He keeps out of the limelight, quietly goes about generously giving to others and never talks about it but on a recent autumns day a 79-year-old Co. Roscommon immigrant agreed to speak to the Irish Voice about the joy he brings to more than 400 Irish music and art students and their teachers each week.
Martin O'Grady, who emigrated to New York in 1959, has selfishly given the musically talented and artistically inclined members of the Irish community in the Bronx the free use of a house he purchased six years ago so they can excel in their area of interest.
The catch: there is none.
O'Grady is saint like; a philanthropist in his own right.
The Roscommon native "saw a gap" in the arts within the Irish community in Woodlawn, the Bronx and wanted to do something to help.
"I was always involved in the arts and providing scholarships and helping kids go to school for music and dance," O'Grady told the Irish Voice while touring his two-story house at 279 east 236th street in the Bronx, an area known as Woodlawn (or the 33rd county).
"I bought this house and wasn't sure what to do with it and then it hit me," he said.
"I realized I could give the house to music and dance teachers for free and they in turn could teach local children at a very affordable cost the joys of music, Irish dancing and art," said O’Grady.
"I've always felt there was a big gap in arts education here and I think every kid should have a chance to learn music and dance."
In the past six years O'Grady, a successful plumber by trade, has never once received a penny for the use of his house.
What he has received is the gratitude of the many teachers who use the building as their classroom but even more importantly to O'Grady is the pleasure he gets from knowing that through the years thousands of children and some adults have spent many an afternoon learning to play the piano, the words to Irish ballads, paint pictures of the old country and dance a few jigs.
"I never realized the house would be so successful. Word got out quickly and now there is a queue to get in here," said O'Grady proudly.
O'Grady has a mortgage of $2,400 a month on the house and doles out approximately $700 a month on electricity.
The first floor of the building, dubbed the Woodlawn Music House, consists of a large size room (originally two rooms made into one), which houses dozens of music, dance and arts students daily. On the second floor two smaller rooms serve as music rooms where talented Irish students come to learn and improve their talent.
O'Grady is currently in the process of putting the final touches on the basement and has sought the advice of a landscaper to create an outside garden space at the back of the house for use.
"There is a huge demand for more space here so whatever I can do I will," said O'Grady kindly.
When asked why he doesn't charge rent, even a small amount he said, "it isn't about the money."
“Some of the teachers that come here use the space to make their living and to be able to help them get on and at the same time bring joy to the children is all worth it," he said.
"This country has been good to me so I feel an obligation to give back and do something," said O'Grady who is married to Ann with six children and 10 grand children.
Prior to the music house being opened to the public O'Grady said that students would have to travel as far away as Rockland County for lessons.
"Now with the recession this place is ideal because parents are looking for somewhere more affordable and closer to home so it works for everyone," added O'Grady.
Looking towards the future O'Grady said, "as long as I'm around there is no possibility of the doors closing on this place but after that I don't know what will happen.”
He added, "It's a one man operation. In hindsight I should have put together a board of directors but I would very much like to see the work I've started here continue for the community."
O'Grady would also like to see the idea of a music house open up in the borough of Queens but its not something he could undertake alone physically or financially.
"There are so many people in Queens who would love to have an opportunity like this and the population is so much bigger there too," he said.
"I'd love to be able to raise funding to expand over there but such a house would need a board of directors instead of just one man."
O'Grady estimates a similar set up in Queens would draw over a thousand children and adults a week.
"Maybe some philanthropist could fund it," smiles O'Grady hopefully.
Although pledging to continue to give as much time to the house as possible O'Grady is seeking a volunteer or two to help out with classroom scheduling and maintaining the upkeep of the place.
"If someone had a few hours on their hands to help out that would be great," he asked.
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