TAKE IT from a real Irishman: Kevin Barry’s is the place to be on St. Patrick’s Day. Dublin native Frank Emerson has been part of the River Street pub since its inception.
“It’s been open since Halloween of 1980, and I played my first gig there in August 1981,” Emerson recalls.
Now living in Virginia, he returns to play in Savannah whenever he can. Kevin Barry’s now has the honor of being the second best Irish pub in the world, at least according to an Irish Pub Global competition.
Over a thousand pubs took part in the challenge, sponsored by the Irish Times and other international companies. Tara Reese, public relations coordinator for Kevin Barry’s, traveled to Dublin for the final to accept their award.
“Irish Pub Global is a global organization that promotes Irish culture and ‘craic’, which is Irish for good times,” she explains.
Of the five shortlisted Irish pubs, none were Irish and the top two finalists were from Georgia, which begs an important question: why didn’t any Irish pubs get a spot?
“Irish pubs in Ireland are trying to Americanise,” notes Reese. “But Irish pubs in America are embracing their Irish heritage. We get a lot of Irish tourists here and our pub makes them feel at home.
It seems the tables have turned, as for years St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland was just another day to attend mass and pay homage to the patron saint.
“But then they were like, ‘Well, this could be a big tourist trap,'” Emerson says.
Now, Ireland’s version of St. Patrick’s Day is like Guinness and Savannah’s green extravaganza. In a city where your March 17 plans are never in question, it’s no wonder this Irish pub has landed international accolades.
This year, St. Patrick’s Day will be a four-day celebration, starting with the Tara Feis Irish Celebration in Emmet Park on Saturday and ending with the parade and ensuing party on Tuesday. With the hours extended, the Irish spirit is higher than ever, so it seems fitting to listen to some traditional Irish music from Kevin Barry’s impressive roster.
Emerson will perform solo sets at Kevin Barry’s on March 13 and 18. Joining him at Tara Feis on March 14 will be fellow Irish musicians Harry O’Donoghue and Carroll Brown. The trio will continue to play at Kevin Barry’s until March 17, and Seldom Sober, consisting of Colleen Settle and Michael Corbett, will join them for St. Paddy’s.
The weekend musicians will play ballads, which are generally considered more modern than traditional Irish songs sung in Gaelic, says Emerson. Ballads may also include more traditional Irish instruments, including uillian pipes, bodhran drums, and pewter whistles. Guitars and banjos are also used in ballads, giving them a sound similar to American folk music.
“There’s a real connection between roots music and Celtic music,” says Emerson. “You will find that many American tunes are exactly the same tune as a Celtic or Irish tune.”
Irish music is sure to get everyone ready to party. “Everything in America is huge,” says Emerson. “In America, everyone is Irish for the day.”
Reese agrees, saying, “Everyone wants to be Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, and at Kevin Barry, we give them 365 days of that opportunity.
If you’ve never ventured into the fray for St. Patrick’s Day, it would be a good idea to stay with Kevin Barry, not only for the true Irish experience, but also for the safety.
“Kevin Barry’s will be the safest place for St. Patrick’s Day,” says Emerson. “It’s a clash with the army and the police, and the Irish Army Air Corps are still going downhill. It’s like their home away from home.
“It’s an open-air asylum,” Emerson jokes. “It will be a revelation for sure, and I hope it will be good.”