Living Irish Life Cape May Style
One of the most anticipated, holidays on the calendar is St Patrick’s Day. St. Patrick’s Day may also be the most celebrated of any ethnic holiday. Celebrations which include music, drinking and of course the beloved confection called Irish Potatoes.
Jim McHugh, 37 of The Original Fudge Kitchen, Cape May, New Jersey has been hand-rolling Irish Potatoes since he was eight years old. Almost 30 years of the store’s 45-year history.
“We go through hundreds of pounds of Irish Potatoes over the St. Patrick’s Day holiday season,” McHugh Said. “Irish Potatoes are moist coconut cream hand-rolled and dipped in fresh cinnamon.”
A traditional candy dating back hundreds of years in Philadelphia, Irish Potatoes may have originated with Easter egg style candy filled with moist coconut creme. Jim McHugh who was, born in Delaware County but moved to Cape May during his father’s 32 years of Coast Guard Service, thinks Irish potatoes started as an experiment. That experiment is now a staple at The Original Fudge Kitchen which results is some orders being shipped all over the country. The Fudge Kitchen will wrap and ship via priority mail a one-pound box of Irish potatoes. Anywhere.
“We ship corporate orders as high as 200 pounds,” said McHugh. “Companies will have sales representatives buy boxes for their clients,” McHugh said. The phone rang and another company was ready to place an order. Visitors to the store, from outside the area react surprisingly to the candy, confirming the confections regional origins.
Either side of the pond
Reminiscing is another sidebar event the Irish are not immune to. The Irish are known for being nostalgic. Mary (Heron) Stewart, Chief Outreach Officer for the Mid Atlantic Center for Arts and Humanities, knows her family’s history as well as MAC’s.
“My grandparents, both Irish immigrants, arrived in Cape May as domestic servants. Before they married, my grandfather was a teamster and worked for John Betz, who bought the Stockton Hotel in 1893.” Stewart said. “My grandparents were from Donegal and the sea must have been a constant presence. I guess it’s in my DNA but I feel exactly the same way about Cape May.” she continued.
“One memory I have of my grandmother was a conversation where she told me that she loved Cape May because it reminded her of Ireland, particularly the hydrangea.” Stewart continued. “When my husband asked me if I’d like to move here more than 30 years ago, I was packed and in the car before he could change his mind” she said.
If candy and sweet memories are not enough to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Cape May there is music. Lots of music choices. Headlining the weekend will be the John Byrne Band performing at Congress Hall’s Boiler Room on Saturday night March 18th. The six-piece band sold-out Philadelphia’s World Cafe’s 300 seats this past Friday night. The performance in Cape May is free.
The John Byrne Band is led by Dublin native and Philadelphia-based John Byrne. John has toured with or opened for acts as diverse as The Hothouse Flowers, Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple), Patti Smyth, Gaelic Storm, Murder by Death, Finbar Furey, Luka Bloom, The Saw Doctors, The Screaming Orphans, Solas, Sharon Shannon, The Young Dubliners and The Greencards. In Fall, 2012, John and the Band performed with The Irish Tenors for the Liberty Medal Presentation at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia before President Bill Clinton and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
John penned the words to his popular song, Already Gone while staying at the Marquis de Lafayette during a Cape May snowstorm. The John Byrne Band, however, is as much at home in a traditional session at a corner bar as it is in larger venues/festivals and opening for national acts.
The C-View Inn on Washington Street will host the traditional appearance if the Wildwood Irish Pipe Brigade, led by Pipe Major Kevin Tolan on St Patrick’s Day, Friday afternoon March 17th. The brigade was established on March 21, 1994. They recruit band members from police, fire, rescue, and most other Public Service organizations.
Barry Tischler brings his Whiskey in the Jar show to the Mad Batter Restaurant on Jackson Street on Friday afternoon. Barry does a monthly appearance at the Mad Batter with the same performance featuring Tom Naglee on the Fiddle. Later Friday night Tischler moves over to the Corinthian Yacht Club of Cape May for his traditional Irish session beginning at 7:00 P.M.
“Beach Plum Farm’s farm to table dinner on Friday, March 17 will have a nod to St. Patrick’s Day. chef Todd Phillips will be serving corned pork made from beach plum farms own heritage Berkshire hogs,” said Farm Manager Roz Johnson. Beach Plum Farm is located off Stevens Street in West Cape May. Reservations can be made by contacting the farm.
“Whenever I sit on the beach and stare at the water I can’t help but think of Ireland. I think of the young girl who left her family for the unknown, who endured crossing that immense body of water in steerage and who found something safe and comfortable in this town,” reminisced Mary Stewart.
When St Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday in Cape May, the McHughs, the Stewarts, and the rest of the Irish here on this side of the pond from Ireland can find many memories.