The New York GAA is dearly hoping to celebrate its 90th anniversary of playing at Gaelic Park with a first-ever Connacht Championship victory over Leitrim on Sunday, but win or lose, the local association has big plans in the next year that will completely change the look of the venerable ground in the Bronx.
The demolition work coincides with the New York GAA signing new 10-year leases with Manhattan College and the MTA for the playing field and the bar/catering facility. The leases, which came into effect on April 30, mark the first time that the New York GAA has control over the bar and catering hall, facilities that used to be controlled by the O’Donnell family for decades.
In June, work will commence on a new banqueting facility, bar and other accommodations that New York GAA President Laurence McGrath says will form a modern new home for New York’s Irish community. The $4.5 million project -- $2 million of which was contributed by the GAA in Ireland – should be completed next March, McGrath says, just in time for the 2019 local GAA season.
“We’re taking everything down and building it all brand new. It’s not just going to be used by the New York GAA. We want all Irish groups to take advantage of it,” McGrath, a native of Co. Donegal, told the Irish Voice.
“It’s going to be open and welcome for Irish dance, Irish cultural events and many other things.”
The construction set to begin in June will not disrupt the games set for the 2018 season, McGrath said. When it is finished, the new building will house two dressing rooms, a small gym, a medical office, offices for all the local GAA bodies, three conference rooms, a new bar and a catering hall that can accommodate up to 500 people.
McGrath said the New York GAA will host a number of fundraisers to ensure that the project stays debt-free. He added that the catering facility will be run as a business with the aim of making money that perhaps one day could be used for the New York GAA to purchase property of its own.
When asked about other plans down through the years to relocate the home of the local GAA – a group of businessmen and GAA members are currently promoting a plan to buy 22 available acres in Yonkers at the Hilltop Swim Club – McGrath said the consensus is that rebuilding Gaelic Park, now that the lease is in place, is the direction the New York board feels is the correct one.
The storied history of Gaelic Park is also one that must be remembered and honored, he adds.
“This is a place where for years and years you had a home away from home. So many Irish have passed through Gaelic Park,” McGrath says.
“You could find work there, accommodation there, make new friends there. That’s what Irish people have been doing there for 90 years now. That’s very important.”
The New York GAA will mark the 90-year anniversary with a formal lease signing ceremony and celebration at the Irish Consulate in the coming weeks. The upcoming season, McGrath says, will see 42 clubs within the senior board compete at various levels, with no loss of clubs since last season.