Tenerife, A Little Bit of Ireland in the Sun

Here’s a riddle. How can I be sitting in a pub called JC Murphy in Santa Cruz and yet still be able to argue that the bar I’m drinking in is as Canarian as papas arrugadas?

Having had a tapas lunch in the Noria district of Santa Cruz de Tenerife followed by a couple of drinks outside a bar/restaurant up a side street, we decided to shift to somewhere indoors.

JC Murphy, Santa Cruz, Tenerife

The sun had departed the narrow streets and, being February, the temperature switched from being hot to being cool. JC Murphy’s was the perfect antidote.

We spotted JC’s the first time we visited Santa Cruz but completely avoided it. What was the point of coming to Tenerife’s capital and seeking out an Irish bar? We could do that in any of the resorts if we wanted, including Puerto de la Cruz.  In Santa Cruz it seemed out of place.

But it wasn’t out of place at all.

All that our misguided judgement revealed was that we didn’t know much about Tenerife at that point.

Father Jose Murphy, Santa Cruz, Tenerife

JC Murphy’s shares its name with José Murphy, the father of Santa Cruz (he was the guy whose political sword-fighting with the Spanish realm ended up with Santa Cruz de Tenerife being awarded ‘free port’ status – which it still enjoys to this day).  As well as being the father of Santa Cruz he was the son of a pair of Dubliners.

I loved the name the moment I first saw it at a base of his statue in Santa Cruz – José Murphy. It sounded like a punchline to a joke:

Man to woman: In your experience which nationality  makes the best lovers?”
Woman: “The Spanish and the Irish. By the way, I didn’t quite catch your name.”
Man: “Oh, it’s José… José Murphy.”

Many of the houses near the Iglesia de la Concepción, where JC Murphy’s stands, were built by wealthy Irish merchants.

Jose Murphy, Santa Cruz, Tenerife

Tenerife’s Irish, and British, connection didn’t start with mass tourism. The Brits and Irish were instrumental in the development of Tenerife following the conquest, along with Italians, Portuguese, Flemish and, of course, the Spanish.

It’s common for people to view Tenerife as a place where Brits flock to for a little bit of familiarity in the sun. But that shows an ignorance of the island’s history, and of the British and Irish who have lived on the island for centuries, integrating with other settlers rather than living apart.

Puerto de la Cruz had at least two Irish mayors. The British were key to the development of the wine and banana trade. It’s even been suggested that the Tenerife flag owes its existence to the powerful Scottish Grand Master of the Masonic lodge in Santa Cruz. A Victorian adventurer commented that he thought the outstanding beauty of the islanders was due to an Irish/Guanche mix.
A couple of years ago Santa Cruz’ blonde haired, blue eyed carnival queen had a distinctly Irish surname.

Even the word for that oh so Canarian eating establishment, the guachinche, is derived from an English phrase.

Inside JC Murphy, Santa Cruz, Tenerife

The iconic former Hotel Taoro in Puerto de la Cruz was built by the British. The legacy of Tenerife’s British and Irish settlers is still obvious in plenty of places around the north of Tenerife. Drop into a local restaurant in Cuesta de la Villa and you’ll see British and Canarian residents sharing the same table. Puerto de la has streets named after Scottish and Irish residents. Places like the English Library there upholds the tradition of the British being part of the island. As well as being a library, it’s a social centre where people learn all sorts of fascinating things about Tenerife from equally fascinating guest speakers, as well as from each other. An afternoon with one of the long term members can reveal a richer and more personalised history of Tenerife than a week spent scouring library books. They are simply part of the Canarian community; the Irish and British always have been.

So, if friends question why you’re taking them to an Irish bar instead of a Canarian one in Santa Cruz de Tenerife you can put them straight. JC Murphy’s is about as Canarian a bar as you can get.

 

Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+

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