It’s a bustling morning in the calm, country atmosphere at Rosebud’s Cafe. The servers carry out chef Kyle Pulskamp’s special take on the traditional Irish breakfast, beautiful arrangements of eggs, bacon, smoked ham and buttermilk biscuits that most customers pair with a strong cup of coffee. However, when the lunch crowd begins to roll in, the Rosebud’s crew spends plenty of time around the cafe’s gleaming Guinness taps. Co-owner Mary Pulskamp has mastered the pull of the proper pint of Ireland’s thick national treasure. That’s because the dream of Rosebud’s has always been deeply rooted in her family’s Celtic heritage.
The cafe is one of several great places in the Gold Country that celebrate Irish culture. The Irish settled in most areas of these foothills and this month, we’re exploring destinations to lift a pint to our forbearers from across the sea, those lost sons of Aaron who helped make our communities what they are today.
The journey starts with a stop at Rosebud’s. People walking into the cafe are immediately greeted by a large black-and-white portrait of Mary’s father, the late John Pulskamp, taken during his 1956 campaign for Los Angeles City Council.
“I was raised Irish,” Mary says. “My dad was one of the most proud, patriotic Irishmen I’d ever known.”
The other side of the dining room features an evocative portrait of John Pulskamp’s mother’s family, the O’Keefes and O’Donnovans, when they first arrived in America from the Emerald Isle.
“We boarded a ship in Cork,” Mary says of the clan. “And then they came here.”
These days, the vibe at Rosebud’s is not just a doorway into the O’Keefes’ and O’Donnovans’ heritage, it’s also a symbolic tribute to an important part of Jackson’s history. It’s well known that the city’s skyline is dominated by an Irish dream.
In the late 1850s, a sojourner stumbled across a quartz outcropping on a northern hill outside Jackson. His name was Andrew Kennedy, and he was staring at pearly hard rock lined with veins of gold. By 1860, Kennedy had found three partners and enough financial backing to start the Kennedy Mining Co. A towering headframe soon rose over the grass and live oaks, welcoming more Irish immigrants to the city for work underground. They took jobs at both the Kennedy and Argonaut mines, helping each to become serious industrial gold-producers. By the early 1900s, reports showed dozens of patients in Jackson’s hospital listed as being “native of Ireland.” Usually these men were admitted for injuries sustained in the mineshafts or working “the widow-maker” drills in the depths.
During the Kennedy’s heyday, there were so many Irish transplants in Jackson that one of the city’s newspapers began to regularly publish horse-racing results from Dublin, Ireland, as well as columns about Irish history and culture. The Irish also shared in Jackson’s greatest tragedy; at least one of the men killed the catastrophic Argonaut Mine fire, Charles Fitzgerald, was Irish-American.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Rosebud’s Cafe will be one of the places that folk lift their glasses to people like Fitzgerald and Kennedy. In honor of the holiday, the business offers corned beef and cabbage throughout March.
While it’s usually trumpeted that the farm-to-fork movement started in the San Francisco Bay Area, chefs in Ireland have recently become some of its greatest innovators. The Pulskamp family, including Mary’s kids Tyx, Megan and head chef Kyle, have all learned to master the sourcing style for the cafe’s menu, mostly using ingredients directly from their 7-acre farm in Buena Vista.
“The Irish influence is important because the farming is important because what we do has to be good for the Earth,” Mary stressed. “And the farm-to-table approach really fits with my broader philosophy of sacred commerce.”
Sacred commerce is an approach to business that embraces the concept of operations being good for both patrons and workers, who enjoy a reciprocal relationship. In a way, it gets back to a simpler mindset of running pubs and inns that dominated the Irish countryside for centuries.
“We’re of the background that you just do what it takes,” Mary says. “That’s a characteristic of how they do things over there, and that’s also why there’s amazing cooking coming out of Ireland.”
Of pubs and diggin’s
A trio of musicians enters the Murphys Irish Pub. They come in from a frigid night, hauling instruments into a warm, emerald-painted den filled with Celtic flags, regal curtains and an old Guinness jukebox in the corner. The pub’s co-owner, Brandy Kaufman, smiles at the band as she pours a glass of Smithwick’s Red Ale. She serves the classic drink that has been brewed in Kilkenny since 1710, but this mountain tavern is mostly decorated with insignias from Ireland’s third most famous beer; that’s because it shares the name of a family that made a lasting mark on Calaveras County.
James J. Murphy began to craft dark stout brews in southwest Ireland in 1856. It’s unclear if he was distantly related to Daniel and John Murphy, who arrived in Calaveras County around 1848. The boys’ father, Martin Murphy Sr., was originally from County Wexford on Ireland’s southeast coast. James J. Murphy and his brewing clan had lived about 100 miles to the west of them. What’s known for sure is that after Martin Murphy Sr. immigrated, first to Quebec and then Missouri, he became the first pioneer to force wagons and oxen over the Sierra Nevada. Historian John A. Barnes has called Martin Sr. “one of those giant figures in California history.”
For all his accomplishments, it was Martin Sr.’s sons who were destined for foothill fame. Engaged in prospecting, they found a lucrative deposit of gold ore on ridges east of Angles Camp. People in the area soon referred to their strike as Murphy’s Diggins. Over time, the rugged camp that formed around it was just called Murphys.
Not only were Daniel and John the namesakes of a town that evolved into the county’s biggest wine and music destination, they also left a bit of a legend behind for historians to puzzle over. Some journalists of the day seemed convinced the Murphy brothers were secretly friends with the notorious outlaw Joaquin Murietta, and may have even rendered him assistance in evading the law; the reasoning was that, having come from a rebellious nation under Britain’s control, the Murphy boys viewed Murietta as a victim of racial persecution. The truth of the matter is hard to know, but John and Daniel did ensure – at least in folklore – that a little piece of the fighting Irish attitude would always be embedded in Calaveras County.
As the band Crooked sets up inside the Murphys Irish Pub, members perform in a space that’s a tribute to the Murphy brothers’ heritage. The room’s well-worn bar is reminiscent of those quaint public houses strewn across the Irish countryside. It bears the flag of Irish independence near its high line of taps. Its walls are decked in strange, faded posters from the early days of Murphys brewing. And its bartenders don’t just pour Guinness and Smithwick’s; they also make a host of specialty drinks that include a stiff Irish coffee, a Murphys Irish iced tea (comprised of wine-whiskey, lemonade and simple syrup), and a Pub Kilt Lifter, made from wine-whiskey, Guinness and simple syrup.
The pub rounds out the overall experience with some traditional Celtic meals, like shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash, as well as modern hybrids, including Irish grilled cheese with corned beef and artisan soft pretzels with Guinness beer cheese.
Kaufman and her partner, Daniel Bunce, took over the pub in 2018, just two weeks before Murphys Irish Day. It was a crazy way to jump into the bar business. They survived the crowds and are now preparing for this year’s event. They plan to add their own touch to the Murphys Irish Day celebration on March 16 by featuring the traditional Celtic band the Roving Clovers.
For Kaufman and Bunce, augmenting the event with a talented band is just part of a broader mission to create an atmosphere in Murphys where everyone feels welcome.
“I’d been wanting to own a pub for quite a while,” Kaufman says. “I’d owned a little restaurant down in the Central Valley and loved that, but my passion is more toward beer and warm comfort foods. When I saw this opportunity, I just couldn’t pass it up.”
Irish tales and Tuolumne tournaments
On a stormy afternoon, a group of folks hides from the weather in the shadows of the What Cheer Saloon. This extravagant Victorian parlor is fixed in a corner of Columbia’s City Hotel, the whole structure a brawny survivor of those years when the surrounding ridges were filled with gold-seekers from across the ocean. Today, it’s quiet enough in the bar to almost hear Columbia’s lost voices whisper again.
According to Columbia’s greatest historian, many of the town’s most brazen rabble-rousers weren’t local crazies; they were just plain old Irish. G. Ezra Dane spent much of the 1930s interviewing the children of Tuolumne’s original 49ers. This led to him publishing his landmark book “Ghost Town” in 1941. In it, Dane devotes two entire chapters to yarns that old timers shared about Columbia’s Irish.
“Nearly everything that’s happened around Columbia worth telling about, if you look into it, the chances are you’ll find an Irishman at the bottom, whether it’s fun or a fight,” Dane wrote. “That’s why the Irish figure so prominently into Columbia’s history. And there were so many original and curious and comic characters amongst them.”
The figures Dane recounted included Matty Brady, Patrick “Handsome” Brady, Paddy Farley and the verbose Pat Shine, who gained infamy in 1875, when he shot and killed another Irish immigrant, Bridgette Gaynor. Dane’s writings make it clear that some in Columbia attributed Shine’s decision to shoot a woman to his quick Celtic temper. But most of the stories in “Ghost Town” are more light-hearted, involving everything from ladies clocking men with brooms, to miners tossing goats down chimneys. If Dane’s writing proves nothing else, it’s that the Irish kept life in Columbia interesting.
More than any watering hole in Tuolumne County, the What Cheer Saloon is a place Shine, Brady and Farley would recognize if they came back from the foggy mineshafts of time. Its crimson and pearl wallpaper is accented by a classic oak bar under a grand mirror, complimented by an array of old lamps and vintage portraits. The saloon’s a testament to the rough, Western style of refinement that eventually began to civilize the gold camp.
Those who want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at the What Cheer Saloon can start by having a glass of Irish Family Vineyards’ newest red blend in a green-stemmed wineglass. The What Cheer also pours Irish Family Vineyards’ strongest blend, Pog Mo Thoin, a Gaelic phrase whose translation cannot be repeated here. The Pog Mo Thoin also happens to be one of the most alcoholic red wines in the West.
Clover-themed wines are fun on St. Patrick’s Day, but the What Cheer’s bartenders also pour four different blends of Jameson whisky. The distillery’s exports to the U.S. were limited during the Gold Rush, but there was not an Irishman who came through Columbia who wouldn’t have remembered Jameson as a piece of his homeland. One Irish miner with such longings, who Ezra Dane wrote about, went by the name of McCarty. Dane hints that McCarty was a legendary drinker prone to “devilment,” one who was no stranger to “several elegant saloons and some less elegant.”
Fortunately, the What Cheer Saloon remains elegant and its devilment is in short supply.
A few days after the tempest, cold blue skies shine over the Mother Lode. Patrick Michael Karnahan spends the morning on his ranch near Jamestown and then heads to Sonora Joe’s Coffee Shoppe to prepare for an art show. As Karnahan grabs a warm drink, a fan stops to express admiration for both Karnahan’s music and his paintings. The Renaissance man says thanks, glancing at his other paintings displayed across the cafe’s walls. They all come from magic moments Karnahan spent with his brush and easel in the Irish Republic. Those years that Karnahan lived on the Emerald Isle were some of the most formative. Now he has become not only one of the best-known painters and musicians in the region, but also a driving force for resurrecting the Irish legacy in the Gold Country.
If that wasn’t enough, Karnahan is the founder of maybe the best celebration of the Irish and others in California, the Sonora Celtic Faire, which is staged on March 8, 9 and 10 in Sonora.
Karnahan is the grandson of Irish and Scottish-Irish immigrants. His maternal grandfather, Francis Spaight, had been the most prominent ship-builder in Limerick, at one point even appearing in Jack London’s journalism. His paternal grandparents, the Karnahans, had left Northern Ireland after their Presbyterian faith made them outcasts there. Karnahan spent part of his own childhood on the family’s 100-acre ranch on Table Mountain outside Jamestown, always curious about his Irish heritage, which he sensed was linked to Tuolumne’s green, springtime landscape.
When Karnahan turned 24, he took his first trip to Ireland. He arrived by boat in Dun Laoghaire and was soon mesmerized by what he saw. Coming home, Karnahan spent a year saving money in order to go back on a long-term painting expedition. He eventually landed a job teaching art classes for seniors in Westport, Ireland, which left plenty of time for his own oil work in the abandoned abbeys and lost Celtic cemeteries around County Mayo.
“It was pretty rural in the 1980s,” he remembers. “What I enjoyed about painting there was the stark beauty and the weather. There’s something about Irish skies – they’re just so deep, dark and blue … In the spring, the green is so vivid. It’s a different green than when I’m painting here on our coastline. In Ireland, I use a lot more yellow-green, and a lot of cerulean blue gets mixed in there, to just bring out where the sun hits the land. It can almost be a florescent green in places. From the rock walls and thatch-roof huts on the coastlines, every place just has a story to tell.”
Around that time, Karnahan was introduced to traditional Irish music, better known as “Trad.” He purchased a secondhand mandolin and banjo and began learning songs he heard in the pubs.
By 1986, Karnahan was back in Jamestown and looking to host an art show of his visions of County Mayo. He teamed up with the Tuolumne Arts Council and several other painters who had worked in Celtic landscapes. They bought some Guinness, cooked some Irish country dishes, invited a bagpiper and hired the Trad band Golden Bough. The get-together was called A Celtic Celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. In the following decades, the event became increasingly elaborate and ambitious.
During the time the Sonora Celtic Faire was evolving, Karnahan was also bringing Irish culture back to the Mother Lode through a different avenue. In 1989, he started to jam with a musician named Shannon O’Dai, from Belfast. O’Dai eventually moved on to other endeavors, but Karnahan was soon working with the late Richard Restivo, a bassist and music teacher at Sonora Elementary School.
“He said, ‘I want to do Italian music, because I’m Sicilian,’ and I said, ‘Well, I just got back from Ireland and I want to do that music,”’ Karnahan said.
Over the course 26 albums and countless live performances, the Black Irish Band has become a staple in West Coast Trad music. Restivo passed away in 2017, but Karnahan, Steve McArthur, James Dean Nelson, Stan Emmons and, occasionally, Tobin Denton, keep the sonic memories alive.
Karnahan says while crowds in bars and pubs generally want to hear upbeat Irish jigs or drinking songs, fans who buy the Black Irish Band’s music are a bit different: Pandora and iHeartRadio sales indicate they appreciate deeper meditations. At the moment, one of the band’s biggest hits is a song about Irish laborers who worked on the Transcontinental Railroad.
“On the world market, people tend to enjoy the more poignant ballads,” Karnahan reflects. “This year is the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad, so we’re going to be talking a lot about the Irish, both at the Celtic Faire and in my own band’s music. It’s just a good time to think about all of the Irish contributions, from railroad to the American Civil War, to building the great canals.”
It’s also a good time to think about how the Irish bolstered the Mother Lode’s mining towns. Just like the canals and railroads, it was an effort that thrived on hope, the kind of hope men like Laurence Macken carried with him when he immigrated from Slane, Ireland, to the gold camps of Sonora in 1850. His name is one of many that survive from that tumultuous era – an era of newly arrived dreamers determined to build better lives and legacies that would never be forgotten.