By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Murphys were there -- as were the Kellys, Donohues, O'Briens, Quinns and Farrells.
This weekend’s 31st Annual Great Irish Fair in Coney Island at MCU Park was a grand family reunion for the thousands who came to celebrate their Irish heritage, listen and dance to Irish music, feast on Irish food and have a sip or two of good Irish ale.
“God blessed the Irish with wonderful weather,” said Monsignor Jamie Gigantiello told the crowd. Gigantiello said that the money raised from the fair benefits Catholic elementary schools in the Diocese. “We’re giving the same educational opportunities to new immigrants that our parents and grandparents had,” he said as he urged attendees to buy raffle tickets.
A sound stage, vendor booths and tented pubs – complete with flat screen TVs – were packed with old friends, families and cheering football fans.
Older eyes grew misty as Andy Cooney and the Band of Rogues performed “When New York was Irish.” Derek Warfield and The Young Wolfe Tones had the crowd on their feet and their fists in the air with foot-stomping songs about the crimes of the English.
“We come every year and have a very good time,” said Maureen Kelly, who originally hails from Dublin. Her husband Kevin Cumminkey was sick Sunday (“I love him to death!” Kelly said) so her friend Frank Farrell accompanied her to the fair. “When mom would hear the song ‘When New York Was Irish’ she would sing along,” Farrell said. Farrell’s dad, age 90, hails from Dingle Kerry. “When mom was alive they always went to Irish dances. I try to keep up my Irish tradition,” he said.
New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn came to celebrate her authentically Irish roots. “The weather’s perfect, it’s a wonderful crowd, good food and all for a good cause. It’s a great day all around,” she said. Senator Charles Schumer, Irish for the day, came to hob nob with the crowd as well.
The kilt-wearing Richmond County Pipes and Drums band – performing with bagpipes and drums– has performed at the fair every year since it started, said piper Laurence Ronan as he prepared for the group’s grand entrance with Sean Waters, Mike Walsh and his son Brendan, age 11. “We were at the first Irish Fair underthe Brooklyn Bridge in 1981,” Walsh added.
Children were major participants in the fair, with girls in Catholic school uniforms selling cupcakes and raffle tickets and groups performing on stage. Young dancers from the O'Malley Academy thrilled the crowd with precision step dancing and other styles, including a salute to Fosse.
Taylor Powers, Saint Saviour High School Class of 2012, was honored as Colleen Queen of the fair. Taylor is the second Colleen Queen named from Saint Saviour High School in the past five years.
Other 2012 honorees include:
Chief Brehon: Robert Benya
Paul O’Dwyer Award: Rosemary Lombard
Father Mychal Judge Award: Reverend Monsignor Joseph Finnerty
Edward Byrne memorial Award: Sgt. Ed Mullins
Thomas Moore Award: Sean Crowley
Kathleen Slattery Award: Sr. Briege Lavery, RSM
Captain Timothy Stackpole Memorial Award: Chief Kilduff
Thomas Cuite memorial Award: John J. Walsh
Jerry Forest Memorial Award: Michael Flynn
Celtic Cross Award: Bob Murphy
Round Tower Award: Dr. Geraldine Chapey