J. Patrick's pub is a fine classroom for Irish culture


March 09, 1994|By ROB KASPER

I got ready early for St. Patrick's Day, March 17. Back in February I was sitting in J. Patrick's, a corner restaurant and bar in Locust Point, eating an Irish breakfast and learning about pub life.

Joining me for the breakfast of eggs, homemade soda bread, and "pudding," or homemade sausages, were Conrad Jay Bladey, his wife, Mary, and their 4-year-old daughter Margaret.

The pub on the corner of Andre and Clement streets was familiar turf for Bladey. He teaches Irish-culture classes there. While most of the coursework for his adult education classes is conducted in a traditional classroom setting, Bladey regularly schedules at least one session, sometimes the final exam, for J. Patrick's.

"We get people to tell a story, or read a poem, or sing a song," said Bladey. "That is what the Irish go to a pub for. The Irish go to a pub to tell stories and to talk."

J. Patrick's, an ordinary-looking establishment with walls covered by extraordinary amounts of maps and Irish memorabilia, was a good example, he said, of the family pub.

The proprietors, the J. Patrick Byrne family, live in quarters above the business. Moreover, it serves meals and that, according to Bladey, meant that the pub would attract a wide clientele.

During the day families eat there, sitting, as is the custom, he said, at tables separated from the bar. In the evening, men and women stop there on their way home from work to see friends. And late in the night the dancing begins.

It was easy to get Bladey to talk about Irish customs. He received his undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of Maryland and while studying Celtic archaeology in Germany, became acquainted with the Irish community in Munich. His heritage is Polish, but after meeting the Irish in Germany, he became, he said, a coverted Celt.

He lives in Linthicum with his family and teaches Irish culture courses throughout the Baltimore area. This year, for example, he taught the five-week course in the adult education programs of Anne Arundel and Harford Community colleges and in Baltimore county at the Catonsville and Perry Hall high schools.

"People take the course," Bladey said, "to reclaim their Irish, urban culture that has been lost when everybody moved to the suburbs."

Bladey has his students bake Irish soda bread, read poems, and relive the Revolution of 1916, when Irish fought the English. He takes his classes to the pub, for "wide-ranging discussions" and traditional pub games. Among those pub games are "pitch a penny," where a penny is tossed through a hole in a piece of wood, and "shove-a-ha'penny," where, much as in shuffleboard, coins are shoved across the table.

He also teaches a version of the course to children. But, instead of going to a pub, the kids make an excursion to an Irish dancing demonstration at St. Pius X school on York Road.

"In Ireland there is a pub for every pocketbook," said Bladey who travels to the Emerald Isle several times a year. Along with the family pubs, like J. Patrick's, he offered these broad categorizations of the types of Irish pubs found in Baltimore.

"There are pubs where you find the bankers and lawyers . . . the Tip O'Neills," he said, referring to the late Speaker of the House of Representatives. McGinn's, in the 300 block of North Charles Street, is such a place, he said.

There are the "hideaways. The places with low ceilings and music." This description, he said, fits Angelina's in the 7100 block of Harford Road, but only on the nights the music is Irish. Other nights the music is country western, he said.

Then there are what Bladey called "the village pubs." These pubs have a small bar, and an adjoining big room. The room serves as a social hall, for eating, dancing, or meetings. The Gandy Dancer in the 1300 block of McHenry Street in West Baltimore is a village pub, he said. Bladey said when he takes groups to visit these pubs he makes sure one of the group is the designated driver.

One of his favorite Irish neighborhoods is Locust Point, a collection of neat rowhouses near Fort McHenry "There is a pub on every corner . . . so people don't have to drive. Why even the dogs are friendly."

Conrad Jay Bladey may not be Irish. But as my late Grandmother Mahoney used to say, "he has kissed the [Blarney] Stone."

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