Maine Irish Heritage Trail

Portland Site Number 29
by Matthew Jude Barker

Bull Feeney's
375 Fore Street
Portland, Maine

"Bull Feeney's" restaurant and pub was officially opened on St. Patrick's Day, 2002. It was named for the acclaimed Hollywood director John Ford, nee John Martin Feeney (1894-1973), born in Cape Elizabeth, baptized at St. Dominic's Church, student in Portland's public schools, and a 1914 graduate of Portland High School. John earned the sobriquet "Bull" because he would "lower his leather helmet like a bull and charge through the line" during football games for Portland High.

The building itself was constructed in 1866-1867 after the Great Fire of July 4, 1866 destroyed Fore Street and a great section of the city. It was designed and erected by Charles Quincy Clapp, a "gentleman architect," in Gothic style. By the early 1880s what was then numbered 363-379 Fore Street, included a wide variety of businesses, including Eastman Brothers (barbers), the tailor shop of Alpheus Griffin, the "ready made clothing" shop of G. Edwin Dyer, and the cigar manufacturing outfit of Thomas H. Deehan (a member of a prominent Portland Irish family from County Derry). The block has continued to have various establishments ever since. Number 375 Fore Street was variously the tailor shops of G. Edwin Dyer, Alpheus Griffin, Rueben K. Dyer, and Edward J. Huelin from the late 1870s until 1941.

About 1943, 375 Fore Street became the Seamen's Club to attend to the needs of the thousands of sailors in town during World War II. By the late 1940s it was officially known as the Portland Seamen's Club and Portland Seamen's Friend Society. It remained the Seamen's Club until the early 1960s when it became vacant and remained so for many years. From about 1975 until the early 1990s, it was a restaurant called, aptly, the Seamen's Club.

Jerry Hand, an Irish native, and Douglas Fuss purchased the property and opened a new restaurant and pub, "Bull Feeney's." They had seen the business value of opening a restaurant at that location and of tying it in with the history of Irish emigration into Portland. They consulted many interested parties to gather authentic detail about the Portland Irish, including Matthew J. Barker, whose research and writing adorns the interior of the restaurant, actually painted on the walls by an artist from Ireland.

In the August 2006 phonebook of Portland, one finds an ad for "Bull Feeney's" in which they declare, "Portland was built on the backs of immigrant moonshiners. We'll drink to that. Bull Feeney's, Lobsters love Guinness." They advertise steaks, seafood, "hearty Irish fare," live entertainment, Imported & local Craft Brews, and "Fine Single Malt Scotch, Irish & Bourbon Whisk(e)y." Owner Doug Fuss is a sponsor of many Irish related endeavors, including the Maine Irish Heritage Center and its John Ford Center.

RELATED SITES: John Ford Monument, Portland High School, Gorham's Corner

Acknowledgements by Matthew Jude Barker

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