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Memorable Monthly Mondays: The Senior Luncheon at The Irish Center

Sean McMenamin & Kathleen Murtagh Sharing a Laugh at the Irish Center Senior Luncheon

Sean McMenamin & Kathleen Murtagh Sharing a Laugh at the Irish Center Senior Luncheon

They call it the “Senior Luncheon,” but organizer Sean McMenamin thinks they need to come up with a more  dynamic moniker to characterize the monthly lunches at The Irish Center in Mt. Airy.

And anyone who has attended one of these social gatherings would agree that there is nothing “senior” about the energy and camaraderie that fill the room.

Co-sponsored by The Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia and The Commodore Barry Irish Center, and subsidized by the Irish government, the lunches take place at noon one Monday each month, and there is no cost to attend. There are also volunteers who coordinate a transportation schedule for those who want to attend, but don’t have a way of getting there.

The Immigration Center has held weekly luncheons for seniors for years at their home in Upper Darby, but Sean reached out to Siobhan Lyons, the Center’s Executive Director, to arrange an additional lunch at The Irish Center. “We started about 4 years ago, with 36 people attending the first one, and now that it’s been established, we get a regular crowd of about 100 people coming,” Sean explained.

So popular has the luncheon become, that in addition to the newsletters from the Immigration Center, there are also informal pipelines in place to make sure everyone knows the date of the upcoming lunch. Mary Cannon, of Hatboro, has a regular group of 10-18 people she brings with her. She calls her friends after she confirms the date with Leslie Alcock, the Director of Community Programs at the Immigration Center, and they get there about an hour early to make sure they can get their two tables. “I’ve been coming since they started the lunches. It’s really marvelous. They do a great job, the food is marvelous and I get to have lunch with all my friends,” she said.

Mary Jane Rogers and her husband Ted (a former president of the Mayo Society), are also devoted attendees. “We come pretty much every month. It’s a wonderful thing. I don’t know how they do it—and they don’t charge. There is always an abundance of good food. And they do a 50/50 raffle every month, with different prizes.” They usually share a table with their friends from the Irish Community: Betty and Tom Broderick, Arline and Wayne McKeever, Mike Lyons and Jim McDonald.

Talk to anyone at the luncheon, and the reaction is the unanimously the same: It’s a great time. Tom Staunton, who was among those who were at the very first event at The Irish Center, the Mayo Ball in November of 1958, expressed it this way, “It’s a social gathering. You get together with people you don’t see all the time, people you’ve known for a long time in a nice setting.”

Chickie Harvey (real first name Helen), is another regular. “I’ve been coming here for years. My husband Charles was a manager here for 2 years about 25-30 years ago, before he got sick. Now I come to these luncheons, and it’s a real good time. I’ve met a lot of nice people.”

Because the luncheons aren’t just for folks who have been lifetime members of the Irish Center; among the group that Mary Cannon brings with her are friends who were initially unfamiliar with the Mt. Airy home to the Irish community. But once they started to attend the luncheons, they’ve been coming back ever since. “It’s a welcoming place,” one of them said. “I just enjoy everything about it.”

For more information on which Monday of the month the luncheon will be held, or for assistance with transportation, contact Leslie Alcock at The Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia at 610-789-6355.

And take a look at the fun that goes on there:

Wayne & Arline McKeever, Mary Jane & Ted Rogers, Mike Lyons, Tom & Betty Broderick, Jim McDonaldJimmy Meehan & Kathleen Murtagh Running the 50/50Sean McMenamin & Kathleen Murtaugh Sharing a LaughMary Cannon Collecting Her Raffle PrizeMary and Andy CannonTom StauntonFood and FunFull House for LunchPeggy Gorman and Kathleen MurtaghChickie HarveyShepherds Pie & Roasted Potatoes

 

 

 

 

Food & Drink, News, People

The Irish Community Comes Together for the Meehan-Guilin Family Benefit

Kathy Meehan-Guilin with Her Father Jimmy Meehan

Kathy Meehan-Guilin with Her Father Jimmy Meehan

 

This past Sunday, close to 500 people gathered at the Irish Center to show their support for Kathy Meehan-Guilin. The daughter of Donegal native Jimmy Meehan, one of the most beloved members of Philadelphia’s Irish Community, Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2014, and it’s been a long road. From April to July, the mother of three children (Jimmy, 18; Moira, 14 and Anna, 13) underwent chemotherapy treatment, in early September she had a mastectomy and she’s about to begin six weeks of radiation. And in the midst of all of this, her husband of 19 years, Dave, was laid off from his job.

Among the Irish, there is a particularly strong tradition of community, and when someone in the extended family is in trouble, people come together.  So when word got out last spring about Kathy’s diagnosis, the Irish in Philadelphia mobilized. Calls were made, a committee was formed and Jim Boyle and Liam Hegarty took on the role of co-chairing a fund-raising effort.

“Tom Boyle called me and said, ‘Jimmy Meehan’s daughter needs help,'” Liam explained. “That was all it took. Thirty people showed up at the first meeting. Historically, you start out with a large group of volunteers, and people fall away. Not with this group. You couldn’t go wrong with this group. Everyone pitched in immediately, everyone took on a job.”

The fundraising initially began by reaching out with a leaflet that members of the group took to local parishes and grocery stores, telling Kathy’s story. Volunteers spent untold hours collecting money and selling raffle tickets.  Vince Gallagher and Marianne MacDonald talked about Kathy’s story on their Sunday Irish radio shows. Leslie Alcock, who is the Director of Community Programs at the Irish Immigration Center of Philadelphia, was appointed the group’s Public Relations person, and set up a Facebook page and sent out newsletters. In June, the planning began for Sunday’s big event—a culmination that brought out everything that is wonderful about a community that knows how to pull together.

The Irish Center donated the space, Paddy Rooney’s Catering in Havertown donated the food, local musicians donated their time and talents, raffle donations poured in from local pubs and restaurants and individuals who donated baskets of goods as well as larger items that included a bicycle, a signed Donegal Jersey and tickets to an Eagles game.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Kathy said. “I’m amazed at how many people showed up. The way these people have been so generous, it’s a source of strength. It’s really lifted my spirits—people just want to help. Strangers, people I don’t even know. I don’t know how to thank everybody. People come up to me and say, ‘You’re Kathy, Jimmy’s daughter, I know your father.’ People have been so good. I feel cocooned, wrapped in so much love.”

Jimmy Meehan understands: “It’s the Irish Community. With this community, you can’t lose. We’ve been a very active and close-knit family for years. It’s how you were raised. You take care of family and neighbors and anybody close to you. If a time arises when someone needs help, we’ll take care of each other.”

And Leslie Alcock understands why so many people want to help the Meehan-Guilin family: “Everyone knows how much Jimmy has done for the community over the years. He always looks out for his friends, he’s always so kind, the first to volunteer and do anything to help out; he’s never just sitting back.You ask him to do something and he always says yes.”

The community isn’t finished helping yet. As Kathy begins her radiation treatment, a “Take Them a Meal” program has been set up. The schedule can be accessed by going to the website:  TakeThemAMeal.com and typing in the name “Meehan-Guilin” and password “4829.”

As Leslie summed it up, ” All the work that went into this, all the time and energy, it warms your heart. There’s so much good in the world.”

For more information, visit the Meehan-Guilin Family Benefit FB page

Some photos from the day:

Jimmy Guilin, Kathy Meehan-Guilin and Jimmy MeehanJimmy Meehan and Kathy McGee BurnsKathleen Ryan, Peggy Murray and Charlie Martin at the Raffle TableEagles TicketsBicycle RaffleSigned Donegal ShirtGuinness Raffle BasketEd & Meg Weideman and Kathy McGee BurnsEmily WeidemanVince Gallagher & His BandAnd There Was DancingTakeThemAMeal.com

 

 

 

Food & Drink, News

St. Patrick’s Day 2014 at Brittingham’s

Tom Webster and Richie Maggs from Down By the Glenside

Tom Webster and Richie Maggs from Down By the Glenside

One of the area’s best known and beloved Irish pubs underwent a facelift last year. We wanted to experience St. Patrick’s Day in the Lafayette Hill eatery’s light and airy new digs.

The day started with a great buffet. The hash was the best we’d ever tasted.

Things got off to a slow start, but business picked up pretty quickly–not long after local singer-raconteur Oliver McElhone started to sing rebel songs, and whatever else anybody wanted to hear, from a stage not far from one of Brittingham’s two bars.

And both bars were pretty busy when we left.

St. Patrick’s Day at Brittingham’s attracted a pretty diverse crowd, including two guys from a band called Down By the Glenside who had played there the night before, and two off-duty nurses who had just come off the night shift. “It’s our happy hour,” they said.

Early or late, it was a pretty happy hour for everybody.

We snagged a few photos. Check them out, up top.

And one video of McElhone himself, singing … of course … a rebel tune. Feel free to sing along. We did.

Dance, Food & Drink, Music

2014 Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Festival

Our pal Jamesie Johnston of Albannach

Our pal Jamesie Johnston of Albannach

Every year we say it was the best yet. Even that year when wind storms knocked out the lights, and the bands played on in the darkness. Actually, that was pretty cool.

But, OK, we’re going to say it again: This year’s Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Festival out at the Valley Forge Casino and Resort was the best yet.

Large crowds flocked to the festival over the weekend.

If you were in the mood for tunes to make you forget all the snow and ice, you were in luck. Most of our favorite bands were there. We don’t want to accidentally leave anyone out, so we’ll leave it to you to peruse our huge photo essay. We guarantee you’ll see a lot of familiar faces there.

We renewed our acquaintance with John the Scottish Juggler, who’s always on hand to keep the kids entertained. The adults love him, too. The Washington Memorial Pipe Band stepped out from time to time, and they never fail to impress. The Campbell School Highland Dancers were there, and our Irish dance friend Rosemarie Timoney led ceili dancing.

We cruised the vendor area, and found one or two things we’d never seen before. And a thing or two we wish we had never seen at all. Extra Special Haggis Sauce comes to mind.

The air was filled with the aroma of cooking oil—which can only mean one thing: fish and chips. To be accompanied, of course, by bracing brews from those cold islands—and a wee bit of whiskey, perhaps.

And if you happened to be sporting a kilt, a sword—or even a pirate hat—no one would give you a second glance. What more could you ask?

So if you didn’t brave the wind and the snow this past weekend, pull up a chair and let our photos warm the cockles of your hearts.

Whatever cockles are.

Food & Drink

Philly Irish Pub Crawler: Reedy’s Tavern

Daphne at the bar serves up Reedy's immense roast beef sandwich.

Daphne at the bar serves up Reedy’s immense roast beef sandwich.

It’s an unprepossessing red-brick pub with striped awnings at the corner of Frankford and Arendell Avenue in the city’s Torresdale section. Driving by Reedy’s Tavern, you might not expect it to be much more than a local shot-and-a-beer joint.

Guess again. If you crave unfussy but delicious, well-prepared food, Reedy’s short, simple menu won’t disappoint. The dinner menu features blackened salmon steak, pork chops, and traditional fish and chips. But if you’re looking for rib-sticking bar food, you’ll find offerings like Irish spring rolls (details below), crispy battered fish bits, and a killer roast beef sandwich (also described below).

Guinness and many of the standard domestic brews are on tap, but the place is also known for its wide selection of craft beers. Many more are also available by the bottle.

What really makes Reedy’s so appealing is its atmosphere. It’s a blend of Irish kitsch—from the “Cead Mile Failte” mirror proclaiming the availability of Jamesons to the Phillies shamrock banner over the bar—with an easy-going neighborhood vibe. Reedy’s is dark and cozy, which most of us appreciate in our favorite locals. Simple wooden tables and benches line the wall opposite the long, well-worn bar. The exposed red brick theme continues inside.

Like many bars, Reedy’s appeals to the sports-minded as well, with four extra-large screens showing a Phillies game. (And after the Phillies lost, we watched the USA mens’ soccer team squaring off against the team from El Salvador in a gold cup game.)

The Bogside Rogues and friends were playing their hearts out in a green-walled corner of Reedy’s on the Sunday I dropped by. You can hear live music there—though not always Irish.

The place’s most recent claim to fame is Playboy’s Miss August: former waitress Val Keil, who dropped by the tavern to sign autographs a few nights before I checked in. “She’s a pretty girl,” owner John Reedy told me, “and a nice girl, too.”

If she worked at Reedy’s, there’s no doubt of that.

If you’re going, here’s the intel:

The Special: At Reedy’s, it’s their roast beef sandwich, says owner John Reedy. Customers don’t seem to be able to get enough of them. Make sure you come hungry. This mouthwatering monster, juicy slices of prime beef adorned with bubbly melted cheese on a seeded roll, is approximately the size of a Cadillac Escalade. It’s $9.99 with a pint of beer.

Also On the Menu: Reedy’s had a bunch of really great stuff on the blackboard on the day I was there. Specialties of the day include Irish spring rolls, stuffed with corned beef and shredded cabbage, with dipping sauce; cheddar fries, made with sharp Irish cheddar, Dogfish law, and dusted with Cajun seasoning; Jameson pulled pork; and Guinness stew. There’s lots more on the everyday menu.

On Tap: Reedy’s has an astonishing variety of designer brews to complement the Guinness and domestics (Coors Lite and Bud, for example). When I visited, Reedy’s was serving up pints of Allagash Tripel, Schuylkill Punch Raspberry Ale, and Goose Island Summertime.

By the Bottle or Can: Again, Reedy’s was amazing. Wells Banana Bread Beer, Chimay, Old Speckled Hen, Boddington’s, and Slyfox Seamus.

The Clientele: No question about it, says John Reedy, his tavern is a neighborhood haunt. (You don’t have to live in Torresdale to go there, of course.)

Extras: DJ Pat every Friday night at 9, occasional live music.

Where: 9245 Frankford Ave, Philadelphia.

On the Web: http://www.reedystavern.com

Call: (215) 338-9677

Food & Drink

Southwestern Fare, With an Irish Accent

The folks at Tex Mex Connection, a popular eatery in North Wales known for its tasty Southwestern fare, is no stranger to “spirit dinners”—special prix fixe meals pairing food with liquor tastings. They’ve hosted very popular tequila dinners several times.

They’re about to try something a little different—teaming up the spicy heat of chipotle and poblano with the peaty smoke of Irish whiskey and malt.

The restaurant’s first-ever Irish Whiskey Dinner—it’s on for April 18th—will pair dishes such as posole stew with red chile accent and chipotle mustard marinated salmon fillet, with four classic Irish spirits: Kilbeggan, Connemara Irish Malt, Greenore, and Tyrconnel.

It’s not such a stretch, says Tex Mex Connection General Manager Kevin Gross. “The format is not unfamiliar to us,” he says. “It was more just a question of persuading people we could do it with whiskey, and not just tequila.”

The original plan was to do a bourbon tasting, but those plans fell through. Serendipitously, Ruth Dunne, a brand ambassador for Cooley Distillery, which owns the four whiskey brands, was available to host an Irish themed dinner. Gross thought: Why not?

Dunne, he says, will probably wow people with the force of her personality. “She’s adorable. She really plays the part—you expect her to start dancing. Everything about her screams Ireland.”

Once the restaurant had committed to the tasting dinner, the kitchen responded with a mouth-watering four-course meal, marrying influences from both cultures. For example, marmalade whiskey glazed European chicken breast with chorizo apple cornbread stuffing and braised greens, and Irish cheddar, smoked bacon and caramelized onion quesadilla.

Gross was sure the kitchen would be up to the task.

“We have some very talented chefs,” he says. “You don’t need to go full-bore Irish with the food. It’s more pairing the food notes with the notes of the whiskeys.”

If you’re prepared to check your preconceptions about food at the door, Tex Mex Connections is still taking reservations. They’re at 201 East Walnut Street in North Wales. Phone number: 215-699-9552.

Food & Drink

Victory at QVC

Deborah Streeter-Davitt

Deborah Streeter-Davitt

QVC introduced the world to the Diamonique. On Wednesday, March 13, at 5 p.m., the iconic West Chester-based cable shopping channel will introduce another gem: Deborah Streeter-Davitt’s priceless MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes.

Buttery, moist and rich, the bundt-shaped Irish Victory Cakes are a popular item at Celtic fairs, including the recent Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival. You can also find them in small markets, or purchase them online. The recipe is a secret, handed down through the generations from Streeter-Davitt’s great-grandfather James MacDowell from Belfast. Cakes come in a wide variety of flavors, from just plain butter to tempting little items chock full of chocolate, butterscotch, or marshmallow—and all of them spiked with just a wee bit of whisky.

Demand for Victory Cakes peaks around St. Patrick’s Day, when Streeter-Davitt and a small workforce of friends and relatives band together for marathon baking sessions in a rented kitchen at Paoli Presbyterian Church. There, they turn out nearly a thousand four-inch “minis,” about 150 eight-inch “petite” cakes, and 20 or so of the aptly named 10-inch “mighty” cakes.

It’s a killer production schedule, but with a high-visibility spot on QVC, this St. Paddy’s Day is going to be challenging. And probably equal parts rewarding.

“St. Paddy’s is our Superbowl,” Streeter-Davitt says. “Production gears up over 300 percent to fulfill corporate gifts, inventory in the lovely shops, restaurants and farmers markets that carry our product, and our increased website orders.”

For the QVC campaign, the so-called “head caketress” has partnered with a team of bakers from the Reading area to produce cakes in much larger numbers. Streeter-Davitt says great-grandad’s recipe will remain unchanged, using locally-produced butter, eggs, chocolate and other fresh ingredients.

Streeter-Davitt concocted a new career as a baker a few years ago following a layoff from her job in the financial services industry. Ironically, a connection she made in her old job led to her upcoming QVC debut.

“When I was working in corporate America,” Streeter-Davitt says, “I met this amazing entrepreneur at an area diner. I saw her again shortly after I launched MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, and told her about my new venture. She asked me for a sample and loved it, and through her incredible contacts and savvy she got a MacDougall cake in front of the buyers at QVC’”

Acceptance by the very particular QVC was nothing like a sure thing. Thousands of items are pitched to the QVC producers, but in the end MacDougall’s cakes made the cut—an outcome Streeter-Davitt attributes to the luck of the Irish—with more than a little help from her old corporate colleague. “This amazing lady was on our side. The buyers loved the MacDougall cake and our story, and here we are … on QVC!”

The story is as rich as the cake. “The recipe is my great-granddad’s gold medal-winning butter pound cake from Ireland,” says Streeter-Davitt. “He baked and beautifully decorated cakes for the rich and famous and royalty of the British Isles. Great-granddad sacrificed his fame and accolade to fulfill his dream of bringing his clan to the United States, where he worked in obscurity for his American sponsor in a tiny bakery in Syracuse, N.Y.”

Great-granddad’s cake, Streeter-Davitt says, is all about family, love and perseverance.

Judging by the incredible success of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, the tradition lives on.

Food & Drink, News, People

Victory at QVC

Deborah Streeter-DavittQVC introduced the world to the Diamonique. On Wednesday, March 13, at 5 p.m., the iconic West Chester-based cable shopping channel will introduce another gem: Deborah Streeter-Davitt’s priceless MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes.

Buttery, moist and rich, the bundt-shaped Irish Victory Cakes are a popular item at Celtic fairs, including the recent Mid-Winter Scottish & Irish Music Festival. You can also find them in small markets, or purchase them online. The recipe is a secret, handed down through the generations from Streeter-Davitt’s great-grandfather James MacDowell from Belfast. Cakes come in a wide variety of flavors, from just plain butter to tempting little items chock full of chocolate, butterscotch, or marshmallow—and all of them spiked with just a wee bit of whisky.

Demand for Victory Cakes peaks around St. Patrick’s Day, when Streeter-Davitt and a small workforce of friends and relatives band together for marathon baking sessions in a rented kitchen at Paoli Presbyterian Church. There, they turn out nearly a thousand four-inch “minis,” about 150 eight-inch “petite” cakes, and 20 or so of the aptly named 10-inch “mighty” cakes.

It’s a killer production schedule, but with a high-visibility spot on QVC, this St. Paddy’s Day is going to be challenging. And probably equal parts rewarding.

“St. Paddy’s is our Superbowl,” Streeter-Davitt says. “Production gears up over 300 percent to fulfill corporate gifts, inventory in the lovely shops, restaurants and farmers markets that carry our product, and our increased website orders.”

For the QVC campaign, the so-called “head caketress” has partnered with a team of bakers from the Reading area to produce cakes in much larger numbers. Streeter-Davitt says great-grandad’s recipe will remain unchanged, using locally-produced butter, eggs, chocolate and other fresh ingredients.

Streeter-Davitt concocted a new career as a baker a few years ago following a layoff from her job in the financial services industry. Ironically, a connection she made in her old job led to her upcoming QVC debut.

“When I was working in corporate America,” Streeter-Davitt says, “I met this amazing entrepreneur at an area diner. I saw her again shortly after I launched MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, and told her about my new venture. She asked me for a sample and loved it, and through her incredible contacts and savvy she got a MacDougall cake in front of the buyers at QVC’”

Acceptance by the very particular QVC was nothing like a sure thing. Thousands of items are pitched to the QVC producers, but in the end MacDougall’s cakes made the cut—an outcome Streeter-Davitt attributes to the luck of the Irish—with more than a little help from her old corporate colleague. “This amazing lady was on our side. The buyers loved the MacDougall cake and our story, and here we are … on QVC!”

The story is as rich as the cake. “The recipe is my great-granddad’s gold medal-winning butter pound cake from Ireland,” says Streeter-Davitt. “He baked and beautifully decorated cakes for the rich and famous and royalty of the British Isles. Great-granddad sacrificed his fame and accolade to fulfill his dream of bringing his clan to the United States, where he worked in obscurity for his American sponsor in a tiny bakery in Syracuse, N.Y.”

Great-granddad’s cake, Streeter-Davitt says, is all about family, love and perseverance.

Judging by the incredible success of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes, the tradition lives on.