping mashed potatoes laced with spinach on top of a shepherd’s pie before sliding it into the oven to brown, plating bangers and mash with a drizzle of carmelized onion gravy, and arranging the Irish fry like a fine artist.

But the real reason you’re going to love McKenna’s is because of the food, not the show going on in the open kitchen where it’s prepared.

McCarron, who was the chef at the late, lamented St. Declan’s Well in Philadelphia, has taken some old familiar Irish recipes of the stick-to-your-ribs variety and added a delicate touch. The shepherd’s pie ($11), for example, is filled with ground lamb whose taste is enhanced rather than muffled by a rich oniony gravy. For those who prefer the Americanized version, there’s also a beef-based cottage pie ($10) on the McKenna’s menu.

And the Irish fry ($10), a plate loaded with rashers (Irish bacon), bangers (Irish sausage), eggs, baked beans, grilled tomato, black and white pudding (also sausages, one made with blood, the other without), hand-cut fries, and brown bread, isn’t just a breakfast meal. It’s all your daily requirements for calories, fat, and many vitamins and minerals all on one plate. You won’t eat again until the next day, even if you do have it for breakfast.

The extensive menu also has burgers, sandwiches (including Irish toasties, $7), salads, soups, appetizers and kids’ meals.

All the food, except for the Irish imports, is locally sourced, says co-owner Pat “”Squee” Durnin. “It’s all from within 200 miles of here. Lee says that fresh isn’t necessarily more expensive. It takes more work and more organizing, but sometimes it can save money.”

If the name McKenna’s sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a reflection of his mother-in-law’s decades old endeavor, McKenna’s Irish Shop, which he and Nancy operated in the same location on Darby Road until it closed late last year.

Nancy’s mother, Anne Gallagher McKenna, a Donegal immigrant (Ardara) started selling her knitted mittens, scarves, and sweaters out of her living room and eventually built it into a network of Irish artisans whose woolen goods she sold out of her store, which carried everything from gold and silver jewelry to Barry’s Tea to crates of turf. McKenna’s Irish Shop had a good 35-year run before a changing market made gold too expensive and a 12-piece set of Beleek china something your mother handed down to you, but you didn’t buy for yourself.

When McKenna’s Irish Shop wrapped up its last Claddagh necklace right after Christmas last year, plans were already in the works for the BYOB restaurant and market–where you can still get your Barry’s and more. It’s a joint venture of the Durnins and a local couple, Brian and Jennifer Cleary. Many other Irish hands played a part too.

“A lot of the people here tonight are local Irish trades people and craftsmen who worked on the building,” said Durnin last Friday night during the restaurant’s invitation-only soft opening. (It opened officially last Saturday for breakfast and lunch, then all-day starting on Monday.)

The Durnins and Clearys hired a designer from Virginia to turn the shop into an upscale restaurant space and many of the unusual touches—the handmade wooden tables, tin ceiling, and counter—came from the south. “The tables are handmade from tobacco wood,” explained Brian Cleary. “The tin ceiling date from 1863 and comes from a plantation in Virginia.”

The chairs, however, are local. “They were a find,” he says, clearly delighted. “They were from the Crystal Tearoom at Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia.”

A double door that looks out onto the glassed-in porch room harkens back to old Ireland, when they were designed to keep the animals out and the breezes drifting through the house, explains Durnin. A red “armoire” in the main dining area does provide cabinet space for dishes, glasses and cups, but some of the drawers are shallow because “it’s actually hiding a set of stairs” that leads to an upstairs apartment, Durnin reveals.

And Mrs. McKenna is there too. Reconstructing the shop involved freeing a fireplace that was once in the parlor of the building, which started life as someone’s home. Nancy Durnin had an old platter that had been handed down to her from her mother who got it from her mother. She wanted it to be in the restaurant, but couldn’t find a place for it.

“We were struggling over what to put up over the mantle of the fireplace,” explains Cleary, “then my wife said, “Let’s put it over the fireplace.’ It was like it belonged there.”

Just like McKenna’s Kitchen and Market itself.

McKenna’s is at 1901 Darby Road, Havertown. It’s open from 7 AM to 10 PM. Tea and coffee–the meals as well as the drinks–are served all day. Bread is made daily by a local Irish baker. There’s on-street parking and parking available at the school next door when school isn’t in session. For weekend reservations, call 610-853-2202. BYOB


Maguires 1Mrs. McKenna's plate 2Main Dining Room with Tin Ceiling 3Shepherd's pie 4Chef Lee McCarron and Jennifer Cleary 5Kitchen Conversation 6
Food & Drink, News, People

The Brehons Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at Tir na nOg

Patrick Murphy with Siobhan Sean Stevens

How do the judges, lawyers, law students (and their friends!) of Irish descent rejoice in the St. Patrick’s Day season in Philly? They gather their members of The Brehon Law Society together, get John Byrne & Maura Dwyer of The John Byrne Band to play some music and they meet at Tir na nOG in the city on March 11th. With a great turnout, and the food & drink superb, the craic was mighty.

And, with guests like Patrick Murphy, the former Pennsylvania Congressman and current host of MSNBC’s monthly program “Taking the Hill” (which is airing this Sunday, March 22, at 1PM Eastern Time), in attendance, you can always count on The Brehons to throw an exceptional shindig!

Check out our photos from the evening, and see who else showed up for the party.

Maura McGee, Leslie Alcock & Tom IvoryJohn Byrne & Maura DwyerBert Bender, Joe Kelley, Eugene & Julie BonnerFormer Congressman Patrick Murphy, Colin Burke & Austin LucasAustin Lucas, Former Congressman Patrick Murphy, Siobhan Lyons, Sean Stevens & Sean SullivanJudge Sweeney & Siobhan LyonsLiam Sweeney, Judge Cunningham & Siobhan LyonsTom Zaleski & Siobhan LyonsTom Zaleski, Siobhan Lyons & Brendan O'MalleyNicola Bell, Liam Sweeney & Siobhan LyonsSunny Richman & John RyanTheresa Flanagan Murtagh & Colin BurkeLiam Sweeney, Theresa Flanagan Murtagh, Former Congressman Patrick Murphy, Colin Burke & Austin LucasTom Ivory & John O'MalleyJohn Corcoran & Joe Kelley
Dance, Food & Drink, People

A Holly, Jolly Christmas with The Rose of Tralee

Maria Walsh and Santa crack each other up.

Maria Walsh and Santa crack each other up.

When the Philadelphia Rose Centre was established in 2002, in order to give “young Irish American women from the Philadelphia region the chance to participate in one of Ireland’s most beloved traditions,” little did they know that in 2014 they would see one of their own become the International Rose. 

So this year’s Christmas party was an extra special holiday celebration. With Maria Walsh and Santa (who sometimes goes by the name Seamus Bonner) in attendance, the Saturday Club in Wayne was rocking the season’s spirit last Sunday. There was food, music provided by Karen Boyce McCollum and the Lads (Pat Close and Pat Kildea), dancing, face painting, crafts, raffles, Newbridge jewelry for sale by Kathleen Regan and just a whole lot of fun.

The Conaghan family—Tom, Mary and daughters Sarah, Mary and Karen Conaghan Race—are the driving force behind the phenomenal success of the Philadelphia Rose program, and are supported by a devoted committee (Margaret King, Beth Keeley and Elizabeth Spellman) and volunteers who work throughout the year to bring events and activities to the Rose community.

She’s already traveled all over the world as the 2014 Rose, but on Sunday, Maria belonged to Philadelphia. She posed for pictures, danced and made the room come alive. And as she thanked everyone for attending the party, especially those with young kids, she noted “If we didn’t have young rosebuds, petals, future escorts, we wouldn’t have a future. And it’s so important that parents and teachers and aunts and uncles and grandparents bring kids here. This is how the Irish have survived for so long—we always re-invest and keep the cycle sustainable and going.”

Go ahead and enjoy the photos from the day:

Saorla Meenagh with Santa and Maria WalshThree Generations of Beautiful Women: Tara Ryan, Pat Bonner and Mary Beth Bonner RyanTom Conaghan Playing a Tune on His AccordionSarah McCollum, Face Painted and Enjoying the Craft TableSarah McCollum Drawing a Winning Raffle TicketSarah McCollum and Her Grandmother Carmel BoyceSanta and Shannon Alexander, the 2015 Mary from DungloeSanta and Niamh ReganSanta Giving out GiftsOne of the Regan Twins at the Craft TableThe Regan Cousins with Maria Walsh and SantaRegan Cousins at the Craft TableThe Philadelphia Rose of Tralee DressPatty Joyce and Her Grandson LoganPat Bonner, Tara Ryan and Mary Beth Bonner Ryan with Santa, AKA Seamus BonnerOrla ReganNiamh ReganNiamh Regan with Her Aunt Kathleen ReganMolly RaceCandy Cane Hands! Molly Race, Mary Conaghan and Lori MurphyMolly Race with Her Aunt Sarah ConaghanMolly Race and Karen Conaghan RaceMichelle and Saoirse Glennon with Maria Walsh and SantaMaria WalshMaria Walsh with Santa and Logan JoyceMaria Walsh and Sarah McCollum BestMaria WalshMaria Walsh and Santa with Orla ReganNiamh Regan with Maria Walsh and SantaMaria and Tom Conaghan Dancing to the BeatMaria and Tom Conaghan Cutting a RugMaria Walsh and SantaSanta Gets a Lift from Maria WalshMaria Walsh Trying Mightily to Give Santa a Lift!Margaret King, Maria Walsh and Michelle GlennonKaren Boyce McCollum, Singing and Dancing the Afternoon AwayKaren Boyce McCollum with Pat Close and Pat KildeaKaren Conaghan and Ira Race with Daughter MollyAnother Happy Future Rose!Fran DuffyFace PaintingEmily Weideman and Shannon Alexander, the 2015 Mary from DungloeShannon Alexander, the 2015 Mary from Dungloe, and her mom


Watch the video created by Mary Conaghan:

To follow Maria’s journey as International Rose, follow her on the Maria Walsh 2014 International Rose of Tralee Facebook page

And for more information on the Philly Rose Centre, check out their website: Philadelphia Rose of Tralee

Food & Drink, News, People

A New Brew Pub Comes to Town

Second Story's John Wible and Ken Merriman

Second Story’s John Wible and Ken Merriman

The twos were just too overwhelming to ignore.

When native Dubliner Ken Merriman was looking for a name for his new brew pub, Second Story Brewery seemed like a natural. It’s at 117 Second Street, a few steps from Front Street, in Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood. The gleaming stainless steel brewing vats that once held Triumph Brewing’s craft beers are on the second floor of the 19th century former cotton and silk warehouse.

And it’s a second story—meaning a real passion for something–for Merriman, his partner, Debbie Grady, and brewer John Wible. “Deb is a farmer (Tilted Barn Farm in Pottstown) and we’re going to be using the wheat, hops, barley and probably yeast from her farm to make the beer,” explained Merriman last week during an invite-only preview that served as a dry run for the pub. “John is an IT guy in Cherry Hill who started as a home brewer. And me, I’ve been drinking beer all my life and now I’m making it!” He laughs.

It’s a second story in another way for Merriman, who grew up in the hotel/restaurant business. It’s his second Philly restaurant adventure. He was until fairly recently the general manager and partner at Tir na Nog at 16th and Arch and continues to run District Riverton Bistro in Riverton, NJ, where he lives.

Serendipity brought the three together. Merriman and Grady met years ago on the rugby field while watching their sons play for St. Joseph’s Prep. Wible is married to Grady’s daughter who started him on his obsession with beer making when she suggested he “find something to do with my time” while she was living temporarily in Vancouver.

“I didn’t know anything about home brewing but then I found a place close to my office that sold the equipment,” says Wible, 29. “Within two months, my new hobby had become a serious obsession.”

It was something of a learning curve to go from making 10 gallons to 500 gallons, but Wible started brewing and testing his own tried and true recipes on a grander scale for Second Story back in July and has 8-10 winners that will be available, along with a few ciders and six outside beers, including Guinness, and a test line done in 10 gallon batches. There’s also a beer engine at the bar for naturally carbonating beer as it’s pumped from the cask which adds a different texture to the beer, explains Wible.

“He’s really not happy about that Guinness,” Merriman confided later with a grin. “He says he’s working on a good dry Irish stout for me so we may be carrying that.”

Like the craft beer, the food is also farm-to-table, including an imaginative array of “bar bites” like black bean egg rolls, sliders with tomato jam and manchego cheese, and grilled wings that are brined, then baked, then grilled.

And the venue, warmed by oak floors, exposed brick walls, a working fireplace, and heavy fire doors that date back to its warehouse days, does double duty—both as a restaurant and event space. There’s a large room with a separate bar upstairs that can handle large parties.

Surprisingly, in a big beer town like Philly—where one section of the city is called Brewerytown—there are only a handful of brew pubs so Second Story doesn’t have lots of competition and certainly not in its neighborhood.

“Philly is a huge craft beer town but what it has is craft breweries,” says Merriman. One of the latest, for example, is St. Benjamin’s in Kensington, where they brew and deliver beer to local bars but don’t yet have a pub (one is in the planning stage). “If you go to a place like Denver, for instance, there are brew pubs on every corner,” Merriman says.

The brew pub is even catching on in Ireland, where traditional pubs are in decline. “I got a great laugh the last time I was in Ireland,” Merriman says. “The Irish were always trashing American beer. When I was back there in February and on the computer researching brew pubs, when I came across six or seven of them in Ireland and they were all advertising ‘American style craft beers.’” He laughed. “I just loved it.”


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