Many of the volunteers were strangers to each other when they arrived in the Rockaways, but left as friends. Given that so many of them were Irish-born, it was no surprise that six degrees of separation turned out to be more like one or two.
Cha Connaughton, one of the driving forces behind the Shannon Gaels, was talking to Noreen Hussey from Bronxville, who was part of his volunteer group. Turns out that Connaughton, from Williamstown, Co. Galway, knew Hussey’s uncle when he was growing up.
“He was a big strong man, a lovely man, and I remember that he accidentally hit me with a shovel,” Connaughton laughed while one of his sons worked in the background.
Eugene Smyth, a landscaper from Co. Wicklow, was also part of the group. His wife has spent much of her free time helping friends affected by the storm, particularly in Long Beach, Long Island.
“We’ve been trying to give as many people as we can a helping hand,” says Smyth.
The generosity of spirit among the Irish volunteers didn’t go unnoticed by Noreen Doherty, a long-time resident of Beach 122nd Street who stayed in her studio residence for the duration of the storm because “I’m a thick Irish mick,” as she described herself.
“My friends thought I was nuts, but I managed to stay warm. Us Irish are very resourceful.”
Doherty, whose parents hailed from the Donegal Gaeltacht, grew up in Brooklyn and has lived in the Rockaways for 25 years. A retired schoolteacher, she spends lots of time meeting volunteers from all walks of life, and “making new friends,” she says.
“Every time I go out I meet a new friend,” she adds.