O’Reilly’s Irish eyes are smiling even more brightly than the lights above the bar as Brenda O’Reilly opened up about the last 25 years and her love of all things Irish ahead of St. Patrick’s Day
Brenda O’Reilly, who has owned and operated O’Reilly’s Irish Newfoundland Pub on George Street for 25 years, smiled for the camera as she pulled a pint behind the bar of her iconic pub.
So many memories, including some treasured ones from the band Ryan’s Fancy. “I hosted a reception for Ryan’s Fancy when they received their East Coast Music Award and they got up and sang together for the first time in 21 years,” she said. That was very important to her, she added, because they paved the way for so many who followed in their footsteps, she added. “They had their own TV show, and I remember back when they played The Strand, people would be lined trying to get in and Fergus (O’Byrne) is still a troubadour.”
O’Byrne has played at O’Reilly’s over the past 25 years, she added. So has Patrick (Paddy as she called him) Moran of The Punters.
So much musical history, something she says she tries to bring to audiences around the province and beyond when she is on OZFM’s Jigs & Reels each week with Danielle Butt.
“Danielle (Butt) and Jigs & Reels has had an impact on the music scene here and made an impact on the culture and it is amazing what that means to the music industry,” she said.
Her voice has become famous, she joked, thanks to the weekly Sunday program. “People hear my voice in the supermarket. I’m talking to somebody or I’m getting checked out, or I’ll ask questions, and they’ll go, ‘Hey, you’re Brenda from Jigs & Reels. I listen every Sunday,’” she laughed.
“I think we’ve been doing interviews on Sunday mornings for 20 years. I look forward to it. I love it. We don’t rehearse and we don’t practice it. We don’t know what we’re going to say. We’re just two friends chatting about the music. I try to just go off the cuff and talk about what’s real and what’s relevant and what happened that week or what’s coming up or I’m trying to help and promote the music community. It’s just all about the music here.”
Where does her passion come from? She was raised that way, she said. “I look very Irish. My last name is Irish. Growing up, my mom adored Irish music. It’s what she listened to and it’s what she sang and it’s what she danced to, so I grew up around it.”
Like many, after she finished school, she moved away to Fort McMurray for a few months.
“There was a restaurant up there called O’Reilly’s, and I remember walking up towards it this one day and looking up and seeing the big sign, O’Reilly’s, and I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s what it will look like. I need to do that.’ So my mission then was to get home and start my mission to get to the point where I could open a place and put up that sign.”
We ask about the staff. She’s worked with many over the past 25 years.
“Your staff become your family. You oftentimes see your staff more than you see your own family. That is one of the great things about this industry. I look back through the history of people working here and I’m amazed,” she said.
‘Older Familiar Faces’
“Our manager, Damian, he’s been with us 24 of the 25 years. That’s unheard of. I might be the voice of this place, but he’s definitely the face because he’s here five nights a week and has been for 24 years,” she said.
As for customers? They feel right at home, she added. “People who move away, they come in because it’s nostalgic for them. We hope that in our 25th year we see some of those older familiar faces, almost like our own come home year.”
When people return to this land of their birth, often they long for a little taste of traditional music, and coming to O’Reilly’s on George Street is part of that. “They missed out on our culture. They want to come to a place where someone knows your name, where you’re comfortable and the environment is familiar. People have met here and got married here. That’s special for us.”
So many characters. Like one man named Steve who used to love performing and dancing. “He would come in to dance and he’d bring tap shoes. The tourists loved him and I adored him. We were great friends.”
‘So many characters’
He could play the accordion as well, she added, though dancing was always his priority. “So many characters like that we met over the years, and they have helped make this pub a home. “
O’Reilly’s has been offering live music seven nights a week for 25 years. “Sit back. Have supper. Enjoy some music. The Fables and The Navigators, the Irish Descendants and The Masterless Men. They’ve all performed,” she said.
One of the most amazing things, she shared, is that traditional music has no age limit or requirement. “The 19 year olds love it and of course their parents and grandparents love the music too.”
Newer artists love the O’Reilly’s stage too. From Rachel Cousins to Jackie Sullivan, to OZFM’s Shannell Lewis, many have entertained O’Reilly’s patrons.
“We try to have a big variety of music for everybody and it’s about quality,” she said. The best part about owning an Irish pub in NL? The availability of that quality, she said. “It’s amazing how much talent we have here in this province. We are so lucky and I’m so glad it’s really finally starting to be really recognized. Traditional music has long been the fabric of the tourism industry, but I’m just so glad it’s really actually being recognized for what it is by everyone.”