If you’ve ever traveled outside of Texas for a long period of time you’ve probably started to miss the unique aspects of the Lone Star State: friendly interactions with strangers, those wide-open sunsets – and probably the food. But most places you travel these days, you don’t have to go far to find a Texpat.
Dingle, Ireland is on the southwest coast. It perches on a peninsula of the same name. It’s a town of roughly 1,300 and its main business is tourism. Visitors love ambling its narrow streets. They’re lined with colorful buildings full of shops, bookstores and – like any good Irish town – plenty of pubs. It has over 50 of them, in fact.
Walk inside the O’Sullivan Courthouse Pub, and the light-hearted sound of Irish music immediately fills your ears.
But once you settle in, you also start to hear something else – the distinct sound of American English.
That voice probably belongs to pub owner and Houston-native Saundra O’Sullivan. She shares her last name with her Irish husband, Tommy. They met in Texas while Tommy was on tour with his band and opened the pub in 2011.
True to her roots, O’Sullivan hosts Texas barbecues at the pub for American holidays, and every time an American tour group comes through. She even brings out her smoker, a wedding present that helps her introduce a little bit of home to Ireland.
“Their idea of a barbecue is throwing a hotdog on the grill kind of thing,” O’Sullivan says. “They don’t really know what barbecue is from our standpoint.”
O’Sullivan says this small Irish community fell in love with Texas barbecue. It’s the real deal – briskets, smoked sausages, pulled pork, even homemade salsas.
Ten-year-old Dingle native Aoife White can’t get enough.
“It’s so good,” White says. “I love the sauce, I love the chips, I love the burgers. I pretty much came here for the food.”
The food isn’t where O’Sullivan’s tribute to Texas ends. The area at the Courthouse Pub designated for live music is decorated with a painting of bluebonnets. Americana musician Victor Johnson first played the pub two years ago.
“We didn’t believe it at first,” Johnson says. “We saw it on the itinerary and we see all the places we’re going to, and it says Texas barbecue. And everyone on the tour is like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ And we get here and it’s full on brisket and homemade salsa and coleslaw. It was amazing.”
And O’Sullivan doesn’t stop at barbecues. Every Thanksgiving, she hosts a potluck-style feast with traditional American dishes like turkey, gravy and stuffing. She invites locals, tourists and any Americans that may find themselves far from home on that family-centered holiday. She says it’s important for her to build a community in Dingle – and the outpouring of support from the locals reminds her of home.
“Dingle is like, you’re in a little bubble, it’s like a make-believe world in a way,” O’Sullivan says. “The friendliness of the people here, they try and be very caring for their neighbors and things, and that’s one thing that I always think about Texas, in particular, the South. … People are very friendly there, they’re very open.”
The threads that interweave Texas and Irish cultures go far beyond this pub. The two have been interconnected since the 1700s – when Irish immigrants made their way to Texas in droves. And just a few years ago, Ireland opened a consulate in Austin.
It is precisely that merging of cultures that first attracted Victor Johnson to O’Sullivan Courthouse Pub, and it’s what has kept him coming back.
“It’s like being the bridge between the two, it’s the perfect place,” he says. “The Irish come here, the Americans come here. Everybody gets along, everybody gets to know each other.”
After stuffing himself with barbecue, Johnson drags his guitar to a patio in the back of the pub, where the O’Sullivans and a few close friends gather to hear a song he wrote for the occasion.