Fighting Irish spirit emerges as the Rockaways stay strong and united after Hurricane Sandy
Rockaway's locals show strength in face of Sandy
“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.
That’s what it’s all about in the Rockaways – everyone knowing everyone else, sticking together through thick and thin. The sense of community is extremely strong, and the Irish are an integral part of what makes the area so vibrant and unique.
It’s a short walk from Beach 123rd Street along Rockaway Beach Boulevard to the local church and Catholic school, St. Francis de Sales. In the parking lot was a huge tent erected by the Irish construction firm Navillus. Inside people were eating meals and loading up on supplies, while outside volunteers were distributing warm clothing and blankets.
“We have to eat and get our things while it’s still bright because at night it can be scary because there are no lights,” said Nee.
Brendan Jones, a native of Co. Fermanagh, was at the Navillus tent having some lunch and talking to his neighbors. He left Ireland 42 years ago and loves the Rockaways, but much of his home was wrecked by the storm, as was the bar where he works, Roger’s Irish Tavern on Beach 116th Street.
“It’s pretty tough,” said Jones, clad in a green jacket emblazoned with an Irish harp and the words Rockaway Beach Irishtown.
Jones left his home and stayed with his brother during the storm. He was shocked to the core when he returned.
“I thought the worst,” he recalls. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like a bomb dropped.”
But like most everyone else in Rockaway on Sunday, his mood was jovial and upbeat.
“Oh, we’ll be okay,” he says with a smile on his face. “It’s going to take a lot of time, but we’ve got time. It’s hard now, very hard, but it will get better. We’ll make sure of it.”
The lines of people were especially long at St Francis de Sales school, where medical assistance was available for those in need. Volunteers were off-loading from trucks a huge amount of donated water which was being passed around as needed. The line was organized and people were clearly grateful of the help in their hours of need.
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