“It’s so different from what you see on TV,” said Cara, a sixth grader whose parents Siobhan and Dan helped organize the Irish Day of Action.
“I feel really good that I got to come here with my sister Ashling and my family to do something.”
Siobhan Dennehy is the executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, with offices in Woodlawn and Woodside. Not reaching out to those in need was never an option, she says.
“You can’t really describe what you see here. All I kept thinking when I was watching it on TV was, if that was my home, or my school or my community, I would really want volunteers to come and help me out. So we’re all more than happy to be able to do whatever we can really.”
Jim Whelan, a member of the AOH Division 3 in Pearl River, was shocked by the aftermath of the storm.
“The amount of destruction is unreal,” he said while taking a time out to warm up with a coffee.
Whelan grew up in the Bronx – his father was a native of Co. Carlow. He spent the morning cleaning up houses. “I hope we made a dent, however small, in all the suffering around here,” he added.
The robust Rockland GAA was well-represented in Breezy Point. Emmett Woods, the organization’s chairman, spent his morning demolishing someone’s bathroom.
“I feel so sorry for these people,” says Woods, a native of Co. Tyrone and now local entrepreneur who owns Emmett’s Castle restaurant in Pearl River and Mahoney’s Irish Pub in Poughkeepsie.
“We don’t know how lucky we are that we escaped the worst of the storm. These people here really need our help.”
Everyone, it seems, is Irish in Breezy Point – even the Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Tom Naughton works with the Habitat branch in Westchester which has a maintained a daily presence. His mother was from Kilkenny, father from Galway and he was raised in England and Ireland until he was 10 years old.
Retired from a bank for seven years, Naughton has volunteered for Habitat ever since. He’s been to various disaster areas, including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and says that ensuring the safety of the volunteers is of the utmost importance.
“It’s always tragic,” says Naughton, while directing a group of volunteers from Goldman Sachs who traveled to Breezy Point for the day.
“But they will rebuild here. There’s no doubt about it.”
Habitat for Humanity Westchester director Jim Killoran agrees. “We will rebuild the Rockaways. We will rebuild it green, and we will rebuild it smart,” says Killoran, whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland.
“You know, we celebrate all diversity around here. But really, Breezy Point is like another county in Ireland. And for sure, the spirit of the Irish is what’s going to get us through this.”
The Irish Tricolor flew on the beachfront, right under the Stars and Stripes, not far from where Killoran spoke. Breezy Point is indeed infused with Irish DNA, and the volunteers who donated their time on Saturday have every intention of ensuring it stays that way.