When Irishman Danny Hamilton moved to Victoria, a small city on Canada’s Vancouver Island, in 2013, he didn’t realise his move would be permanent.

Then, as sometimes happens, he met someone, settled down and now has a small child (and another on the way).

I like a bit of rain

A talented builder, he has done well for himself in Canada and, with his friend and business partner Warren Crolly, has helped create a vibrant Irish community within Victoria.

However, I can hear a distinct pang of homesickness in his voice when he asks even the most mundane of questions: “How’s the weather over there?”

“Pretty rainy and gross,” I respond before returning the question.

What can I say? I like an island and a bit of rain

“It’s rainy and gross here, too,” he laughs. Canada’s Pacific Northwest is milder than the rest of the country; they generally experience grey skies and rain during the winter months – not dissimilar to Ireland.

“You clearly have a type,” I joke. And he laughs again, responding, “What can I say? I like an island and a bit of rain!”

Pandemic woes

When the pandemic hit, Danny and Warren soon realised they wouldn’t be visiting home for the foreseeable future. They suddenly felt the distance between themselves and their Irish loved ones in a very different way.

“I would always come home once a year and it’s now [been] two years,” Danny says.

“This is obviously going to be longer still [with the pandemic], and with the baby on the way it might be another year before I get home again – so, it’s hard.”

A diverse skillset

A Dublin native, Danny has led an interesting life. Having lived in Australia and Spain; his work has always been divided between construction (he is a highly skilled stonemason) and hospitality.

Before moving to Canada, he was working in Ireland as a tour guide – a job he loved; especially when it would lead him to Co Mayo and his favourite pub.

Danny and Warren tried to make the inside as similar to Matt Molloy's pub as possible. Luckily, the two friends are skilled builders and craftsmen.

“When I was a tour guide, I used to visit many towns in Ireland but one of my favourite stops was in Westport,” he explains.

“We would always take the tours to (member of The Chieftains) Matt Molloy’s pub. When you go in there, you never know where the night will take you.

“There was always great singsongs, storytellers – everything that’s good about an Irish pub in one place.”

A bright idea

In early 2020, Danny and Warren were working on an important restoration build at Victoria’s historic Empress Hotel. On Fridays after work, they would go to one of the city’s many pubs for a pint.

Danny says they would regularly discuss what would make the perfect Irish pub.

“We’d always say, ‘This pub is good, but could you imagine if we had a pub from home?’ And that’s where it started, after work dreaming of what a real pub should look like,” Danny says.

“We couldn’t afford to buy a pub, but we could build one. So we refurbished furnishings and reclaimed what we could and created The Wild Rover – I think we made something beautiful.

Danny Hamilton (centre right) and Warren Crolly (centre left) built this mobile Irish pub (a mini replica of Matt Molloy's in Westport) in Victoria, Canada.

“We liked the idea of being able to bring The Wild Rover to different places,” he continues.

“I owned a trailer and thought a mobile pub would be a great idea for events, as opposed to the keg on a table you’d usually find at parties here. In the short time we’ve been up and running it’s been really successful.

“If you’ve got a driveway we can bring the pub to you; it’s really simple.”

Bubble parties

In Victoria, the COVID-19 crisis has not been as extreme as here in Ireland, so while social distancing rules have been enforced and a “bubble” system put in place, up until recently small groups could still gather while taking proper precautions.

“Going into lockdown, The Wild Rover was ready to go,” Danny explains. “We held off on the launch, but then we realised so many people couldn’t get out to celebrate their birthday.

“So we launched early in the summer of 2020. We would have small bubble parties which worked for those who didn’t feel comfortable going to pubs or restaurants (which were still open).

Danny and Warren built the pub to enable small "bubble" groups to celebrate birthdays amidst COVID-19.

“We were booked out every week,” he continues. “We ran right through to winter before the rules changed. There was a public health order, so now we can only have contact with our own households.

“It’s for a 12-week period so we’ve lost eight bookings. It’s fine, though – a lot of people are just postponing their reservations so they can still have the Rover at a later date.”

Award winning

Although they only just opened and the pandemic has, at times, hindered growth, it didn’t stop The Wild Rover from winning its first award in late 2020.

“It was maybe a bit cheeky to put us out there as the best pub in Victoria,” Danny laughs.

“Now, we didn’t think anything of it, but we ended up being named in the top three best pubs in the city! We wish we could have thrown a big party to celebrate but that can come later.”

An ode to Matt Molloy’s

An unmissable detail in the story of The Wild Rover is in its design. When Danny and Warren built the pub, they made it into an almost exact miniature replica of Danny’s favourite Westport pub – Matt Molloy’s.

“The general feel [of Matt Molloy’s pub] is what makes it special,” he smiles.

“On the outside we have a very Irish style, with white stone wash walls and red trim. Inside, we used warm colours and wood accents with the cosy feel and a warm fire.

“The only thing is we don’t have a Grammy (award) sat behind the bar, so if Matt might send us a Grammy that would be great!

“I’ve always wondered would he remember me,” Danny continues. “I used to bet people on our tours to go up and give Matt a little kiss on the top of his head – it used to drive him crazy!”

Community spirit

Being active members of Victoria’s Irish community, Danny tells Irish Country Living The Wild Rover sponsors the local GAA programme. He says the community is very close-knit.

The Irish Rover pub is an almost exact miniature replica of (The Chieftains) Matt Molloy's pub in Westport, Co Mayo.

“My soccer days are coming to their end and any involvement in the Gaelic team is purely on the sidelines, because all these kids are just running rings around me,” he says.

“You get a lot of young Irish coming to Vancouver and then realising the housing market is out of reach. Victoria is more affordable with a slower pace of life. The Irish community here is very settled.

“We see [the pub] as a service to our people for sure! Since lockdown, we’ve been getting into the science of making the perfect pint of Guinness.

“When we come out of this we will have the best pint of Guinness; definitely in Victoria, but why not all of Canada, as well?”

Concern for family

Danny and Warren are aware of the current COVID-19 crisis in Ireland and appreciate their own circumstances are (currently) better.

They think of their families often and wish to send a special greeting to their parents – Willie and Marian Hamilton in Newbridge, Co Kildare and George and Joan Crolly in Kilcock, Co Kildare.

“I fell in love with Victoria and fell into a very good crowd here,” Danny says. “ But I always stay on top of keeping in contact with my siblings and parents.”

To learn more about The Wild Rover pub in Victoria, you can visit their website.