The Visit Of A Lifetime

Having come to Jersey for a year, a Dublin couple ended up putting down roots.

Desmond as grand marshal of the 2009 Morris County St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

In 1957, Desmond Lloyd, then 17, seeing little opportunity in his native Dublin, joined the English Merchant Navy. For the next four years, he waited on tables in the elegant dining rooms of passenger liners including the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary. His ships made port in far-flung places like Hong Kong, New Zealand, San Francisco, and New York. It was New York that most impressed him with “the opportunities of working and living in this great country.”

When he returned to Dublin, he met a lovely local girl, Alice Duffy, at Clery’s, a popular dance hall. “Oh, he definitely pursued me, 100 percent,” says Alice. That was necessary, Desmond explains, because “she played a little hard to get. Yes,” he adds with a wink, “she still plays hard to get.”

But even Alice admits his globetrotting tales impressed her. As they grew closer, he shared with her his American dream. Alice and Desmond, each from large families, were rooted in Dublin and weren’t sure they wanted to break away. So in their fervid discussion, a plan took shape to sock away money for a future together by coming to the States for just one year. The idea of a limited duration put to rest any jitters of their own, and it seemed the best bet for convincing Alice’s father, Patrick Duffy, to give his blessing.

“My father was very strict, too strict, really, but my parents really liked Des an awful lot,” says Alice. In the end, says Desmond, “her parents trusted me, and we had great respect for each other.”

Their 1963 journey to the United States by airplane differed greatly from the waves of Irish immigrants who, huddled in the holds of crowded ships, had preceded them during the potato famine in the nineteenth century. In Dublin, Alice recalls, “the whole family came to the airport, and we had a big hooley. You know the Irish—even though it’s a sad time saying goodbye, it’s still a big party.”

The couple’s reception in America contrasted with the “Irish Need Not Apply” signs that had greeted the earlier generations of Irish immigrants. Desmond, who had worked at several of Dublin’s top restaurants before shipping out, soon found work at Rod’s Ranch House restaurant in Morristown. Alice took a job with the Morristown Trust Company. “We were very fortunate,” says Desmond. “We felt this was a wonderful place to live.”

Within four months Desmond proposed, and the pair were wed in the summer of 1964 at St. Vincent’s Church in Madison. Their parents came stateside for the wedding, and Alice says her father “was mesmerized with the United States. We took him to a Yankee game, and he thought it was all his birthdays rolled in one. He actually encouraged us to stay longer than the year.

“At that point,” she continues, “we still had a little bit of Ireland in our hearts. We always will. But we thought, now our heart is really in America.”

Now their children—Allison, William, Desmond Jr., and Michael—are in their 30s and 40s and all live and work in Morris County. Desmond, 69, and Alice, 68, have five grandchildren. On Sundays, Desmond will often cook an Irish supper that may include corned beef and cabbage and potatoes, and bird’s custard or Irish pudding for dessert.

Desmond and Alice own the award-winning Grand Café in Morristown, a three-story classic French restaurant that opened in 1981. A French restaurant? Shouldn’t a lad and lass from the Emerald Isle be running a pub?

“I trained in French restaurants throughout Europe,” responds Desmond. “I felt there was a market in Morristown for a fine, first-class restaurant. That’s what Alice and I set out to accomplish, and so far, so good. Twenty-nine years later, we’re still here. They haven’t found us out yet.”

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