Gerry Kieran yearned for a public house. A spot where conversation and craic — Irish slang for fun — flowed with the pints and the whiskey, where the local community found camaraderie and a little bit of Irish peat came to rest on the sod of Johns Island.
He named his “social club” Seanachai, pronounced “shawna-kee.” It means “bearer of old lures,” “old thoughts.” The original seanachais were traveling storytellers, the keepers of the Irish culture, passing down stories, prose and song as they made their way through villages.
With their verbal wit and rich folklore traditions, the seanachai were the oral historians of Ireland. Inspired by tradition, “Irish Gerry” had his plan.
Kieran, with a little help from his friends Kelly Laws, Scott Vaughn and Gary Stonebreaker, transformed a narrow snug of a space into a gathering place of memory.
The bar and tables were handcrafted and sanded and stained by Kieran’s nephew, Brent Kieran. Each table is illuminated with its own lamp and framed prints of Celtic knots are generously sprinkled throughout the pub.
It is fitting that a poster of Irish writers from Beckett to Yeats has a place at the table at Seanachai, as these gifted writers found inspiration for their prolific literary pursuits at their “local” or pub.
A hurley (caman), used in hurling, hangs over the door frame and you get the feeling that Kieran’s personal collection of Irish leprechauns and memorabilia outfits his pub right down to a Celtic cross and bed warmer.
Seanachai opened in 2011 as a private social club. Membership is transparent and easy. You can become a Long Timer for $20 for a lifetime membership; active military pays $10 as do those in the food and beverage industry for the same expiration date. A One Timer pays $1, but we were not charged any “membership fees” during the times of our visits.
Seanachai opened with an emphasis on spirits and trad sessions (music). An occasional food truck or a stop at the nearby Southern General were your culinary resources. This symbiotic relationship continued until March of this year when Gerry opened a “wee” kitchen.
The menu made its debut with Irish comfort foods crafted from croquettes, fresh-from-the-farm vegetables and Irish classic cottage pies (think pot pies) and boxtys (Irish potato pancakes).
Tuesday is “burger and beer night” where both are bundled for $10. The kitchen also prepares a weekly special whose price ranges from $8-$12 and you cannot go wrong with their “farm features.” House-cured bacon, local farm-grown vegetables and butchered meats assure that Seanachai does not venture far from its zip code in foraging its menu.
The cocktail menu is approached in a similar manner and a fall beverage was created from Liza’s apple-pear jam, fresh ginger, cider, rye and a lemon twist — providing the warmth of both whiskey and ginger with the sweet refinement of apples and pears.
Connoisseurs of Irish whiskey and single-malt Scotch will find their enthusiasm for this malt elixir shared and curated by Kieran’s collection. Green Spot, Feckin, West Cork and aged, pot-distilled Red Breast, Jameson, and Bushmills join a selection of nearly 40 whiskies.
Lagers, ales and stouts along with local taps satisfy on the beer side. Ginger beer and tonic also were on tap in late fall. Do not expect Guinness as Kieran’s believes it only tastes good at its source.
Cocktails are well constructed and presented in a menu of Chapter 1, 2, and Final Chapter. You can purchase the “book” for $21 and sample one from each collection.
The menu is as tight as the weave of an Aran Clan sweater: croquettes formed from cod, cauliflower or beef and Irish cheddar. All good, filling and garnished with Irish cheddar and chives and served with mild curry sauce for the cauliflower and a tangy horseradish sauce for the cod.
The “roasty” vegetables are just that: crossing the line between roasted and toasted served simply as is the Irish style.
The cottage pies are constructed in ramekins and combine peas, carrots and celery with beef, chicken or fish.
Fresh rosemary released its resinous piney notes and overpowered the beef and stout pie. Chicken fared much better, combined with Wadmalaw mushrooms, and a County Cork trio of carrots, peas and celery.
Boxtys topped with chicken, corned beef or vegetables are simple and satisfying.
Specials vary and all sing the song of the season. They include Parisian gnocchi; creamed chicken, braised kale and leeks over Carolina Gold rice; buttermilk fried chicken breast; blistered shishito peppers with caramelized orange segments, arugula, roasted sweet potato puree with coconut sugar-toasted oats; Ambrose Farm vegetables; pork shanks from Halpern’s; and the Tuesday burgers.
When the Thanksgiving holiday weekend requires an all-family change of scenery, check out Seanachai, an antidote to chains, flat-screens and pigskin. Where conversation is on the menu, myths and legends are celebrated, where pookas, changelings and banshees roam the bogs, and Gerry Kieran has transplanted peat to pluff mud with an honest slainte (toast) to ancestry.