| Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny surveying damage after Hurricane Sandy in Breezy Point,
Queens accompanied by local leaders (Photo: James Higgins)
The Breezy Point community in Queens turned out in their hundreds on Sunday morning at St. Thomas More Church to welcome Irish leader Enda Kenny and celebrate a Saint Patrick’s Day many present feared they would never see after the horrific events of Hurricane Sandy.
A cold wind whipped in off the Atlantic and Breezy was living up to its name as parishioners hurried inside to the parochial church that has become the center of their recovery drive.
Despite the elements the plucky Irish community in one of the most Irish parishes in America were in joyous mood, buoyed by the presence of the Taoiseach and the Bishop of Brooklyn Nicholas Dimarzio.
The bishop must have wondered if he was the only Italian left on Breezy amid a sea of green-clad faithful but he paid fulsome praise to the community and to the Irish workers from outside who inspired by Irish consulate and Irish American organizations outreach had given up their time and talents to help restore Breezy.
About 1,500 Irish workers had shown up on two separate weekends to help out all over the Rockaways. Many continue to return there.
In addition, a team of skilled workers from Ireland, put together by the Gaelic Players Association had single handedly restored the church gymnasium, a center for youth activity.
Monsignor Michael Curran invited parishioners next door to that center, the Monsignor Connolly Hall to celebrate with the Irish leader.
Once there, over tea and soda bread Prime Minister Enda Kenny delivered an impassioned speech about the solidarity felt in Ireland towards Breezy and other points in the Rockaways that had been damaged by Sandy.
As he pointed out, the very gymnasium they were in, with the sparkling new floor, had been under several feet of water and had been rebuilt by Irish athletes from the Gaelic Players Association with financial aid from the Irish taxpayer.
His words made a deep impression on those present. It was clear that the Irish American community on Breezy would not forget that gesture of friendship which had come at a time of extraordinary hardship for them.
Kenny has been very impressive on this trip to New York. As a rural representative from County Mayo he understands the emigrant and Irish American mentality very well and it showed in his ease and facility with those who lined up to meet him.
Earlier he had toured the devastated area and had seen at first hand the power of wind and wave when harnessed in a hurricane. It had obviously made a deep impression on him.
The Irish government under Kenny has made great strides in outreach to Irish America and Breezy Point typifies that approach. There is no question that it has paid off in terms of bonds created, goodwill enjoyed and future contacts for both sides of the Atlantic.
As St.Patrick’s stories go it didn’t have the drama of a parade or the glitz of a swanky dinner.
What it did have was a heartfelt emotion and a concrete contribution to solving one community’s agony. Irish America and Ireland should be very proud of that accomplishment.