Oiche Chairde (Night of Friends) is what was advertised and Oiche Chairde is what was delivered, as the first ever Over 40 Irish Singles Night drew a great crowd at the New York Irish Center on Saturday night.
If New York was powered on human energy alone, then all five boroughs would have been lit up for a week by all the craic on Jackson Avenue at the weekend, and the success of the event surprised even its’ organisers, Eileen Malarkey and Ella Larkin.
‘I am so so happy with the turnout, so happy,’ said Eileen Malarkey, a native of County Kerry. ‘I’m a recent widow myself, my husband passed away three years ago and I’m only now re-emerging on the social scene and I found that it was so hard when you are in this situation, because I find when you are not in your twenties or thirties anymore, it becomes harder to meet new people, and every time you do want to meet new people, you have to learn something new like hiking or take classes and this just cuts out the middleman...you don’t have to be anything or learn anything. You just have to turn up and meet people and I am delighted with all the people here. I’m amazed by the number of men! I thought there would be fewer but this is a great mix, and a great mix of young and old too.’
Ella Larkin, also originally from Kerry, agreed wholeheartedly with her co-organiser.
‘There are a lot of people who don’t really go to pubs anymore or places like that and find it hard to meet people and this is why we set this up, and it is great to see so many people here, mingling and talking so much. It’s a great mix of people.’
Executive Director of the New York Irish Center, Paul Finnegan, did not hesitate in providing the venue when Eileen and Ella approached him with their idea, and the Galway man states that isolation of single, older people is an issue that needs to be addressed among the Irish community in New York.
‘Here at the New York Irish Center, we have a great location so we try to reach out and cater for everybody, so when Eileen and Ella came forward with this fantastic idea, I thought ‘why not’? If people want it, let’s do it and I’m very happy to see so many people here. You know, people always look at younger people and their problems and angst, and rightfully so, but what we don’t really see or talk about is people that are a little older, people that don’t even really have to be that old, but they are widowed, divorced, or just not in a relationship. It can be harder for them to get out and meet people. This is just one more need in the community that has to be addressed. We need to stop people drifting into isolation and I am happy that we are here to facilitate people getting to know each other in an environment like this. Conversation really is key and I bet that a lot of people are going to leave here knowing a lot more people than when they came in.’
Conversation was indeed the key as Paul discovered himself when he could barely announce the winner of the raffle over all the chatter; chatter generated by the friendly, sociable atmosphere that himself, Ella and Eileen helped create, with the two ladies tirelessly working the crowd to make sure they mingled and danced.
And this was all helped along with fantastic music by accomplished musician Donie Carroll and talented accordionist John Whelan, who generously donated their time and illimitable energy for the event, and it was Cork-born Donie that quipped one of the best lines of the night.
‘Anyone who takes anybody home tonight has to come back the next time and tell us all about it, even if you just got the shift!’
The herculean effort by the organisers was not in vain however, as the patrons were unanimous in their praise for the night.
Brendan Brady, originally from Dublin, stated that he did not expect such a big turnout.
‘Really now to me, this is so surprising to see so many people here, especially at the first one of its kind. I bet the next one will be packed.’
Kathleen Dignan, from Glennamaddy, County Galway, spent the night talking and dancing and even got up to sing a song or two.
‘Oh, I really enjoyed it, the old fashioned music and the craic around the place. I think some of the men were a bit shy though because they didn’t really dance!’
Seamus Sorohan, living in Maspeth and originally from Cavan, was not one of the shyer men on the night, spending a good degree of the evening on the dance-floor surrounded by women.
‘It was a great night, all the women are after me! Ah no, seriously though, it was some craic.’
Friends Bridget Burke and Frankie McElligott also had a lot of praise for the night.
‘It was a very good night, a really good start to what was a great idea. I danced quite a bit,’ said Bridget Burke.
‘It’s great to see something like this coming up finally in New York. I spent time in Chicago and San Francisco and they had things like this there so I’m happy to see New York starting something similar. A great night,’ said Frankie McElligott.
Patrick Ganly, originally from Westmeath, drove all the way from West Yonkers for the night and was not disappointed.
‘I enjoyed myself but I didn’t score! I’m single on the way home but no regrets! Great night!’
It was adulation like this, coupled with the big turnout, that prompted organisers to hurriedly make a second night of its kind in the near future, with Saturday, June 15th being the date of the next Over 40 Irish Singles Night, held once again in the New York Irish Center on Jackson Avenue.