HALIFAX, NS — COVID-19 restrictions have eased enough that local Irish-themed establishments can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day for the first time in three years this week, but it’s still not quite the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“For one thing, I don’t think anyone’s going to be saying, ‘Kiss me, I’m Irish,” chuckled the Old Triangle’s proprietor Brian Doherty, who’s curious to see what the turnout will be when the Bedford Row pub opens its doors for the traditional fry-up breakfast with a pint of Guinness at 7 am on Thursday.
Like many establishments around the city, from Durty Nelly’s and the Carleton up the hill to Serpent Brewing in Spryfield and Finbar’s in Bedford, there will be live Celtic music and yes, in some places the return of green-dyed beer is being proclaimed as an attraction. But with Phase 2 restrictions still in effect, only days before COVID-19 restrictions are lifted entirely on March 21, things will be a little more subdued than on St. Paddy’s Days of yore.
“It’s not going to be the sort of free-for-all it was, where people can mill around all over the place and just go where they want to go,” said Doherty, who also performs his first set in seven months with his musical partner Kevin Evans in the Triangle’s upstairs Seanchai venue on Thursday night.
“You come in, you sit down, you have your meal and a few drinks, and the mingling aspect has been removed, compared to what it used to be.”
Currently, licensed establishments can operate at 75% capacity with a distance of two meters between tables, and a maximum of 25 people per table. Masks will still be required to be worn when not seated, and live music is permitted as long as performers maintain a minimum physical distance of two meters from patrons.
Dancing is also permitted, with a mask, but social distancing requirements will make that difficult in most busy Irish pubs, so in most places, patrons will have to be content with tapping their toes at their tables.
“I was a little concerned about whether or not to celebrate St. Patrick’s day this year, but our employees and our guests basically said they’re ready to move on,” said Durty Nelly’s owner Joe McGuinness, who will also be open early on Thursday for pre-workday breakfasts and pints.
“I was a little concerned about reopening too soon, because we’ve all come so far. Collectively, Nova Scotians have done a phenomenal job, but here we are, we’re about to open up fully on the 21st, but our employees and our customers do wish to celebrate, so we will accommodate them within the constraints of the existing restrictions . We’ll be mindful of making sure people have a good time with some sense of normalcy while observing the good practices of wearing masks, sanitizing and social distancing wherever possible.”
Many ways to celebrate Irish culture and tradition
COVID-19 reached the pandemic state in Canada in mid-March of 2020, shutting down St. Patrick’s Day events for that year, and a year later in 2021, most drinking establishments wisely opted not to encourage mass gatherings since most Nova Scotians weren’t vaccinated and more stringent restrictions were still in effect.
For some, venturing out to a crowded restaurant, bar or brewery on March 17th is something best left until 2023, but there are other ways to celebrate. From watching John Ford’s classic County Galway-filmed classic The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara at Cineplex Park Lane Theaters to a free streaming concert with artists from Nova Scotia and around the world presented by Halifax’s ReJigged Festival and the Goderich Celtic Roots Festival on Thursday at 7 pm
Halifax musician and folklorist Dusty Keleher, a regular performer at the Halifax Brewery Market, is kicking off the musical lineup at Finbar’s in Bedford on Thursday, and is looking forward to being back on stage. But as a board member for An Cumann — Irish Association of Nova Scotia, he has an option for those who’d prefer to raise a glass at home.
“We are again disappointed not to have our annual family Céilí for the third year in a row,” said Keleher, who points interested participants to An Cumann’s online celebration.
“We asked musicians in the Irish music and dance communities to submit tunes and songs, and Ronan O’Driscoll submitted a video of a reading from his novel, Chief O’Neill. It can be found on the An Cumman — Irish Association of Nova Scotia YouTube page.”
For Stewart MacNeill of Cape Breton family Celtic band the Barra MacNeils, playing on St. Patrick’s Day has always been a major event, from the time they played both the Lower Deck and a concert at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in the middle of a blizzard to the many symphony shows they’ve been invited to take part in on the Irish holiday that’s taken on a kind of pan-Celtic acknowledgment of the island’s cultural contributions.
On Thursday, the Barra MacNeils play their first concert since the Omicron wave brought the group’s Christmas tour to a premature end in December, with a special St. Patrick’s Day celebration at Sydney’s Membertou Trade & Convention Centre, with special guests, Mi’kmaw fiddler and singer-songwriter Morgan Toney and the MacArthur School dancers.
“It’s a licensed event, but it’s an all-ages event as well, and the COVID protocol is being followed, in case people are worried about going,” said band member Stewart MacNeil, eager to see an annual tradition return to the band’s event calendar.
“There are still people who are worried about going out, but it’s going to be a blast and we hope to see people come out. It’s a big space, the ventilation is good, and it has the best sound in Cape Breton. If somebody wanted to get up and move around a bit, I’m sure it wouldn’t be an issue. ”
Just remember to keep the equivalent of two shillelaghs between your bubble and the folks doing a jig next to you.