Sand Dunes, Salty Air, and Irish Heritage Mark a Nine-Mile Run Along Old Cape Cod

On Old Cape Cod, the nine-mile stretch along Route 28 from Hyannis to Harwich is fast becoming more like Galway or Kerry than the Cape of legend from years ago. This high-traffic run of roadway is dominated by Irish flags, Irish pubs, Irish restaurants, Irish hotels, and one of the fastest-growing private Irish clubs in America.

It is nearly impossible to describe the intensity and all the details of the Irish celebration on Cape Cod in a single article. But it is possible to provide enough information so that readers can appreciate the deep feelings of loyalty and pride towards our Irish heritage that exist today in the Cape Cod community.

Though Irish ship captains and many early Irish immigrants have been part of the Cape Cod scene for over 300 years, the explosion of public Irishness began just over 30 years ago with the arrival of the famous Irish entertainer Noel Henry (1949-1995) and his purchase in 1976 of an existing motel/restaurant complex that he happily renamed "The Irish Village." The property is now owned by the entrepreneur Jack Hynes and serves as a focal point for many Irish activities.

Bridget O'Leary, an Irish Village staff member from Drogheda, was asked why she liked Cape Cod so much. "Because it is just like home," she said. Danny Flynn, a Dubliner and also an Irish Village employee, agreed, "I love it here, I've been in the USA for 14 years and I'm never leaving the Cape."

In this year alone, Route 28 in Yarmouth and West Dennis has witnessed hundreds of Irish music performances, a glorious two-hour St. Patrick's Day parade on March 7 and a locally sponsored Irish five-mile road race on May 9. The parade, only four years old, is a good example of the growing Irish influence on Cape Cod. The parade committee this year published an 8½x11, 80-page commemorative program supported by 130 organizations and businesses including the police and fire department associations. Proceeds from the program partly funded the parade. An aggressive energetic parade committee has already begun preparations for 2010.

There is an Irish American Club of Cape Cod, a Cape Cod Celtic Society, a new division of The Ancient Order of Hibernians (The Thomas P. McCann Division) in Barnstable County that was established in 1998, and another new organization begun less than five years ago, The Sons of Erin, all centered in the Hyannis, Yarmouth, Dennis, Harwich area.

If you want to use your computer to find out about Irish Activities on Cape Cod go to for Bill Black's CapeIrishNews page. Featured on the website last month was the Memorial Day holiday Cape Cod Ceili Weekend at the Cape Cod Irish Village, starring Boston's Larry Reynolds Jr. and Brendan Bulger.

But sitting before a computer is no substitute for a personal visit to this part of Irish Cape Cod. Shamrocks are everywhere. The "Green, White, and Gold" stands in front of motels, bars, restaurants (like Giardino's, which is far from Irish), and stores like Wild Daisies, which claims the largest collection of Irish jewelry on the Cape. And there is hardly an eating place no matter its parenthood that does not have Irish named dishes on its menu. It seems the Irish are important to everyone, not just each other.

A visitor should consider starting the day at the famed Keltic Kitchen at 415 Main St (Route 28) West Yarmouth and enjoying the featured Irish Farmhouse breakfast - $11.50, (2 eggs, rashers, sausages, black and white pudding, mushrooms and tomatoes w/toast). For flavor and authenticity the Farmhouse breakfast competes with any found in Ireland. David Dempsey - a Dubliner -- and his wife Margaret own and manage the establishment. David works in the see-through kitchen and Margaret manages the crowds and front service, ably assisted by family members when they are home from school. They also offer The Keltic Scramble, The Keltic Benny (eggs Benedict on corned beef hash), The Keltic Burger, and a wide assortment of choices for most any taste. During the busy summer, relaxed crowds wait outside until they are called in by Margaret.

David and Margaret opened the restaurant in the mid 1990s and it has been attracting a year-round business ever since. Out back is David and Margaret's new enterprise, the Keltic Kottage, a gift shop offering clients hundreds of items from Ireland. The store features hard-to-find Irish sauces and candies and is the place for Odlums Irish flour, an indispensible ingredient for real Irish soda bread. Energetic David said, "I'm thinking about opening for lunch and dinner in the summer, the demand seems to be there."

David got his start as a "fry cook" at the Irish Village when he came to the Cape from Dublin in 1984. The Village is just down the road on the opposite side of the street, at 512 Main. This is a center of much of the current Irish activity on Cape Cod and is certainly a contributing catalyst for all that has occurred with the growth of Irish activities over these last 10 years. Jack Hynes of Cavan, who bought the Irish Village in 1987, is supportive of most any new Irish idea that comes to his attention. For example, he was host to the Sons of Erin Club for its first organizational meeting, and he sponsored the recent Irish five-mile road race.

Among other projects, Jack is a meaningful contributor to the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Cape Cod Celtic Society. Lew Taylor, a principal of the Celtic Society, says Jack is a rare man and he has nothing but the highest praise for him.

The Irish Village is as friendly a hotel as there is on Cape Cod. There are 138 "comfortable" guest rooms set up for vacationing families. And Hynes employs many Irish-born to manage the business. Marie and Pat Enright arrived from near Tralee in 1985 and remain as employees today. Today, they are joined by daughter Colleen who works the front desk on occasion.

A visitor to the Irish Village Pub may meet Tomas MacCormaic, an enthusiastic organizer of the St. Patrick's Day Parade and native of Northern Ireland. Tomas talks and works at 90 miles an hour so try to slow him down if you want to have a conversation.

A full description of all that is offered at the Irish Village can be found on their web site, capecod-Irish

Moving down the road to 585 Main Street visitors will find Molly's Restaurant and Bar, which claims to be the largest sports bar on Cape Cod. Owner-manager Jim Murzic ("My mother was a Callahan") offers "American cuisine with an Irish accent. We have 100 items on the menu and are open year round." Molly's has the exclusive rights to the live broadcast of the Irish RTE Setanta network of GAA games, soccer and rugby, and pays an annual fee of $14,000 for the privilege. The Munster Final last year between Kerry and Cork was seen here by a strong crowd of mostly Irish-born fans at 8 a.m. on a cold rainy Sunday morning as Cork earned a stunning come-from-behind victory.

Perhaps the most amazing story of the thriving Irish presence on Cape Cod is the extraordinary new Irish club, The Sons of Erin Cape Cod. Now located in its own building at 633 Main Street, the club has seen its membership grow from a small group of 5-6 organizers to its current membership of 1,263 dues-paying Irish and Irish Americans, of whom half live on Cape and half live off.

Says President Bob Bagge: "We have become a big family that enjoys being together celebrating our Irishness." The club is open all year long and even its careful treasurer, " Big Mike" Nicklaw, is surprised at how fast the club has grown. And Club Secretary Carole Shea, an officer since the founding, calls the club "our very own home."

The motto on the club's cards announces, "Promoting Irish culture, heritage & pride." The first organizational meeting took place on Nov. 20, 2004, at the Irish Village at the instigation of a few founding members -- John Kane, his nephew Mike Nicklaw, and Carole and Mike Shea. About 40 people attended, set up a core committee, and the club was formally born. In light of today's economy and the difficulties Irish organizations are having everywhere, it is remarkable that the Sons of Erin managed to find and tap into this gold mine of latent Irish interest on Cape Cod. About 10 percent of members are Irish-born with the remaining Irish Americans. To join, you must have at least one grandparent Irish or Irish American.

The club offers an attractive menu four nights a week, set dancing several times a month, Irish music on Fridays and Saturdays, and an active, inexpensive bar. Sons of Erin Cape Cod is a private club, so you must be a member to participate. If you are Irish, this is a place you want to be.

For a steady diet of Celtic music, O'Shea's Olde Inne at 348 Main Street in West Dennis is hard to beat. Says owner Joe O'Shea, "We are the home of traditional music on Cape Cod. We present performances seven nights a week every week of the year except Christmas Eve."

O'Shea promotes his establishment with great enthusiasm. A tall man, his grey beard and long grey hair tied behind his head form an interesting picture. He welcomes his guests in his loud friendly voice and encourages singing and table conversation between all his customers.

He says he bought this business three years ago because of this wonderful house. "It has great acoustics - great bones."He stressed the inn's focus on food and music rather than alcohol, though the bar was quite active during a recent visit. Irish Farm House Skins at only $4.95 are a favorite bar food and Joe's Irish stew at $12.95 is one of his best sellers.

Another Irish graduate of the Irish Village experience is David Shortt, a Dubliner who now owns the long-popular Wee Packet restaurant at the corner of Lower County Road and Depot street in Dennisport. David is another of the self-reliant, hard-working native Irish who in recent years have created lives for themselves and their families on Cape Cod. He came from the South side of Dublin in 1994 and can now boast of a growing family and a successful business.

The Wee Packet offers homemade Irish corned beef, black and white pudding, and a full Irish breakfast to its customers every day. The Wee Packet is also open for lunch and dinner and David is planning to open an Irish gift shop in July for his growing loyal customers.

One of the more interesting Irish gathering places on Cape Cod is the Claddagh Inn and Irish Pub in West Harwich. The Irish-American Connell family has owned the property since 1969 and renamed it The Claddagh Inn and Irish pub in 1990. This is an Irish family full of life and the love of conversation, music, and fun.

Their logo in the St. Patrick's Day Parade program book features the line, "I filled my bladdagh at the Claddagh." During a recent visit three generations of Connells were in the Pub either working or enjoying their guests. Located in a weathered Victorian house set back 75 yards from Route 28, tThe pub is downstairs offering a large bar food menu with Kerry tips (marinated sirloin tips) and a Gaelic Steak bathed in Jamison's Irish Whiskey. Cathleen Connell manages the establishment while her mother Eileen keeps a close eye on things.

A brochure invites "Genteel Biker Friends" as the Connells are Harley Davidson fans. Another brochure proclaims "Erin Go Bragh" with the Claddagh motto "Friendship, Loyalty and Love" printed on the front page. This is obviously a fun place and one where a visit will pay off.

There are many other fine Irish restaurants and pubs, all of which play a part in the explosion of Irishness on Cape Cod. Along Route 28, Captain Parker's owner Gerry Manning is a generous supporter of the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The restaurant is open year round and always seems to have eager customers to an establishment that boasts more than 4,000 Police and Fire Department patches on its walls.

Then there are Doyle's in South Yarmouth and Jake Rooney's in Harwichport, which have sizable followings, and the two Clancy's restaurants just off Route 28 in Dennisport are generous supporters of the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

Moving to the arts, the famous Irish artist Mary McSweeney has her studio on Cape Cod on Route 6A in Cummaquid. Her studio is open from May to October from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but if you cannot make it then she asks that a call be made to her studio for an appointment (508-362-6187).

Then there are the smaller places further down Route 28 in Chatham. The summer-only Song of Ireland Gift Shop, owned by Kathy Burke White, presents a variety of gifts and Irish clothing to her customers. And the Nantucket Wild Gourmet & Smokehouse, owned by Irish born Peter O'Donovan, offers year round an unusual array of smoked fish and other unique delicacies.

Far away on the Falmouth side of the Cape, Liam McGuire's, a highly popular pub, regularly plays Irish music to enthusiastic crowds. A more detailed description of McGuire's is not included here since the focus is on Route 28 and the Irish community in the Mid-Cape area. Says Jack Hynes of the Irish Village: "We can get to Quincy faster than we can get to Falmouth. It is a different world."

Many years ago both President John F. Kennedy's family and Speaker "Tip" O'Neill's family, when searching for a relaxing vacation atmosphere for their summer homes, decided upon Old Cape Cod. The Kennedys built the famous Kennedy compound in Hyannisport and the O'Neill's chose Harwichport.

Would they have joined the Sons of Erin on Cape Cod? Would some members of their families have breakfast at the Keltic Kitchen, or maybe listened to the Celtic music at O'Shea's Olde Inne? We can only speculate, but at the least they would be amazed by the exciting new Irishness on Cape Cod.