When I think of St. John’s, the words quaint, enchanting, colourful, hilly and historic all immediately come to mind.
Elizabeth I laid claim to St. John’s in 1583, making it the oldest English-founded city in North America. But it is the arrival of the Irish 200 years later that has most prominently shaped this city’s cultural identity. I think most ‘townies’ would agree.
196,966 residents call St. John’s home, a true port city that also boasts the most pubs and bars per capita of any street (23 on George Street alone) in North America.
Anyone who has visited Dublin’s temple bar district will immediately see similarities with George Street. The same can also be said about our jellybean rows, making St. John’s one of the world’s most colorful cities. Irish flair is all about you.
St. John’s historic downtown core is idyllically nestled in a valley alongside its beautiful bottle-nosed harbour. With many steep streets reminiscent of San Francisco, it’s a great city for healthy jaunts too.
Here are some wonderful irish experiences to partake in while visiting the capital city:
Watch An Irish Dance Show
The St. Pat’s Dancers have been a fixture of the St. John’s dance scene for over sixty years.
Girls have been members of the St. Pat’s dancers since the mid-70s and today they dominate the group though boys continue to participate.
Currently the group performs 13 or 14 dances including the 3 or 4 originally brought from Ireland.
Learn To Dance Like The Irish
Shawn Silver Irish Dancing offers beginners, intermediate and advanced Irish dance classes for both children and adults.
Irish dance teacher, Shawn Silver received his master dance training in Dublin, Ireland from world champion dancers and members of the famed river dance troupe.
Attend An Irish Social
NL Irish Connections promotes community, cultural, and historic ties between Newfoundland and Labrador and southeast Ireland.
An annual Ireland Newfoundland festival is held each year, alternating between Ireland and the Avalon Peninsula region of Newfoundland.
They also hold music, literary arts and other cultural events throughout the year culminating in their annual Irish week festivities.
Take In An Irish Scrimmage
St. John’s Avalon Harps GAA are a dedicated to developing the return of hurling in Newfoundland along with introducing Gaelic football.
They played their first match on September 26, 2009. This was thought to be the first match in Newfoundland in roughly 125 years since the game was banned by the church in the 1880s.
Tour The Basilica
The Basilica is a spectacularly beautiful structure and the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland. It was built by and for the Irish and Irish Newfoundlanders.
Many of its materials consist of Irish granite and limestone. One of its bells was struck by James Murphy of Dublin. It was the largest ever cast in Ireland at that time and won a gold medal at the Dublin exhibition of Irish manufacturers. It weighs 2 tonnes.
For its day, the St. John’s Basilica was the largest Irish cathedral anywhere outside Ireland. A visit to its museum is also a must. Here you will learn about the Basilica’s construction under the watchful eye of the Irish-born bishop Michael Anthony Fleming.
Do The Trinity Pub Crawl
There are no shortage of quality Irish pubs in and around St. John’s that’s for sure. But three of their finest are all downtown and within walking (or staggering) distance of one another.
O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub
O’Reilly’s was recently voted Canada’s favourite bar by Enroute Magazine and for good reason. It’s a hopping Newfoundland kitchen party just as it was for owner Brenda O’Reilly growing up.
Live local music takes place throughout the day with top Irish-Newfoundland acts including the Irish Descendants, Masterless Men and Tarahan. Tuesdays nights are open-mic night so put your singing chops to good use.
Unwind on their outside patio overlooking George Street, this is a wonderful afternoon dining experience. Their delicious menu offers a variety of Newfoundland, seafood and wild game dishes.
Be sure you don’t leave until you are screeched in.
Erin’s Pub is St. John’s oldest Irish pub and a beloved musical landmark. Erin’s is also away from the crowds and revelers found on George Street.
It’s the place where all the magic happened for many up and coming acts such as Great Big Sea, Rum Ragged and Shanneyganock. So special in fact that Erin’s was recently chronicled in a new documentary “That Little Room: The Story of Erin’s Pub”.
There’s no cover charge on most weeknights or for the early evening shows on weekends. Traditional instrumental sessions take place on Friday and Saturday nights. The finest Celtic music this side of Ireland.
Bridie Molloy’s Guinness Pub & Eatery
Bridie Molloy’s is a traditional Guinness pub paired with an exceptional restaurant that is open 24 hours. It’s also a great spot before you head home to sleep off your night.
Pub grub is available but so are delicious Newfoundland meals and other creative dishes. Their nachos and lobster mac and cheese are the best around.