What the Borscht Belt is to the Jews is what East Durham, also known as the Irish Alps, is to the Irish. With its sprawling green mountains and elevated terrain, it’s no surprise that the Irish community gravitated toward their own tiny slice of bucolic heaven after World War II.
According to Kevin Ferguson, who directed the 2016 documentary The Irish Catskills: Dancing at the Crossroads, there were once as many as 50 Irish-themed inns dotted around East Durham, and now there remains only a handful of resorts still standing. These resort-owners take great pride in their presence despite the odds and still manage to keep their operations “all in the family.” The dedication to multi-generational ownership throughout the years has made these resorts especially warm and inviting, which feels like something special to behold in today’s world of hospitality.
COVID-19 update: Open with reduced rates and weekend packages. Social distancing procedures, including additional cleaning, curbside check-in, outdoor dining, room service, and meals and drinks to-go are available. Live music takes place outside in July and August.
This all-inclusive resort is one of the original Irish immigrant hotels welcoming the European market since 1923. It is now third-generation family-owned and is widely known for hosting family reunions for Irish families from all over the map. Open to all who want to have an Irish experience, Gavin’s has attracted tons of visitors for their annual music festival “Gavinstock” and their Guinness October Fest every Columbus Day Weekend. Insider’s tip: get the baked goods! Nellie Gavin’s fresh scones and bread are made on-site and sold to hotel patrons and mainstream supermarkets throughout the area.
COVID-19 update: Open with meals available for takeout only. Social distancing procedures, including additional cleaning and no-contact check-in, are available.
Blackthorne Resort is most akin to a summer camp for Irish families. This family-owned establishment has tons of activities to foster intergenerational hangs during reunions. From tractor hayrides for the kids to a pool with a pavilion and tiki bar, there’s no shortage of things to do here. Did we mention the top-notch Irish entertainment year-round? For more outdoorsy patrons, they also offer on-site campgrounds near natural creeks and swimming holes so guests can still enjoy the amenities of the hotel. St. Patrick’s Day is the biggest celebration of them all. Their St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl includes a visit to five local pubs and a classic Irish Feast with liquor specials not to be missed.
COVID-19 update: Open for takeout and delivery from Thursday to Saturday during the week. The hotel is open for overnight stays.
Known for warm Irish hospitality and their often-frequented restaurant, The Shamrock House is another mainstay in East Durham. A weekend spent at The Shamrock includes time at trivia nights, line-dancing classes and listening to live Celtic music. The Shamrock House also hosts a variety of weddings, bachelorette parties, and family reunions. Yes, there’s a pattern here! If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the hotel’s restaurant for a pint and a cup of chili. On St. Patrick’s Day, the hotel hosts an annual corned beef and cabbage dinner, in addition to Irish dancing.