A Taste of Ireland Right Here in Thurmont
by James Rada, Jr.
It took more than the luck of the Irish to keep Fitzgerald’s Shamrock Restaurant in business for more than fifty years.
“There were days and nights in a row that I wouldn’t go home,” said Mike Fitzgerald, who opened the Shamrock in 1963. “I would be working here doing whatever needed to be done and then I would sleep here.”
Though the Shamrock Restaurant opened in 1963, the building actually had been around since the 1950s. It was a dance hall that didn’t have the best reputation. This is why Fitzgerald was able to purchase it at an affordable price.
He also knew that he had to change the way in which people looked at the building in order to turn it into a successful restaurant.
“The walls were all covered with beer signage and paintings by George Crawford,” said Donna Demmon, Fitzgerald’s oldest child, who also works at the restaurant.
The walls were stripped and redone, turning the dance hall side of the building into the dining room. Only two rows of tables had tablecloths originally, and a smaller dance floor was left in place for weekend dances.
On the bar side, Fitzgerald raised the price of beers. This might seem counterintuitive, but apparently a lot of troublemakers came into the dance hall for cheap beer. Raising the prices caused them to look elsewhere for their drinks.
The Shamrock began as, and still is, a family business. Fitzgerald, his wife, his mother, and his nine children (as they grew old enough) all worked in the restaurant. Demmon started when she was thirteen years old.
“Everyone grew up in here working,” Demmon said of her and her siblings.
Fitzgerald had been a machinist with Moore Business Systems, but he had advanced as far as he could without moving out of state. He had grown up in a restaurant family, though. His parents had owned Fitzgerald’s in Emmitsburg until his father died in 1940. Fitzgerald and his wife had decided that they could open a new restaurant and make it successful.
“They had to make it work,” Demmon stated. “They had a family to feed.”
The Shamrock was the first restaurant in Frederick County in 1965 to get a liquor license.
“In order to do that, they had to take all the bar stools out of the bar,” Demmon said. This had to do with the stools indicating that it was a bar and not a restaurant. The stools were replaced with tables next to the bar.
Customers could not carry their drinks in the restaurant, either.
“If you wanted to go from the bar side to the dining room, a server had to carry your drink for you,” said Demmon.
When Demmon graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg, her father sent her on a trip to Ireland. Demmon wasn’t looking forward to it, because her grandmother also went along as a chaperone. Much to Demmon’s surprise, she was the one who wound up being the chaperone.
“My grandmother was an outgoing, social person, who would sit and talk with anyone, whether we were in a store or out on the road,” Demmon remembered.
More than a vacation, Demmon and her grandmother visited many of the Emerald Isle’s pubs, taking notes and lots of pictures. “We used them to redo the bar so that it had the atmosphere of a pub in Ireland,” said Demmon.
Besides Irish fare like shepherd’s pie, Shamrock Irish egg, and corned beef and cabbage, seafood dishes are also popular items. “We serve a soft-shell crab sandwich with crabs from the Eastern Shore that is delicious,” said Demmon.
Demmon remembers that her father used to get up early on Thursday mornings and drive to Baltimore, Maryland, to be there at 4:00 a.m. He would walk through the seafood market, buying crabmeat, fish, shrimp, and more before driving to a produce market on Caroline Street to buy any additional produce beyond what their garden could supply.“Then, he would have to hurry up and be back here in time to open [the restaurant].”
In those days, the restaurant was only closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
“My dad used to try and close up early on Christmas Eve at 5 p.m.,” says Demmon. “That was because he had to get home and put together toys for nine kids.”
The restaurant also won a national award years ago for having the best St. Patrick’s Day party in the nation. It was awarded by a corned beef company in Missouri. The Shamrock entered its menus, samples of its advertising, information about how long the St. Patrick’s Day party had been taking place, and the media coverage the party had received.
“We also included notes from people who had come to the party,” Demmon said. “At that time, we had people coming from Florida and Niagara Falls just to come to the party.”
The Shamrock Restaurant is located at 7701 Fitzgerald Road in Thurmont.
Their hours are: 11:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday; noon-9:00 p.m. on Sunday; weekday luncheons 11:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
For more information, visit their website at shamrockrestaurant.com.