They came in their hundreds last night to the Colony Theater in Breezy Point, home to one of the largest Irish communities in America.
The town lived up to its name, with a southeast wind raging outside in a late winter fury, but inside all was warm.
The Guinness company and the Irish Voice, our sister publication, were along for a St. Patrick’s celebration like no other, remembering the heroes of Hurricane Sandy, which almost demolished this seaside community back in October 2012.
Also along was Senator Charles Schumer, the third most powerful senator in Washington but a man who deeply prizes his local roots and remembered fondly his days in Congress representing this district.
Irish Deputy Consul General Peter Ryan put it best when he told the hundreds present that Breezy and its problems might be out of the headlines but folks would never forget what they experienced and the courage the community showed on that awful October day in 2012.
The headlines about Breezy and Rockaway that week and for months after were of a community stricken to it very roots, with real fear whether they could rebuild again.
Amidst all the carnage and wreckage there were hero stories too, and it was many of those from the three firehouses, from the security officers and NYPD, from the sanitation men and from the ordinary people who were remembered last night.
Ed Shevlin from nearby Rockaway, a heroic sanitation worker who is a wonderful story all of his own as a Gaelic scholar and writer, put it best.
“We will never forget that storm and it makes us so proud to see that others have not forgotten us either.”
Tim Devlin, a Tyrone native who has been a sterling force for good in the community since those dark days, extolled the incredible spirit in Breezy these days.
“We got to know each other in the worst of times like we never thought we would get to know each other. What we found was strength, community, even love. Now in the better times we are more united than ever.“
For Ruairi Twomey from Guinness, Breezy Point fit perfectly into the narrative of “made of more,” community courage and involvement which Guinness is extolling.
While other beer companies are happy to sponsor keg nights, Guinness have embarked on a striking series of community outreach efforts.
“These people are heroes and we are delighted to be part of this tribute,” he said as the bagpipes skirled and drumbeats rolled in the background. “This is community at its best.”
It was a point both Peter Ryan and Senator Schumer touched on. The Irish dancers, the music, the “craic” was a celebration of the best of the Irish in America.
Peter Ryan spoke of the Meitheal, the Irish name for neighbors coming together and how Breezy Point exemplified it.
Ryan is a local hero having played a huge role in bringing hundreds of Irish down to Rockaway and Breezy to help out and galvanizing Irish government support.
Senator Schumer dwelled on the deep roots of the Breezy Point and Rockaway folk and how it would take more than a superstorm to stop them.
Schumer was introduced as the successor to Irish leaders in Congress, who have now passed from the scene.
He said though he was a Jewish guy from Brooklyn he was happy to lead the fight for Breezy and for immigration reform and the Irish.
“You can ask me why but it is because the Irish are good for America, that’s why….they have given back, they have committed, they have been a massive source for good for this great country.”
The evening started with music and Irish dancing, followed by pipers then speeches and then the arrival of the senator, fresh from Washington and passing a bill limiting increases in fire and flood insurance that will benefit Breezy Point residents.
It was St. Patrick’s season and it was a celebration like no other across the North American continent this Irish weekend.
The Irish of Breezy and Rockaway have endured and will continue to do so. The message from Breezy, like it was from Boston where the Irish played a huge role after the marathon bombing, was the same. Boston strong, Breezy Strong.
It was a privilege to be there to witness it.