Calaveras Enterprise

Fete St. David’s Day in the Gold Country

Gallagher’s Pub in Pioneer might be a hotspot for St. David’s Day.Scott Thomas Anderson

Gallagher’s Pub in Pioneer might be a hotspot for St. David’s Day.Scott Thomas Anderson

Ever since outcasts from the British Isles dreamed of California, Amador County has been a place that remembers when the Celtic saints come marching in.

That’s because the three Celtic-blooded countries surrounding England, where many of its immigrants arrived from, each have their own patron redeemer – a legendary priest who braved wild tribes and wilder weather to alter the course of history with no more than magnetism and a hand-held cross.

The most famous of these sojourners is St. Patrick, whose annual Irish holiday is the largest muster of Celtic craziness in the world. Scotland has St. Columba Day, a far more subdued affair that sees community dinners and art shows reflecting the rough-hewn spirit of the Hebridean islands where Columba preached. And then there’s the misty coastline of Wales, and its stories that spawned St. David’s Day, which is celebrated on March 1.

St. David was born in Wales’ backcountry sometime after 500 AD, just as the Roman Empire abandoned the British Isles. As the land descended into the Dark Ages, St. David became a flickering light of hope, guiding Celtic Christians to embrace literacy, learning and their deep historic memory. David is said to have founded 12 monasteries across Wales, including the Vale of the Roses, before he died on March 1, 589. Later, in the 12th century, the Vatican named him the patron saint of Wales.



We know Welch immigrants to California celebrated St. David’s Day, usually by wearing daffodils and leeks, as well as cooking timeless Welsh dishes like rabbit. It’s still celebrated that way from Cardiff to London, with the added touch of dressing in old Welch garb. In the U.S., that immigrant legacy continues with annual festivals in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., but what about remembering St. David’s Day in Amador? One Welsh immigrant who likely celebrated it was Thomas Jones, a tough traveler who came to Jackson in 1849 and had a run in its mining camps.

Another Welsh arrival who carried memories of home was Mary Lloyd, whose parents brought her across the Great Plains in 1882 to settle in Sutter Creek. St. David’s Day probably also crossed the mind of H.T. Davies, a Welsh prospector in Amador who wrote letters home about everything from gambling halls to the county’s first anti-lynching law. It’s fun to imagine these lost pioneers celebrating St. David’s Day with local flowers from our fields and rabbits they shot from our ranges.

For those wanting to connect with this history, the best spot in Amador to celebrate the Welsh observance is Gallagher’s Pub, a fun little haven set under the high, sweeping pine trees near Buckhorn. When it comes to St. David’s Day, Gallagher’s has all the right touches: a mirror with Celtic roses; a welcome sign in Gaelic; and a lone Celtic cross positioned near a Corona blinker. Perhaps most perfectly, a banner over its door announces, “There are no strangers here, only friends we haven’t met yet,” a common expression throughout Britain’s Celtic backcountry.

With its local wines, hard cider and array of beers, Gallagher’s is the perfect spot to sit back on March 1 and think about Welsh contributions to Amador. After all, the brawny spirit of these relentless migrants and seafarers is too often overshadowed by their Irish and Scottish cousins. That’s a point that dawned on me in one of the strangest places I’ve ever encountered, a boulder on the tip of Iberia that’s part of the United Kingdom. It’s called Gibraltar, and it’s a salt-blasted, monkey-roosting, cold-hearted dame.

It’s difficult to describe the first glimpse of it. Coming out of the Spanish countryside, it dominates the horizon, a white altar shaped like a bull sitting at the end of Europe, its pale head facing La Linea de la Concepcion, its rough, brushy tail turned to the rise of Africa just across the water. You drive over the narrow tarmac of an airport and the anomaly suddenly opens. The land of gnarled cork trees and saffron hillsides, of sun-scorched cathedrals and red bottles of Rioja completely evaporates, replaced by a sturdy time capsule of colonial Britain. Gone are the white, sky-baked village walls. The streets rise, instead, along Georgian bricks and ornate royal spires. Gone, too, are the pig hooves dangling from open bar doors all down the barrios, those scenes giving way to high ramparts of gray, English stone. The mounted bull heads and stained-glass stories have vanished. London phone booths and a one-armed statue of Admiral Nelson stare back instead.

And so, Gibraltar is a holdout from the empire where the sun never set, a point that’s also clear from all its signs warming about African macaque monkeys that come marauding out of its cliffsides. It was Barbary sailors who first brought these “apes the Rock” across the channel in the 1600s, but the Brits have always considered them good luck. Legend claims that the Union Jack will flutter over Gibraltar until the last monkey leaves.

I didn’t come to the Rock to ponder the sea-tossed survival of Welsh nomads, but the moment came to me nonetheless. I was passing boats in the harbor, an amber sunset radiating through their masts out to the edge of Morocco, when a dry, warm breeze slammed under my Havanera shirt. I moved into the old town, where faded stone fortifications are now cave-like restaurants near bustling outdoor cafes. Ducking under the gold letters and antique gaslights of the Horseshoe Pub, I finally settled into a shadowy atmosphere, a dim corner of purple curtains, worn leather and a few dusty horse portraits. Next to me, a table full of Welsh visitors was looking at the array of uniform caps from the British Royal Navy hammered onto boards over the bar. Some dated to the Normandy invasion of World War II. Others went all the way back to the Great War. The Welsh folk talked about their sons, brothers and nephews who were in the modern navy, young men of St. David’s shores blown across an ever-flattening and globalized world. And, from the sounds of it, the tourists enjoyed every minute exploring it.

The Welsh wanderlust that moved through Amador’s early days is still a force on every continent, and still worth remembering at least one day out of the year.

Send word on your Amador County events to

24142 Highway 88, Pioneer

Open from 12 to 11 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 12 to 6 p.m. Sundays.


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