This past weekend, downtown Charlotte was awash in a sea of green as the city celebrated St. Patrick’s Day weekend with the Eighteenth Annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Rich and Bennett’s 14th Annual Bar Crawl! Thousands of excited festival goers lined Tryon St. in Uptown on Saturday, March 15, to watch as over 120 entrants marched in the parade, and afterwards celebrated into the wee hours at the numerous bars and pubs participating in the both the Bar Crawl and Charlotte Goes Green Festival. One festival regular is Ri-Ra Irish Pub, located in the heart of Uptown Charlotte, and a St Patrick’s Day favorite for authentic Irish food and atmosphere.
Built in 1997 by Irish craftsman Ciaran Sheehan, Ri-Ra gives a true feeling of Ireland made possible by the authentic artifacts and décor that make up the bar’s cozy interior. Mr. Sheehan went to great lengths to source and restore original items from Ireland to his new home in Charlotte. According to the pub’s website, “the Victorian bar in the middle of the Charlotte pub was built in the 1800’s for the officer’s mess in the Phoenix Park Barracks in Dublin. The bar was removed in 1920 and it lay in storage in a Dublin garage for over 70 years….”
“Toward the front of Ri-Ra, you will find the perfect example of a cozy shop bar which originated from somewhere within Northern Ireland, c. 1740. Sections of this back bar include a restored Guinness mirror and a collection of Dublin Corporation Ledgers written from 1800-1840….The etched glass panels set into the Victorian back-bar are originals dating to the early 1800s.”
A statue of St. Patrick himself stands behind the bar; “[t]he exact origin…is unknown but it is well over 100 years old. It was not uncommon for a rural town or village to have a statue or a monument at the entrance to give a blessing to passersby. In addition to the original bar, the pub is full of antiquities of interest.”
In May of 2009, an early-morning fire swept through the pub and destroyed much of its interior, closing the bar for almost a year as the owners worked to renovate it and restore its authenticity. Luckily, many of the original Irish items—the Victorian bar, the etched glass panels, and the statue of St. Patrick—survived the blaze, and the owners made some additional improvements as well. One of these included a hardwood parquet floor from the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, the shipyard where the Titanic was built. The bar reopened in March 2010, bringing Charlotte pub-goers the genuine Irish pub atmosphere and service that Ri-Ra is famous for.
And it appears that the atmosphere and service are not the only authentically-Irish features that are part of its charm. Just like its sister pubs across the sea, Ri-Ra appears to be home to several resident ghosts, and certainly sports its share of ghostly activity. Employees have told numerous stories of cold spots in certain areas of the building, and apparitions of men in period dress have been reported over the years. Other sightings have included brief glimpses of what appears to be a white dog, and a young girl or woman in a white dress has been reported as well. Lastly, a ghostly hand is said to write the alphabet in chalk on an upstairs wall.
While it is not certain who these ghosts may be, there is no doubt that the building—in addition to its truly Irish décor—has a great deal of history behind it. The site where the building now stands was a department store that lay vacant for a number of years, while the current structure dates from about 1910. However, during construction, Mr. Sheehan unearthed horseshoes and other stable equipment suggesting that at some point in history the site was used as a stable. Perhaps the men in period dress date from this point of the pub’s past, and are simply returning for a hard-earned drink!
Whoever the ghosts of Ri-Ra may be—former stable workers or Irish immigrants themselves, attached to the pub’s authentic antiquities—they all add to the genuine Irish charm and atmosphere that make Ri-Ra a St. Patrick’s Day favorite. As the folks at Ri-Ra say, “In towns and villages across Ireland, the ‘Pub’ is at the heart of the community. Birthday celebrations, sports club meetings, wedding parties, charity events, dancing, laughing, crying; you name it. Expect much the same at Rí Rá.”