David Copley, owner of Auld Dubliner. Photo courtesy of Auld Dubliner.

“No matter how big or small, every single place in Ireland—every city, every village, every hamlet—has a parade on St. Paddy’s Day. That’s how much the holiday is cherished in Ireland. It’s family. Grandmothers and parents drag you to church, first thing in the morning, and then you went to watch the local parade. Bands. Soccer teams. Firefighters. Police. Soldiers. We’ve had a rough history—it’s been a long, hard time to be able to stand up, say you’re Irish, and really feel proud. I’ll be honest: Irish people love to drink—who doesn’t? But we drink on a different scale than the people who drink here on St. Patrick’s Day. Our lives and our culture and our holidays certainly doesn’t revolve solely around drinking.”

This is how David Copley, owner of Downtown Long Beach’s famed Auld Dubliner pub, describes St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, what he calls the “Irish 4th of July.” It is a family-and-community-first celebration that weaves together the old and new. The parades can range from small to lavish, depending on the city, but there is one thing for certain: Kids go to pubs because they are family spaces, not watering holes; whiskey is meant to be sipped, not shot; low-alcohol beer like Guinness is served so you can drink and still converse with ease and everyone is very much able to remember their day as a whole.

There’s certainly parades here in the States when it comes to St. Paddy’s Day: A parade of drunken foolishness, all draped in derogatory garb that goes from the subtly offensive—”Kiss me, I’m Irish,” a not-so-subtle, eyebrow-raising form of appropriation that lavishes in identifying a culture as inebriated and therefore less inhibited with physicality—to the outright wrong—”Irish Yoga” written under a drawing of a man with red hair falling off his barstool in pure cockeyed stupidity.

“In this day and age, all us Irish folk talk about it—and we got pretty tough skin,” Copley said. “I don’t think a lot of cultures would put up with the t-shirts and the really derogatory things that get marketed by the Targets and Walmarts of the world. It’s almost endless when it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. I think it’s now gotten to the point where, even with our thick skin, we’re like, ‘Enough already.'”

The Auld Dubliner Irish pub. Photo by Thomas R Cordova.

The Irish contributed a healthy portion toward creating what this country is, in a time of tragedy. The Great Famine, extending from 1845 to 1849, was one of Ireland’s most devastating times. In the year of 1847 alone, often dubbed “Black ’47,” one million Irish people starved to death, pushing another million to immigrate, most toward the U.S. Somewhere between 20% to 25% of Ireland’s population was lost in one way or another, shifting the country’s political, philosophical and population demographics for the next century.

“If they stayed in Ireland, they likely would have died,” said Copley, who is always quick to say, “I would be remiss to not remind people: America saved one million Irish people.”

Though Copley admits he emigrated for surfing more than politics or philosophy, he said he has learned to appreciate the role immigrants play in creating American culture as well as the challenges they have always faced.

“The awakening for me was when I had to get my citizenship,” Copley said. “I walked in by myself: no notes, no lawyer, somewhat jovial about the whole thing. What changed was when I was in that waiting room, looking at hundreds of people. I don’t say this lightly and I really don’t read too much into situations but I will say this with all earnestness: I think it was a matter of life and death for many people in that room. If they were sent back home, they’d likely die.”

All of which not only led him to a deeper appreciation of his own Irish heritage but of the commitment and struggles inherent in the American immigrant experience as a whole.

“It altered my entire perception of my citizenship and my sense of identity,” Copley said. “Like St. Paddy’s Day, I now see the frustration that my wife [from Mexico] sees when Cinco de Mayo and other cultural celebrations that mock and demean an entire culture rather than actually celebrate it.”

The Auld Dubliner in Downtown Long Beach. Photo by Brian Addison.

“If I am being entirely honest, I’ve lived here longer than I did in Limerick,” Copley said. “I was 24 when I moved here—mainly because I really love surfing—but I still call myself Irish. I am still proud of where I came from. And I want people to have a true pub experience.”

Most places in America that call themselves “Irish pubs” follow a pretty standard recipe: give it some name with an “O” or a “Mc,” throw some flatscreen TVs on the walls, get a menu of fried foods and make sure there’s a touch of wood paneling to tie the room together.

They tend to attract customers who prefer to channel the Irish’s perceived love of drinking over any of the rich history and traditions embedded in the country’s public houses. And more often than not, the kitschy shamrocks on the walls and on-tap Guinness do little to harken back to the actual pubs in Ireland, which have live Irish music going for hours a day, feature Irish whiskeys beyond the basic Jameson and load their menu with pub-fare specialties like bangers and mash.

But unlike this version of the many other Irish pubs throughout the Southland, Copley and his crew continually return to Ireland to explore its expanding food scene, ever-changing spaces and culture in order to keep the Auld Dubliner simultaneously contemporary and classic. Even better, he brings a handful of Auld Dub’s patrons with him to learn about Ireland and the meaning behind a pub.

“There are lots of Irish bars out there and there’s nothing wrong with a bar if you’re going for a bar experience,” said Copley. “But a pub in Ireland is truly a pub—it’s a different feel and different atmosphere the minute you walk in. A bar is where you get a drink and a pub is where you go to socialize. That should extend to St. Patrick’s day as well.”

Given that, one can imagine Copley’s frustration with revelers who might be ignorant to the point of offensiveness. It wasn’t that long ago that a man came into the pub sporting an Irish Republican Army shirt, apparently believing it was cool.

“That’s like walking into a Middle Eastern restaurant with an Al-Qaeda shirt or walking into a Mexican restaurant with a Sinaloa Cartel shirt and thinking it’s cool,” Copley said. “That’s not cool. They terrorized people, is that how you view my homeland?”

Copley’s homeland is one that is filled with history—and he often waxes poetic of how the life of a young Irishman would revolve around the pub, where one would watch older, wiser men sit through a dozen pints and hours of conversation, never slur, and simply stand up and walk out the door without the bat of an eye, wishing everyone a good night until the next morn, where surely they would be drinking again.

It is learning how to drink and incorporate it into socialization rather than the seemingly very American ideal of slamming shots to the point of pure black-out status.

“I never had a shot of whiskey until I moved to the States,” Copley said, chuckling. “And ultimately, that’s OK; that’s someone’s choice. But when you attach it to a culture, it can be demeaning. I am not here to tell you to not celebrate. No. Celebrate, have a good time—but why not celebrate in line with the culture you’re celebrating? And if you don’t know about the culture you’re celebrating, ask someone who does. Ask me. Have a pint or three and we’ll talk. I’ll tell you stories of grandmothers in the kitchen, parades in small towns. And you’ll remember it and appreciate it.”

The Auld Dubliner is located at 71 S. Pine Ave. For more information, visit aulddubliner.com

Brian Addison is a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or on social media at FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.