The aroma of corned beef filled the Timothy Murphy Bar in the Parrott House on Main Street as Naomi Wikane walked in and gave owner David McSweeney a hug and thanked him for being there.
Both of them, disaster victims just six months ago, were smiling Thursday.
Wikane was forced from her Grand Street home by flooding that resulted from Tropical Storm Irene last summer. McSweeney — who had purchased the Parrott House in May 2011 and poured thousands of dollars into renovations that were finally completed Aug. 27 — watched from his residence upstairs as the floodwaters crept into his tavern Aug. 28.
McSweeney wasn’t just smiling because of the gratitude he’s received for sticking around once his lifelong dream turned into a nightmare. The Irish-born general contractor is excited he’ll be welcoming hundreds into the village Saturday for a St. Patrick’s Day celebration he expects will begin tonight, a bit early.
“I’m so proud of Davey,” said Wikane. She’s now living in Warnerville, but her home was purchased by somebody else and will be lived in again.
The Parrott House was one of the few places open in the hard-hit village days after the flood, and it’s stayed open since.
“It’s very good for Schoharie. He’s given a lot, too, a lot out of his heart,” Wikane said before sitting down to a plate of inch-thick corned beef with red potatoes, carrots and cabbage.
St. Patrick’s Day is more of a religious holiday in Ireland than the good excuse it has become in the United States to drink and wear green, McSweeney said.
But he’s planning traditional Irish fare for the celebration that will kick off with an Irish breakfast at 8 a.m. The meal includes eggs — dropped or fried — blood pudding, sausage, fried tomatoes, beans and Irish soda bread, “followed by a nice Guinness, of course,” McSweeney said.
The day will be filled with live music, corned beef and cabbage and a full menu with green beer.
“People rave about our Reubens, our burgers,” he said.
They don’t really have Reuben sandwiches in Ireland, McSweeney said. From what he recalls, a sandwich on the Emerald Isle consists of bread with one slice of meat in the middle.
In the United States, a sandwich plate looks to McSweeney like enough food to feed a small family.
Along with food and drink, the Timothy Murphy Bar at the Parrott House will likely be filled with stories Saturday from locals who McSweeney said are gradually showing a change in attitude as things start to get a little better in the devastated community.
It’s a big difference from the Wednesday after the flood, when McSweeney recalls a sullen man walking in and sitting down. All he had to offer him was a warm beer.
“He sat down at the counter and said it was the best beer he’d ever had in his life. It was devastating,” McSweeney said.
Early on, folks would come in, and he’d hear them talking about all they’d lost, about what their friends lost and the various forms of help coming in.
“Now, they’re talking about so-and-so moving back into a house, or somewhere where they saw lights on,” he said, recalling a man who’d earlier cried on his shoulder but most recently came in with a smile on his face.
Restoration work continues at the 19th century hotel — it began at 4:30 a.m. Monday, Aug. 29 — and some space downstairs remains unusable.
McSweeney said he stored all the furniture from the restaurant and bar in the cellar the Friday before the flood because he had $30,000 in brand new carpeting installed.
The tables and chairs were all destroyed, as was the carpet, but McSweeney, who worked as a contractor in Boston before moving to Schoharie, had installed a drainage system in the kitchen and bar, dining room and bathrooms, because it was mandatory in Boston.
That allowed for a quick start to cleanup. The water receded right away, leaving a few inches of mud on the brand new maple floor he’d installed.
“At 4:30 a.m. I was squeegeeing it out the door,” he said.
“It was many a night I was here ’til 3 in the morning,” McSweeney said in his thick Irish brogue.
One of 12 children, McSweeney, 48, left his home at age 16 and began working for a contractor, moving to Australia for a few years, then to Boston in 1981.
He’d told his first boss he was 18 because, growing up poor, he had to find work.
“You had to just get up and get on,” McSweeney said.
He recalls walking to a well to get water and working on the farm at age 10, as the family grew its own potatoes and fattened up its own pigs and beef. Christmas meant one toy for a gift, and “you didn’t ask for nothing,” he said.
“We didn’t have it,” he explained.
McSweeney has no connection to Schoharie County other than the Parrott House. He traveled here from Massachusetts to look at buying an 80-acre parcel of land for hunting, but immediately lost interest when he learned there might be natural gas drilling there or nearby in the future. It was at that point, however, he learned that the old hotel was for sale.
He said he’s proud of his establishment but pointed to a photo that sits above the bar as the example of what makes him most proud — his son David Jr., a Marine who made it safely home from Afghanistan in January.
His two younger children live in Massachusetts with his ex-wife.
The Parrott House is a hotel, too — McSweeney renovated 15 rooms in the big, two-story building next door to the Schoharie County Courthouse — but the project was bigger than he’d planned during the decades he dreamed of owning a tavern.
“I pictured it all my life, not this big. It’s a 30,000-square-foot building,” he said.
The green pastures are one aspect of Schoharie that reminds McSweeney of his homeland. The people are another.
Since the early days after the flood, he said, he’s met so many friends and people from somewhere else who have come to the restaurant apparently just to try to support Schoharie’s recovery.
There were 30 senior citizens from Saratoga who all came in one day and bought lunch, and numerous contractors who patiently waited for their pay for the work they did at the tavern.
He considers as friends folks at National Grid, firefighters from Buffalo, members of the National Guard, local, state and federal legislators and dozens of volunteers.
“It was unbelievable,” McSweeney said.
For those who don’t arrive Friday night, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day at the Timothy Murphy Bar — named after the legendary Irish rifleman who made Schoharie County his home after the American Revolution — will begin at 8 a.m. Step dancers and live music are planned throughout the day and a performance by Albany singer-songwriter Erin Harkes will begin at 8 p.m.
“It’ll be good for the village,” McSweeney said.