Neville Gardner opened Donegal Square in 1985 with the hopes of bringing Celtic culture to the Lehigh Valley. Since then, he has opened McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub & Whiskey Bar and helped launch the Celtic Classic festival. Between the traditional and innovative products he sells at the shop, the family recipes served at the pub and the celebrations that take place in Bethlehem every September, Gardner is helping members of the community connect with their Celtic roots.
How did the shop get started?
After my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I started Donegal Square in 1985 as a way for me to go back and forth across the Atlantic as part of a business. I was working as a civil engineer with a local consulting engineering company and needed the freedom to come and go on an as-needed basis. When I first came to the U.S. to live (following a transatlantic field hockey romance), I was drawn to the idea of importing things from Ireland and the U.K. that I missed and saw a need for in the U.S. Following a period of experimenting with importing tweeds and knitwear for wholesale, I realized there was potential for a business in the Lehigh Valley. The ultimate goal for my wife and I (I’m still married to Linda Shay, who played goalie for the Lehigh Valley ladies team in the same tournament my team was at in Toronto back in 1978) was to create a comfortable, friendly, warm atmosphere with a rich cultural experience as if you were visiting Ireland.
Where did the name come from?
Donegal Square is named after the Georgian Square in the center of Belfast, where I worked for a year as a civil engineer after graduating from Queens University in Belfast. It seemed like the perfect name for a Celtic import business with an Irish and Northern Irish owner—not too cute but connecting with the purpose of the business.
What are some specialty items that are always kept in stock?
We provide quality traditional and innovative products from Ireland and the British Isles that are representative of the culture, craftsmanship and essence within the different regions in Ireland. We carry a great selection of traditional products such as fisherman knit sweaters, tweed accessories like caps and hats and scarves, Celtic jewelry, imported foods and handmade craft items like pottery, wall art and Celtic crosses. Through this product offering, we can hopefully help people discover their own heritage through the unique experience in our store and the education we provide on the products.
How do you go about sourcing the best products for local residents?
We attend trade shows across the “pond” and also visit many specialty vendors in Ireland and Scotland. Many of our vendors also fly here to visit us in our store in Bethlehem. Over the years, we have also sourced a vast array of products—made all over the world—that fit our niche via the Internet. We have great relationships with many vendors that allow us to offer outstanding customer service and product selection.
Describe the collaboration between Donegal Square and McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub & Whiskey Bar.
The concept of a Celtic Destination permits Donegal Square and the Red Stag Pub & Whiskey Bar (formerly Granny McCarthy’s Tea Room & Restaurant) to provide a full cultural experience in authenticity for our customers. For 16 years, I listened to people telling me how much they loved the food and atmosphere at the Tea Room but how much more they liked going into pubs in Ireland and Britain, so I decided to morph the two together and provide a dining and entertainment venue that would replicate the experience back home. Our recipes are a blend of traditional and innovative Celtic dishes, providing options for everyone. Growing up, my mum and gran would fill our house with fresh-baked breads, cakes and scones made from the recipes passed down through the family and shared by friends. When my mum, Anne McCarthy, passed away, I found, in the handbag that she carried with her every day, handwritten copies of the family recipes that inspired McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub.
What role does the shop play in the Celtic Classic festival?
Shortly after opening Donegal Square, the concept of creating a Celtic festival in Bethlehem was presented to me by local businessman Bob Virgilio, who owns The Bethlehem Inn with his wife, Sue. I am proud of my heritage and have always had a strong desire to share my knowledge with the community. The opportunity to educate people about Celtic culture and Northern Ireland in particular got my attention. For years, I was frustrated by the negative connotation and misinformation about Northern Ireland and hoped this type of event would help opposing sides in Ireland. We need to celebrate each other’s cultures instead of fighting over them, in order to pay it forward and create a better society. I decided to throw my energy into starting a cultural event celebrating all Celtic culture, with the hope that somehow word would travel back home and it would improve the situation in Northern Ireland. This festival is truly about experiencing the Celtic culture through a variety of activities, music, food, performances and crafts. Donegal Square has been helping support, promote, develop and market Celtic Classic and the Celtic Cultural Alliance since its inception in 1987.
What is the best way to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in the Lehigh Valley?
Visit Bethlehem and enjoy the Parade of Shamrocks on the Saturday before March 17, and, of course, visit the shop and pub for all the best products, foods, drinks, music, culture and atmosphere. You can stay in the loop by following our website and Facebook pages.
534 Main St., Bethlehem | 610.861.7631 | donegalsquare.com