Clerkin Family // Winnipeg, Manitoba

Contributed by Paul Clerkin

Winnipeg, where’s that?

It’s in the middle of Canada, north of Fargo.

Because everyone had heard of Fargo, that was how we described our new location. To be fair, we hadn’t just thrown a dart at a map before relocating here. My wife Christine is from Winnipeg, we met in Dublin when she became a housemate of a friend of mine. Several years later, getting tired of paying exorbitant Dublin city centre rents, and not interested in moving out to the suburbs, we examined our options for relocation. Winnipeg came up, and in the absence of a lottery win allowing us to move to the centre of Paris, we decided to move here in 2004.

Oddly enough my parents had a plane stop here while flying to Los Angeles several years earlier, for a medical emergency for a passenger. I had already been to Winnipeg one winter for a holiday so the winter wasn’t quite a shock – though it can be disparagingly called Winterpeg by other Canadians. Winnipeg is far from everywhere, it’s an eight-hour drive to the nearest city that’s bigger, and that’s Minneapolis in the US. But its relative isolation means it has everything that you expect from a modern city. But it’s the weather here that most people remember – it can swing from -35 in the winter to +35 in the summer. -10 is a nice sunny winter’s day here whereas in Dublin, it would be a natural disaster.

The eldest of six kids, three boys, three girls, I’m definitely part of the modern Irish diaspora, educated and leaving by choice. At one point all of my parent’s sons were abroad, my youngest brother John spent a few years in New York for work, and the middle brother Niall has been living in Sydney, Australia for some years now, where he has married and has two kids.

When I first arrived, I used to visit the local Irish Association, founded in the 1970s, for a pint and familiar accents. There are a lot of ex-pats here surprisingly, mostly from the North, who moved here during the 70s and 80s to escape the Troubles. Over time, I’ve ceased to be a member, but still have friends in the community.

When the time came that we were opening up our brewery, it seemed logical to try and recreate what makes Irish pubs great. By utilising our links to the community, we’ve provided a temporary home for the local chapter of Comhaltas when the Irish Association closed for the summer, and had Irish musicians play over the years. Our St. Patrick’s Day event is our biggest event of the year, we bring in various traditional musicians and a local Irish dance school and group, and everyone has a great time. Unfortunately like many events, we had to cancel our 2020 and 2021 celebrations.

We don’t return home as often as we would like, but we have a steady stream of visitors, usually during the summer. The Winnipeg winter sounds scarier than it is. After years of badgering that they should come for Christmas instead of the summer, my parents came over a couple of years ago during the coldest December in 20 years. Oops.

Paul Clerkin