Fighting Irish spirit emerges as the Rockaways stay strong and united after Hurricane Sandy
Rockaway's locals show strength in face of Sandy
Brosh spent the days before the hurricane making plans to evacuate his Co. Mayo-born grandmother from her large white home at 140 Beach 123 Street, just steps from the Atlantic. She accumulated decades of personal mementoes – “a real pack rat,” Brosh joked – and now they’re gone.
“She went to Florida,” he said. “She wouldn’t have been able to cope with this.”
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The home, he said, was surrounded by piles of sand that were still being cleared on Sunday morning. The basement was destroyed but the bones are still solid. Brosh’s mother also currently lives there, and he expects that one day he will do the same.
That’s not an unusual thing in the Rockaways. The family ties all around are incredibly solid, with generation after generation choosing to stay put.
Paddy Nee is another Irish-born resident of Beach 123rd. Originally from Louisburgh, Co. Mayo, Nee has lived there since 1980 and raised five children with his wife, who passed last year, in a neat two-story home with shamrocks on the outside. His children still live nearby.
On Sunday morning Nee, along with several others on the block, took time out from the massive clean-up to eat an Irish breakfast donated by Ciaran Staunton, proprietor of O’Neill’s in Manhattan and Molly Bloom’s in Sunnyside.
Powerless since Sandy, Nee, 81, was waiting for one of his sons to arrive with a coveted generator, and enjoying the company of his neighbors who he says are like family.
Nee chose not to evacuate prior to the storm – “it’s hard to leave your house,” he said -- but in retrospect he wishes he had, such was the level of fright he experienced.
“I will never, ever forget it,” he says in an Irish brogue as thick as the day he left Mayo. “My grandson stayed with me and we thought we’d never get out. The worst night of my life by far. All we heard was wind and huge noises and fire all night. There was sand and water everywhere.”
Nee’s home doesn’t have a basement and for that he’s thankful. But his ground floor living space was ruined and his roof is also in need of repair.
“That will all get fixed in time,” says Nee, a retired doorman who worked in the Upper East Side building where Ponzi thief Bernard Madoff once lived. (“I knew him well; he was very nice to me,” Nee shared).
“I’m just glad to live in the community that I live in here. There are so many Irish around here and we will rebuild.”
One neighbor called Nee the unofficial mayor of the Rockaways, and it’s not hard to see why. On a walk throughout the neighborhood to show an Irish Voice reporter some areas where Sandy’s wrath was particularly overwhelming, Nee knew just about everyone.
Practically the only ones he wasn’t acquainted with were the scores of volunteers from all walks of life – members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints were recognizable with their bright yellow t-shirts, two large busloads of helpers from Adelphi University in Long Island also took to the streets, and the U.S. Army, in large Humvees, was out in force.
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