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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:


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.”


Food & Drink, People

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:





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: 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:




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:

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.