|JUSTICE AND GUINNESS WELL SERVED|
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY
are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the
sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their
country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of
man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have
this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more
glorious the triumph...” The Crisis
by Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776
Most of my accounts tend to begin from some corner bar stool; but this particular narrative has its roots at a different corner several miles away from the warmth and conviviality of the Tir na nOg Pub in Trenton, NJ. In 1783 Elizabeth Martin transferred a small cottage and a few acres of land located in Bordentown, New Jersey to Thomas Paine. This piece of real estate may have had as much influence on the life of the late “Irish Billy” Briggs, as did any of the four public house properties that he owned during his own lifetime.
Billy grew up in Bordentown, and during his adolescence he developed an acute interest in both American and Irish history. Thomas Paine was a personal hero, and I suspect Billy could easily draw parallels between the American cause during the Revolution and the Irish troubles with England. Recently Billy’s widow, Margaret O’Donnell-Briggs, told me that her husband would quite often begin the American tour for their quests from Ireland with a pilgrimage to Prince Street in Bordentown, in order to view the bronze statue of Paine.
A STATUE OF THOMAS PAINE THAT STANDS
IN BORDENTOWN, NJ
Thanks to APPLESEED RECORDINGS - www.appleseedmusic.com
With his eloquence and pen, Thomas Paine ignited and sustained the struggle for freedom and justice in the American colonies. Armed with a banjo and a sharp wit, Billy Briggs would nurture and support a similar cause in the Irish community on both sides of the Atlantic. His unwavering dedication won him the praise and respect of those who were at the forefront of the conflict, and men like Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams and Senator George Mitchell called him friend.
Regrettably, I never knew “Irish" Billy Briggs. My knowledge of the man comes by way of the countless testimonials generously offered up by the loyal staff and patrons at the Tir na nOg, most of whom I met on this past St. Patrick’s Day. A last minute change in plans brought me to this truly remarkable tavern. There are countless Irish looking pubs in this country; but there are only a handful that can be considered genuine and true to the Irish tradition of hospitality. Upon entering there was this immediate sense of welcome and acceptance. It brought back memories of my youthful wanderings, and those caring strangers along the way that would provide a good meal, a good drink and a good conversation.
The Tir na nOg does not offer food; but not to worry, their hearty pints of Guinness provide amble sustenance for both the body and soul. The powers that be at the St. James’s Gate Brewery have recognized this and have bestowed their accolades upon the pub on more than one occasion. For those that insist on solid nourishment, a number of local eateries will deliver the appropriate repast right to your barstool.
THE BAR AT Tir na nOg IS A PARADIGM OF IRISH
COMFORT, PURPOSE, UTILITY, AND TRADITION
Photo thanks to Dave Gard and The Times of Trenton
BILLY BRIGGS WAS A PASSIONATE ENTHUSIAST OF CELTIC MUSIC AND AN ACCOMPLISHED PERFORMER ON THE IRISH TENOR BANJO. THIS BODHRAN (HAND HELD IRISH DRUM) DECORATED WITH HIS LIKENESS IS THE PRIZE IN A MEMORIAL RAFFLE. THE PROCEEDS SUPPORT THE EIRE NUA MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP FUND TO PROMOTE A PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN IRISH AND AMERICAN STUDENTS IN THE PURSUIT OF THE IRISH LANGUAGE AND CULTURE. THE ENDEAVOR IS PROUDLY SPONSORED BY JOE CAHILL - AOH DIVISION #10
TOM GLOVER, BILLY BRIGGS' LAST MUSICAL PARTNER (LEFT) AND TOMMY McCLOSKEY PROVIDE SOME ROLLICKING IRISH TUNES FOR EARLY AFTERNOON CELEBRANTS ON THE HIGH HOLY DAY.
is certainly no shortage of spirited conversation at the Tir na nOg.
The congenial mix of colorful neighborhood fixtures, professionals,
artists, musicians, writers, blue collar workers, poets and politicians
makes for some lively exchanges. And if you are one that prefers a more
melodic form of human expression, there is on most evenings some great
live music on the stage.
A couple of weeks ago I returned to the scene of my St. Patrick’s Day revelry. I needed to confirm that my fondness and exuberance about the place was not just the result of an excessive amount of March 17th merriment. In the quiet of an early afternoon the tavern had not lost any of its original appeal, in fact the experience was even more satisfying. The bar manager, Frank Connell constructed several perfect 20 ounce pints. We talked politics and Irish history in between watching old cowboy movies with the locals. A bit later I enjoyed some delivered deli while discussing traditional music with Tom Glover, a regular performer at the bar.
By late afternoon I finally gave into the fact that this pleasant session must come to an end. As I drew my last sip of stout, I caught sight of the image of “Irish" Billy Briggs watching over all who embrace his sheltering legacy.
The Tir na nOg . . . a place where justice and Guinness are well served.
CALLING ALL IRISH MUSICIANS
STILL LIFE WITH PIPES AND PINT (AND WOODPECKER SIGN)
REVELERS OUTSIDE Tir na nOg ON A BEAUTIFUL
ST. PATRICK'S DAY AFTERNOON IN TRENTON, NJ
Tir na nOg IRISH PUB
1324 HAMILTON AVENUE
TRENTON, NEW JERSEY 08629