Dorchester’s Eire Pub celebrated its 50 years in Adams Village with an anniversary party on Sept. 16. The local landmark, named for the Irish word for Ireland (pronounced “eerie” by locals), was founded by Irish-born Tom Stenson, a native of Co. Sligo who came to the US as a young man. With his brother Michael, Tom operated Stenson’s Pub on Hyde Park Avenue in Roslindale before he purchased the high profile corner building immediately adjacent to the Old Dorchester Post at the intersection of Adams Street and Gallivan Boulevard.
“My father bought the building in 1963,” says Stenson’s son John, who now owns the pub. “At that time there were two businesses here, Callahan’s Pub and Leonard’s Drygoods Store.” Tom changed the name and extended the premises into the Leonard’s space, and the Eire opened in its current two-sided oval configuration in 1964.
The son recalls growing up in his father’s business. From the time when he was about six years old, John says, he helped clean the pub on Sundays, back in the days when it was open just six days a week. In those early years, the pub offered a modest menu of quickly prepared lunches, including hot dogs and cold cut sandwiches. For years, the menu above the bar listed a sandwich made with “sardines (whole can)” for less than a dollar. Today, the Eire offers an array of hot food and large, overstuffed sandwiches prepared in a small kitchen that turns out dozens of meals every day.
Tom Stenson died in June 2000 and John’s mother, Mary “Molly” Stenson, neé Shannon, lived into her 90s before passing away in October 2012. “My mother never came into the pub during business hours, out of respect for my father,” John says, a reference to the description of the Eire as a “Gentlemen’s Prestige Bar.” He said his mother always believed she should keep a clear separation between their home life and the business. “She only came in here once,” he says, “to see that I had put up my father’s photo on the wall.” Today, the men-only culture is a relic of a long-ago time, as both men and women are regulars at the neighborhood landmark.
After a surprise visit on Jan. 26, 1983, by President Ronald Reagan when he was in Boston on a political trip, the pub added the catchphrase “Presidential Pub” to its nameplate. Nine years later presidential candidate Bill Clinton, escorted by then-Boston Mayor Ray Flynn, stopped at the Eire just days before his election. Each holding a pint of beer, Reagan and Clinton went behind the bar for photo ops. Urban legend says that Clinton partook of his pint, but Reagan’s lips never touched his beer.
Since the Reagan visit, Stenson says, the pub has been a regular campaign-trail stop for candidates from both parties. It was even a last-stop destination for Ireland’s outgoing prime minister, Bertie Ahern. “Governor Deval Patrick has tended bar, here, and also Mitt Romney,” he says. Last month, gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley made a campaign stop at the Eire, and the GOP’s Charlie Baker spent some time with the crowd during the anniversary party. State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry was among the revelers that night, and presented a Senate citation to Stenson to commemorate the occasion.
While Stenson says he has made personal donations to candidates, he insists he never allows the pub to be used for a political fundraiser. So that’s the deal: A hearty welcome awaits the politician of any stripe who wants to drop by the Eire for a brew and a bite and a hello. But that’s it. Enjoy and move on.
Correction: A recent column about Portland’s Maine Irish Heritage Center gave an incorrect title for past president Brendan McVeigh; he is a director and past president. The current president is Kathy Reilly, a native of Dorchester’s St. Brendan parish who now lives in Portland.