Anne Arundel County has at least eight traditional Irish pubs, an Irish Traditions store on Main Street, and the St. Patrick's Day Parade is the biggest parade of the year. 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. So, I decided to look for answers, thus setting on a quest to discover the history of the Irish Pubs in Annapolis finally...
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 came 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.
Image courtesy of Galway Bay
For all intents and purposes, let's assume 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. O'Brien's was named after former owner and Redskins player, Fran O'Brien and originally served as a steak and seafood restaurant. So, by all accounts, the '90s 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.
Image courtesy of Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County
What makes a bar Irish?
Lynch and I chatted about the difference between 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 described the pub's unique trivia night and that some patrons 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 precisely what they did. Galway Bay continuously updates its menus, and you may have heard of its stint on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.
Image courtesy of the author
Another important characteristic and constant motif in the history of the Irish pubs in Annapolis are the interiors and architecture. Lynch claims Galway 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 a conversation. We wanted to encourage that here as well. If you want to watch a game, you will go to a sports pub." he explains. Castlebay offers the sports pub experience with its open floor plan and mahogany tables.
Galway Bay and Castlebay are run by Irishmen, which makes their establishments feel more authentic. In 2010 Irish Traditions moved from the Eastern Shore to join Castlebay on Main Street. 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.
Opening the pubs didn't cause the Irish to flock to Annapolis but provided an authentic sense of home to those already here. The familiar smells, sounds, and traditions of the homeland lent to the preexisting community, who clearly knows a thing or two about hospitality (and pubs, for that matter).