Newfoundland culture as we know it today stems from the diverse backgrounds of explorers who made their way overseas to new land hundreds of years ago. These pioneers risked life and limb on the voyage across the unforgiving Atlantic Ocean. Most were immigrants escaping severe poverty in their home countries, hoping to find bounty in the riches of the cod fishery in this “new founde lande.” On this island in the North Atlantic, these settlers laid the cultural foundations that centuries later we still celebrate and take immense pride in.1
Music was, and continues to be, a significant part of our cultural legacy. Newfoundland’s distinctive folk music has its roots in the early settlers of the province. Shanties and ballads were brought from the old country and over time were revised along with new songs created to share their own specific stories. Newfoundlanders still to this day use music to record the realities, both good and bad, of life on this island.2
There is a special place in the hearts of Newfoundlanders for the Irish, as they are the most recognizable contributor to our present-day traditions and way of life.
The expansion of the Irish population in Newfoundland began with the growth of trade from Ireland in the late 1600s. Vessels on their way from England to Newfoundland would stop at the major ports in Ireland for supplies and would transport Irish immigrants along the way. The Irish were escaping the severe poverty and oppression at home; however, even in Newfoundland, they found themselves on the margins of society. Considered to be troublemakers and ruffians by the English majority, anti-Irish settlement laws were established.1 Fortunately, despite these laws, the Irish population continued to flourish. Near the end of the eighteenth century, there were actually more Irish than English in the St. John’s area.3
In the very early 1800s, ships’ rooms and fish flakes dominated what are now Harbour Drive and Water Street, and for generations, these hindered the orderly development of the city. Once a law allowing private property ownership was passed in 1811, a legal settlement was finally tolerated and a downtown started to emerge.
During this period, St. John’s was beginning to get a name for itself with its taverns and grog-shops flourishing, and supplies of rum and other spirits plentiful. In particular, Water Street became a major mercantile centre and is known to be the oldest commercial street in North America.1
One landmark of Irish culture in St. John’s is the George Street Entertainment District. Today, it is lined with pubs and bars, many showcasing Irish-Newfoundland music, and offering up Irish brew and traditional menus.
The scene on George Street was quite different in its very early days! Before cars were in general use, it was the city’s transportation lifeline. There were at least four blacksmith shops on this small street. The blacksmiths who manufactured horseshoes, along with those who shod the horses were in great demand at this time. George Street was also a centre for animal feeds, hay and wholesale groceries as well as home to several bootleggers, a jewellery store, warehouses and a welding shop. Also interesting to imagine is that before taxi cabs there were horse-drawn cabmen who could be found in the area behind the old general post office.4
Bridie Molloy’s Pub and Eatery is an authentic Irish pub located on our famous party street and a favourite with the locals! This welcoming and cozy pub embodies the character of the Irish heritage in Newfoundland, the history of early Irish settlers in St. John’s, and the strong spirit and will of these people who helped create this city and who made it what it is today.
On a recent visit, while savouring a pint of Guinness at the bar, I myself was taken in by the Bridie’s experience. The Irish influence is felt throughout, not only by the warm architecture of the wood interior, but also by the smaller touches: the vast collection of local antiques which showcase both Newfoundland and Celtic heritage, the ornate floor tiling just inside the entrance, the lanterns and the wall art. Combined with the authentic architecture, the excellent menu selections and traditional music, this is a place where anyone can feel at home and take in a genuine Irish-Newfoundland experience.
Bridie Molloy’s is known for its live music. Each week you’ll find local well-known artists like Siochana, Connemara and Station Road, just to name a few! This is the place to be for a rollicking night of guitar, fiddle and accordion; energetic jigs and nostalgic ballads; the music that every Newfoundlander can relate to, and every visitor wants a piece of during their stay on the Rock.
George Street is the hub of entertainment in St. John’s, and Bridie’s is at the centre of it all! During annual celebrations like the George Street Festival and the George Street Mardi Gras, as well as St. Patrick’s Day and Canada Day, Bridie’s is a part of all the action and nowhere else can you find such a traditional and authentic way to celebrate.
A familiar song by the famous Newfoundland group, Simani began to play during my visit and couldn’t have been a more perfect way to sum up an experience at Bridie Molloy’s:
“I’ve done a lot of living and I’ve found
no matter where you go the whole world round
they always go together hand in hand
where there’s one, there’ll be the other, music and friends”
Whether you’re looking to stop by for a pint, enjoy a delicious meal, or spend a night partying and dancing to local live talent, Bridie Molloy’s is a must-see. No matter where you’re from, your experience here will leave you feeling nostalgic for the Irish spirit that runs through the history of this town and through the hearts and souls of every Newfoundlander.
To experience Birdie Malloy’s please visit www.bridiemolloys.ca
1 O’Neill, P. (2003). The oldest city: The story of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Portugal Cove-St. Philips, NL: Boulder Publications.
2 Fitzpatrick, J. (2001). Music. Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage. Retrieved July 29, 2012 from http://www.heritage.nf.ca/arts/music_arts.html.
3 McCarthy, M. (1999). The Irish in Newfoundland. 1600-1900: Their trials, tribulations & triumphs. St. John’s, NL: Creative Publishers.
4 White, J. A. (1989). Streets of St. John’s. St. John’s, NL: Creative Publishers.
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