When experiencing Irish-Newfoundland in St. John’s, the words quaint, enchanting, colourful, hilly, and historic all come to mind. While Elizabeth I lay claim to St. John’s in 1583, making it the oldest English-founded city in North America, it is the arrival of the Irish 200 years later that would most prominently shape this city’s cultural identity.
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 is true about the city’s jelly bean rows, making St. John’s one of the world’s most colorful cities. Here Irish flair is all about you.
The downtown core of St. John’s sits in a valley alongside a beautiful bottle-nosed harbour, and with many steep streets reminiscent of San Francisco, it is also a great city for healthy jaunts.
Below are some wonderful Irish-Newfoundland experiences to take in while exploring the capital city.
Watch An Irish Dance Show
The St. Pat’s Dancers have been a fixture on 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 3 or 4 originally brought from Ireland.
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 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. They host music, literary arts, and other cultural events throughout the year culminating in their annual Irish week Festival, which alternates between Ireland and NL’s Avalon Peninsula region.
Take In An Irish Scrimmage
St. John’s Avalon Harps GAA are dedicated to developing the return of hurling in Newfoundland along with introducing Gaelic football. They played their first match on September 26, 2009, thought to be the first in Newfoundland in 125 years, since the game was banned by the church in the 1880s.
Tour The Basilica
Experiencing Irish-Newfoundland in St. John’s would not be complete without a visit to The Basilica, a spectacularly beautiful structure and the mother church and symbol of Roman Catholicism in Newfoundland.
Built by and for the Irish and Irish Newfoundlanders, many of its materials consist of Irish granite and limestone. One of its bells, weighing 2 tonnes, was struck by James Murphy of Dublin, the largest ever cast in Ireland at that time, that also won a gold medal at the Dublin exhibition of Irish manufacturers. For its day, the Basilica was the largest Irish cathedral anywhere outside Ireland.
A visit to its adjoining museum is also a must, to learn about the Basilica’s construction under the watchful eye of Irish-born Bishop Michael Anthony Fleming.
Do The Trinity Pub Crawl
There is no shortage of top-notch Irish pubs in and around St. John’s, with three of their finest all downtown and within walking (or staggering) distance from 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, this is a hopping Newfoundland kitchen party just as it was for owner Brenda O’Reilly growing up.
Live local music takes place here throughout the day with top Irish-Newfoundland acts including The Irish Descendants, Masterless Men, and Tarahan. Tuesdays are open-mic night to put your singing chops to good use. A wonderful dining experience also awaits you on their outside patio overlooking George Street, with a delicious menu that offers a variety of Newfoundland, seafood, and wild game dishes.
Note Be sure to get ‘screeched in’ (become a certified, honorary Newfoundlander) before you leave.
Erin’s is the oldest Irish pub in St. John’s and a beloved musical landmark. It is also located on Water Street, away from the crowds and revelers found on George Street.
This is the place where all the magic happened for many up and coming NL acts, the likes of Great Big Sea, Rum Ragged, and Shanneyganock. So special, in fact, that Erin’s was recently chronicled in a new documentary called That Little Room: The Story of Erin’s Pub.
There is no cover charge on most weeknights or for the early evening shows on weekends. Traditional instrumental sessions also 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 and restaurant. Pub grub is available and so too are delicious Newfoundland meals and other creative dishes. Their nachos and lobster mac and cheese are the best around.
Bridie’s also offers up true NL hospitality and is a great spot to see talented, local musicians playing live too. Open 24 hours, this is a great spot before you head home to sleep off your night.