BATH, Maine — When his wife, Joanie, died in 2006, Joe Grace didn’t know what he was going to do with himself. They’d been married for 55 years. At nearly 80, Grace found himself alone in the rambling, old house on Lincoln Street where they raised six children.
That’s when an Irish pub opened up at the foot of the hill, just around the corner. Since then, it’s become his second home, filled with friends who feel like family. But Grace, now 91, doesn’t go there for the booze.
He goes to sing Irish songs. He has to.
“It keeps me going,” Grace said. “It’s why I’m still here, I think. I live for it — it’s happiness, I guess.”
He’s been a fixture at the Sunday afternoon Irish-American singalongs with the band Bitter Brew at Byrnes’ Pub since the sessions started in 2008. Sitting at a table down front, he resembles a dapper leprechaun in an Irish sweater, his twinkling eyes set between a pair of rosy, red cheeks. Grace sings all the old chestnuts with the ladies in the band, hoisting his mug, clapping along and occasionally humming on a kazoo.
When the band takes a break, they give him the stage and he sings by himself, reading from pages handwritten in pencil.
“The only times he’s not here is when he’s sick or in Ireland,” said Cyndi Longo, Bitter Brew’s singer and bodhran player. “He’s the patron saint of the pub.”
“If he’s not here on Sunday, something’s wrong,” said Maggie Byrnes from behind the bar. “That’s when I call one of his daughters to make sure he’s OK.”
Troy R. Bennett
Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.
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