Irish Village, a local Irish bar in Brighton, Massachusetts, has a long, 50-plus year history, and Kieran McWilliam has been there for 40 of them. As an Irishman himself, Kieran has seen the bar undergo various transformations and has helped make it what it is today. I had the chance to speak with Kieran about his story and the impact he’s made on one of Brighton’s local’s favorite bars.
SF: When did you move to America and what made you want to move here?
KM: “I first came to America on vacation to see family I had living in Saugus, Massachusetts. When I realized a lot of Irishmen were moving to the Boston area, I was able to get a 3-month visa and look for work here myself. It was a tough time to look for a job, as the economy wasn’t great at the time. I moved to Brighton officially in 1981 when I was 23 years old and I’ve stayed around this area pretty much ever since!”
SF: What is Irish Village and how did you start working there?
KM: “When I first moved here, I found some work in painting, construction, and roofing. Irish Village was a popular local Irish bar and so I started working there part time at first, and got to know the crew. I loved bartending because I got to meet and talk to so many different people, and in the ‘90s, it was a hoppin’ place. We had 2-3 bartenders working every night of the week, and offered different things every day. On Saturday afternoons we’d play traditional Irish music, another night we’d have a band come play, etc. It was the place to be!”
SF: How long has it been open for now?
KM: “The village has been open for over 50 years now, as it started in 1970 by three Irishmen. It has changed a lot since then in many ways. It used to have a wall down the center of the bar, but eventually we took that wall down and made the bar into a horseshoe shape. It used to have an awfully sticky carpet, but we renovated it to look less divey and more sophisticated, yet still inviting. We have booths lining the far wall, some high-tops, and a dart board to try to give it a relaxed vibe as well – we want people to feel at home here.”
SF: How did the pandemic affect the bar?
KM: “It was a very difficult time, as we had to close for 3 months. Once we could open up to 25% capacity, we had to implement plexiglass in between each of the tables, and ensure we were adhering to all of the mandates like masks, and people having to order food with their drinks – meaning we also now had to provide some sort of food. Luckily, we survived it, thanks to our loyal community members.”
SF: What challenges do you face managing a small business?
KM: “To me, it’s really important that my bartenders get to know the people who come in, which means firstly, asking them their name. I want to make people feel as comfortable and cared about as possible. Additionally, it’s important to me that everyone who comes through Irish Village gets home safe and I make sure to check in on those who seem as though they may have had one too many. As a manager at the bar, it’s important to me that our customers know that we care on a personal level.”
SF: Do you miss Ireland?
KM: “I made some great memories there and still have four brothers who live back home, but I’ve also made great memories in America. I’m coming up on my retirement so I will definitely be making many more trips back home soon.”
SF: What makes Irish Village special?
KM: “It’s a mix of things – it’s our people, the atmosphere we create, and of course, our drinks! Like I said, our team tries to make it an inviting and comfortable place to be where people can relax and enjoy a drink or two, and I think we’ve done that. We get to know the locals and our regulars and create relationships with the community. Customers who come in who know people in Ireland will tell them to come here if they’re ever in Boston – I think we’ve given us Irishmen in Boston a little piece of home.”