After ten years of endeavor Shannon Gaels GAA club, in Queens, celebrated its official opening with hundreds of players and parents in attendance
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in northern Queens with the wind lightly blowing, keeping the American and Irish flags fluttering gently, Shannon Gaels GAA club celebrated the official opening of what has been a 10-year endeavor -- to build the first ever GAA field in Queens.
The dream that drove the club as it blossomed and grew is now a marvelous reality, and hundreds of players and their parents attended the official opening on Saturday afternoon.
The dignitaries on stage on Saturday included McDonagh, New York GAA Chairman Laurence McGrath, Minor Board Chairman Danny Brown (also a Shannon Gaels member), former New York City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and current member Paul Vallone, and Irish Deputy Consul Seán Ó hAodha.
The official ribbon cutting was done by the children of Shannon Gaels, some of the under-6 players to be precise.
“I was delighted with everything that happened on Saturday including the fine weather we were blessed with. It was fantastic to see the children cut the ribbon,” Shannon Gaels Chairman Robert McDonagh told the Irish Voice.
A pipe band followed the young children onto the field with the rest of the future of the club directly behind them. Proud parents in all corners snapped pictures as the realization of the next steps in the future of the club took hold.
Seventeen years have passed since the club was formed with just 12 players in those early days. Back in 2002, a small group of people got together to start a GAA club for Queens and its hinterland.
Michael O’Reilly, Anthony Gaughan, and Fiona Smyth were some of the people who were part of those formative years, with the club using Sunnyside Gardens in the shadow of the former Celtic Park as its first home. They moved on to Monsignor McClancy High School for a number of years in East Elmhurst, but the ever-growing club needed more space.
With mayoral elections and parades happening around the borough in the late 2000s, it was a simple but strong comment to a canvassing Mayor Mike Bloomberg that helped to push the club further forward. In his speech on Saturday, McDonagh mentioned how Ciaran Staunton from the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform mentioned to Bloomberg that Queens needed a field for its GAA players.
It was one of many comments made in all directions to anyone who would listen. A snowflake became a snowball, then a raging GAA snowstorm.
The club was shown several fields as options for development, with Kissena Park and Frank Golden Park in Whitestone among them.
“The College Point soccer and baseball complex on College Point Boulevard had just opened, and as a result, Frank Golden park was being neglected at that time. We were shown it as a possible home for our future,” McDonagh said.
The now 10-year-old club embraced it wholeheartedly and looked at this opportunity as a new home. Major renovation took place at the field in the last eight years to get it to its present state.
The grounds now consist of a youth training field fully complete and fenced, which allows for training seven days a week. The New York Ladies board is already being embraced with some of their games scheduled for this weekend on that field.
All championship and league games from under-14 down are also played on the field with the club fielding both girls and boys teams in all age groups. The club has entered an adult team in the junior football division for the last three years with most of that panel having graduated from the underage structure of the club., while Shannon Gaels hurlers have participated for the last six years in the junior hurling division with several of that squad having also come through the underage ranks of the club. The plans are already in the works for a full-length field beside the existing one, with the procurement stages of that project already moving.
The first pitch came with a cost but grants from the Irish government, in the amount of a $250,000, and $500,000 from the GAA in Ireland were a tremendous help. The club had to raise approximately $1.1 million itself, but as the ribbon cutting took place last Saturday, the club is debt-free with the field complete -- a tremendous achievement.
The procurement stages of field two started in March, and if everything moves as planned construction should begin in the late summer/early fall, on the development of a full-sized GAA pitch that will be capable of holding all games from under 16 through adult in hurling, camogie, and football.
Details on the field development can be found by visiting ShannonGaels.org.