On March 17, everyone is Irish. In my case, with ancestors coming from County Down, that's even more true. So when I heard last year that the charming Cape Cod town of Falmouth was turning itself into O'Falmouth Village and partying its little green heart out to celebrate Ireland's patron saint, I decided to check it out. The long weekend I spent enjoying a bit of lively small-town cheer after a gloomy grey New York winter was so delightful I just might return for this year's St. Patrick's celebration.
For anyone living in the Northeast or even the mid-Atlantic states, getting to Falmouth is an easy, inexpensive trip. I took a Megabus from New York City to Boston and switched to a Bonanza bus for the 90-minute trip to O'Falmouth Village, which is on the southern end of the Cape, not far from the Bourne Bridge that connects Cape Cod to the Massachusetts mainland.
Why is Falmouth so gung-ho for the green? A good part of the enthusiasm rests with Liam Maguire. The Irish native's eponymous Irish Pub & Restaurant is a favorite destination for locals of all ages to enjoy live Irish music, beef and Guinness stew, and strong Irish coffees. All served with the festive décor of green paper shamrocks and green lanterns literally swinging from the rafters.
Unlike many Cape Cod communities that shutter up and close shop until Memorial Day, Falmouth is bigger, with 35,000 residents, and open year 'round. But it still has all the charm you would expect of a Cape Cod village, anchored by a village green lined with proud old wood shingled homes offering glimpses of the ocean.
Bill and Pat O'Connell bought a rambling Victorian home two blocks from the village green and turned it into The Palmer House Inn. All the rooms are named after writers, so it seemed the perfect place to stay. During this slow season, I was upgraded to the Robert Frost room, with its four-poster bed, wing chairs by a bay window, and Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom.
The Palmer House's complimentary breakfasts are bountiful, and on this weekend included a full Irish option of eggs, potatoes, sausage and bacon, broiled tomatoes and beans. The Inn's parlor is set up with a coffee and tea bar to help yourself throughout the day, and in the afternoon a big plate filled with Irish oatmeal raisin cookies home-made by Pat O'Connell appears.
As part of the St. Paddy's festivities, the O'Connell's shared a family recipe of Irish soda bread by inviting guests into their expansive kitchen for a bread baking demonstration. I joined the other guests to watch as Pat and her daughter kneaded and baked the floury dough. Then we helped ourselves to slices of the finished product, straight from the oven, slathered in butter. If I did nothing else all St. Patrick's weekend but loll in my four-poster bed devouring Irish soda bread and Irish oatmeal cookies, I would have been happy.
But I wanted to explore. A few doors down from the Palmer House is Museums on the Green, a collection of historic homes like a mini-Sturbridge Village. As part of the St.Patrick's celebration the museum hosted an Irish step dancing recital. Judging from the numbers of young ladies navigating the elaborate footwork in their fanciful costumes, it appears Irish dancing is a popular activity. I could have learned a bit of fancy footwork myself after the performance ended, but I was eager to check out the village.
It's a quick walk from the Palmer House and the Museum to Main Street, with its collection of shops geared to the well-heeled. Within the few blocks that form the village center there are: a Lilly Pulitzer shop, jeweler, an art gallery, gift shops, a bookstore, two chocolate shops, a boulangerie/patisserie, a cupcake store, ice cream emporiums, a tea room and an excellent Italian restaurant, La Cucina sul Mare.
On this weekend, Main Street was St. Paddy's central. Street lamps were wrapped with tape picturing green shamrocks. Stores offered special "green dot" promotions. Even the local Mexican restaurant got in the spirit, turning into O'Anejo's and featuring green margaritas.
The celebration went on all weekend and into Monday, the actual St. Patrick's Day last year. I had to get back to work, and stopped into the popular Quarterdeck Restaurant for lunch before taking the bus back to Boston and onward to New York. The menu was in the holiday spirit, offering corn beef and cabbage, creamy veggie-dense shamrock soup, and green crème de menthe cheesecake. But the biggest surprise of the holiday was what I viewed on the TV over the bar: a Boston Red Sox game, with all the team members wearing, that very special day, green t-shirts printed with shamrocks.