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Queens Chronicle


Eire’s culture still thrives in Queens

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Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2016 10:30 am

Although Queens is one of the most diverse places in the world, Irish culture has been very strong throughout its history. And as the luck of the Irish would have it, residents of the borough interested in participating in all things Eire need not look far.

The New York Irish Center, located on Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, offers many cultural programs that will make you feel closer to the Emerald Isle.

“I would say that you know the most native Irish people that live in New York City live in Queens,” the center’s executive director, Paul Finnegan, told the Chronicle. “It continues to always be kind of a landing pad.”

For those who were born in Ireland, have parents from there, or simply want to consume culture related to it, the center will not disappoint.

You can catch Irish movies and concerts or the Derry Londonderry Goes Global exhibit, which is about the immigration patterns from Derry, a city in Northern Ireland.

Recent performers at the center include Tara O’Grady , an Irish-American singer who specializes in a unique mix of blues, jazz, Celtic music and folk. On July 9, renowned accordionist Jackie Daly and the fiddle player Matt Cranitch will share the stage and play traditional Irish music.

Finnegan’s daughter is training with Shannon Gaels Gaelic Athletic Association, which plays at Frank Golden Park in College Point. Gaelic football, a sport with similarities to rugby, basketball and soccer, is, in terms of attendance, the most popular athletic activity in Ireland.

“Gaelic football is a very strong part of Irish cultural identity formalized in the 19th century as kind of an antidote to English soccer and rugby,” Finnegan, an immigrant from Galway City, said.

Shannon Gaels also has a July 5-8 Cul Camp — featuring Gaelic football, hurling and camogie (a nearly identical sport to hurling that women play) and Irish language lessons that kids between the ages of five and twelve can sign up for.

“Ninety percent of the players have one parent or two parents from Ireland,” Eamon Devlin, a coach for boys’ Gaelic football with Shannon Gaels, said. The club, he added, often has scrimmages on Sundays.

History buffs can find several Irish artifacts in the borough worth checking out.

At Calvary Veterans Park — a park owned by the city within Calvary Cemetery — along with the gravestones of thousands of Irish people, one can check out a monument to the Army’s 69th Regiment — also called the “Fighting 69th” or the “Fighting Irish” — an Irish heritage U.S. infantry unit from New York City that fought in the First Battle of Bull Run and other historic military engagements.

The structure, which was first displayed in 1868, was designed by the Irish sculptor Daniel Draddy. At the top of the stately column, there is a figure made of bronze signifying peace; surrounding it, one can see four life-size Civil War soldier statues standing on pedestals.

Although its soldiers suffered huge losses during the Civil War, the 69th Regiment remained as a military institution and the troops in it have fought in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

At Queens College’s Rosenthal Library, you can check out an exhibit called “A Nation Rising: The 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Rebellion,” about Easter Rising, an anticolonial insurrection in Dublin, and the Irish fight for independence. The exhibit will be open until September.

Residents of the World’s Borough can learn another renowned Irish tradition at the McManus School of Irish Dance.

“The dancing and the culture in general unifies,” Patricia McManus, an instructor at the school and its founder, said. The school gives classes in Long Island City and Sunnyside and has a program for toddlers called Jiggy Tots.

“My Sunnsyside location would have the most parents that are from Ireland and the kids are first-generation,” McManus, the daughter of Irish immigrants, said. And many of the children who go to the classes, she added, are “multiple generations back Irish Americans or partially Irish American.”

Although the biggest wave of Irish emigration to America happened as a result of the Great Famine in the 19th century, many still move to America from Ireland — the country experienced an outflow of emigration due to its economic recession — and settle in Queens, especially in Woodside and Sunnyside. Many of the carriage-horse drivers in Manhattan, whose industry was under mayoral fire, are transplants in Queens from Eire.

To help recent arrivals, the Emerald Isle Immigration Center — which has an office on Woodside Avenue — was created in 1988.

“We’re going to guide you along the way,” said Siobhan Dennehy, the executive director of the organization, referring to how the center helps people get U.S. citizenship.

Aside from the social services that it provides to immigrants from many countries — it has expanded to serve more than just the Irish since it was created — the center provides English-for-speakers-of-other-languages classes to immigrants and participates in a program with the Queens Economic Development Corp. to help them start businesses by “providing guidance training and assistance to people who maybe thought about setting up a business but had no idea how to go about it,” Dennehy said. The center also has a location in the Bronx.

But throughout Queens, the most ubiquitous symbols of Irish culture may be the borough’s bars and restaurants. And Bridie’s, a neighborhood tavern on Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park, may be just the place if you’re in the mood for one.

“If you want to go to a bar-bar, it’s always an Irish bar,” Bridies’ manager, Sebastian Parada, said. The establishment, he added, serves Irish food like shepherd’s pie and beef and barley soup.

On 72nd Avenue in Forest Hills, you can check out the Irish Cottage, an Irish pub owned by a woman from Donegal that has been open since 1960.

And for pub lovers who also can appreciate a great burger, Donovan’s — a bar in Woodside that is a regular on lists for the best burgers in the city — may be just the place for you.

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