The Donegal Square Story
Cead Mile Failte!
(a hundred thousand welcomes!)
Welcome to Donegal Square! Our goal is to bring the best of Ireland and the British Isles straight to you, as if you were visiting Ireland with your friends and family…no passport required of course! Stay for a wee bit, browse around and let me tell you the story of Donegal Square.
Donegal Square is named after the Georgian Square which surrounds the City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I worked there as a Civil Engineer for the Department of the Environment for NI after graduation from Queen’s University Belfast. My office was in an old sandstone building opposite the Iconic City Hall, so naming the shop after this location is reminiscent of Northern Ireland — for any native of that part of the world.
An intention to import high quality hand made Tweeds and Woollens from Ireland — Donegal in particular — is where I got my inspiration for the shop in the early days.
Growing up in Northern Ireland, my family heritage was a mixture of Irish from my mother’s family (The McCarthys originally from County Cork, but with five McCarthy Brothers in Hillsborough County Down in the late 1700s) and Scottish from my Dad’s side (The Gardners originally from Ayrshire in Scotland. Our Grandfather Rabbie came to Lambeg County Antrim around 1935).
Below is the Cottage in Lambeg where my Dad was born and grew up.
Donegal Square’s Beginning
Working as a Civil Engineer in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and trying to squeeze in trips back home was tough, and so when my Dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I decided to start a business that would give me the freedom to travel to Ireland and The UK routinely.
Donegal Square has grown and developed since its opening in February 1985 with our involvement in the foundation of the Celtic Cultural Alliance and the Celtic Classic Festival.
Our love for sweaters and tweeds and handmade products from Ireland inspired the opening of Donegal Square, promoting growth and the relocation of the business (twice!) each time to find a larger and better location — arriving in our current location in 1996. As Donegal Square grew and developed, and the range of products expanded, we realized how much our customers enjoyed the STORIES behind the culture, history, and folklore of the Celtic nations — Ireland , Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, Galicia, Brittany, and Cornwall. Icons such as Celtic Crosses, Ogham, artefacts like The Ardagh Chalice, The Claddagh symbol from Ireland, and the Luckenbooth from Scotland (along with the Triscell found at Newgrange in Ireland and in many parts of Brittany) have all inspired products, art, clothing, and jewelry.
We opened McCarthy’s Tea Room (which recently morphed into McCarthy’s Red Stag Pub and Whiskey Bar) to add dimension to Donegal Square — helping transform our Main Street location into a True Celtic Destination. Both of these businesses support the craft and food industry in Ireland and the UK, and import “all the best from Ireland and the British Isles” to the Lehigh Valley.
a Celtic destination…no passport required
OUR GOAL remains to be able to educate our community, local residents, and customers about the Celtic heritage, customs and history that is at the heart of our purpose for creating Donegal Square. Many generations of Celtic immigrants — who built Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley in particular — have great pride in their origin and heritage. It’s our job to help connect them to the missing links and, ultimately, to their roots.
OUR MISSION is to create a comfortable, friendly, warm atmosphere, with a rich cultural experience, as if you were visiting Ireland with friends. We pride ourselves in bringing together traditional and innovative gifts, food and more from the best of Ireland and the British Isles. Stop in for a visit, have a few laughs, get a wee bit of whiskey or a pint of Guiness, and stay for a while, you won’t regret it!
The History of 534 Main Street
The original building (where Donegal Square now lives) was built shortly after Bethlehem was founded in 1741, and was the place where the Marquis De Lafayette convalesced after being wounded at the Battle of Brandywine on 9/11/1777 in the Revolutionary War.
The Spirit of Donegal
George Washington, who had given the young Lafayette a commission in the American Army, sent Lafayette to Bethlehem and had him stay with the Landowner of our building, whose daughter nursed Lafayette back to health. Rumour has it that Lafayette and his nurse may have had more than just a nurse/patient relationship. 200 + years later we have an (Poltergeist type) energy with a female nurse’s personality who occasionally makes her presence known in various parts of the building — especially during or after construction.
The morning the restaurant was opening (back in September 1997), my friend, and our first baker, Ruthie McNicholas called me at 6.30 AM to tell me that water was coming through the kitchen ceiling from the newly renovated apartment above. Upon inspection, the floors were saturated and even the drawers under the bathroom sink were filled with water, but there was no water running, no leaks, and not even a window open. We have never found an explanation for the water presence.
Many other events, such as self lighting candles and things being moved during the night, have occurred over the years. A group of paranormal investigators even recorded a voice saying “GET OUT” on our main bar floor some years back. There’s definitely an ongoing energy that keeps life interesting at the Red Stag Pub!
The City of Bethlehem Tartan
During the early days of Donegal Square in Bethlehem, we were often asked for Bethlehem items, so we decided to design our City of Bethlehem Tartan to satisfy this demand.
Tartans were originally from areas inhabited by the Celts and were were woven from wool died with colours available locally and often woven in a checked pattern. Our tartan uses the colours of Ireland (Green), Scotland (Navy Blue), Wales and England (Red), on a neutral Gray background to symbolize the Native people (or the Moravians who came later). Our Bethlehem Tartan has been adopted by the City for their Police and Fire Color Guards who may wear kilts (if made from Bethlehem Tartan!) when deemed appropriate. Our tartan is available in Tie and Kilt sett sizes and weights, and is available in a wide range of products — ranging from Kilts and Kilted Skirts, to Ties Scarves and Hats. We have provided fabric for Curtains, Upholstery, and even wedding dresses in City of bethlehem Tartan (and also that of hundreds of other Scottish, Irish, Welsh and regional Tartans).