Shannon gaels
Three Cheers for Shannon Gaels!

Shannon Gaels unveil Queens 'field of dreams'

Saturday, Oct. 16,  2021 will be marked as a red letter day in the history of the Shannon Gaels Club. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, dedication, fundraising and volunteerism that  saw a dream realized after 20 years. It was the grand opening of the Shannon Gaels facility at the Frank Golden Park in College Point. 

And it certainly was a grand event with a great crowd, a festive and familial atmosphere interspersed by the finest aspect of Irish history, culture, heritage and of course Gaelic sports, namely football, hurling and camogie. The best of Irish hospitality was there for all as nobody went home hungry or thirsty. The large scale of events was moved expeditiously by former chairman and current board member Sean Price. The speeches were short, informative and sprinkled with good humored banter. The very diverse slate of politicians embraced their ad hoc gaelicised names with aplomb. Indeed it could nearly be said that they were approximating what was stated about the Normans; “they were becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves”. There’s certainly a grain of truth in the hyperbole, because collectively through their staunch support for the project, they ensured that the best aspects of Irish culture would have a secure home and continue to flourish in Queens.  

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

Sign up today to get daily, up-to-date news and views from Irish America.

The day’s proceeding got a beautiful start with Shannon Gaels  players, Roisin and Hanna, coming from the playing fields to give harmonious renditions of the U.S. and Irish anthems, followed by the Ciara Green, McManus School  and the Shannon Gaels Schools of dancers.

Robert McDonagh, the current chairman, gave a brief history of GAA activities in Queens. Even before the GAA was formed in New York, a group of Irish folks bought a piece of farmland in Laurel Hill, Queens, in 1897, and named it the Celtic Park Athletic Grounds. Here for the next 30 years it was the main  facility for the GAA, where hurling and football games were played as well as hosting other major athletic events. Several Olympian medalists honed their skills there, including the legendary Jim Thorpe. Over the three decades there were issues with the lease holders, the police and even rival sports. Games were occasionally interrupted by the police because games on Sunday, the Sabbath Day,  were deemed to be in contravention of the city’s “Blue Laws.” On one occasion the union jack was forcibly removed after it had been installed prior to a soccer match. 

Apparently the playing surface wasn’t ideal, being described as “a mass of small stones and sand”. Eventually the rent became prohibitively expensive, forcing Gaelic games to Steinway Park in Astoria, before moving to Innisfail Park, which is known as Gaelic Park today. So the first home of GAA is now the Celtic Park Complex in Sunnyside. 

The current Shannon Gaels club came into existence just over 20 years ago according to Robert. The five founding fathers of the club were Michael O’Reilly, Anthony Gaughan, John Nicholson, Pat Hurley and Tom Kerins RIP, with their home pitch being in Sunnyside Gardens. The club also used Monsignor McClancy High School. The chairman noted that the dream of owning their own playing fields started exactly 12 years ago when Mayor Bloomberg visited Sunnyside Gardens for the Club’s annual field day at the invitation of Ciaran Staunton. Evidently the mayor was impressed by the hordes of youth athletes playing sports in rather tight confines, and he asked Ciaran what he could do for Shannon Gaels and the Irish Community. Ciaran certainly had the right reply for the mayor, stating, “you could start by getting the young children a suitable field to safely play Gaelic games on.”  Well the scene was set and the journey began and has ended with the wonderful facility that you see here today. Bloomberg immediately requested the then Queens Park Commissioner, Dotty Lewan-Dowski ,to find a spot. A number of sites were looked at, but it was decided that an under-utilized Frank Golden Park, in College Point met the basic criteria in terms of space, size and accessibility, though it was far from the finished product. 

Then the club members rolled up their sleeves and along with help from the Park staff, the baseball diamonds were removed, a couple of drains dug and a set of goal posts erected. Well that was just the start. The chairman said he could not be more proud of what has been achieved over the last decade, now we have two playing fields, the first time in GAA history that there is a full-sized field built specifically for Gaelic Games in Queens. He thanked the founding members for their vision as well as the efforts of chair people Richie Corridan, Collie Mathers and Sean Price who successfully steered this awesome project to such a historic conclusion. 

Robert also acknowledged the great support that came from GAA headquarters in Ireland, particularly the then President Liam O’Neill and Pauric Duffy, the Director, who pledged over €500,000 to the project. In addition he noted the tremendous support  from Peter Ryan, the Deputy Consul General from 2011 to 2014, and Jimmy Deenihan, the Minister for the Diaspora, who negotiated over a €250,000 euros for the fields. The club itself raised $1 million, with donations from $10 to $70,000 and everything in between. The chairman paid tribute to the great work done by Kelco Contracting Company and owner John Kelly. Overall he said that for the official opening today there was a budget of $5.2 million fully funded by New York City.

The chairman said he was delighted to introduce and thank the politicians and GAA officials who came to celebrate this historic event. Queensborough President, Donavan Richards, stated that it “was a few great men who made this possibility a great reality, plus it would be a great benefit to the important jewels in our community, the young people”. He concluded by noting that sports bring people together, and he himself would be prepared to take on his opponents, on the said fields, though hurleys  might be problematic. John Liu, the State Senator, complimented the Shannon Gaels Club, while noting that the facility would be a great venue for promoting fun, fitness and friendship for years to come. Dermot Fitzpatrick, Vice Consul General, was also on hand for the historic occasion. Politicians are often noted for nuanced or layered levels of analysis. Well the Dublin man seemed to take Mike Reilly to task about the positions of the Dublin versus the Cavan flag. Evidently one seemed to in an obscure position, while the other had a very conspicuous location. I’ve read about the “War of the Roses”, but now I thought the “War of the Flags” was about to unfold. 

Anyway, Dermot paid great tribute to the volunteerism, dedication and commitment of the club, guaranteeing that the finest aspects of Irish culture will continue to thrive in Queens. Over the years the chairman stated that he got tremendous help from the Queensborough President’s Office, particularly from Liz Crowley and Danny Dromm. Crowley stated that the Irish can continue to proudly share their culture with other groups in Queens. Joan Henchy was unable to attend due a congress meeting in Dublin, but the New York Board was represented by the Secretary Liam Birmingham. Indeed the Kildare man is a true “lifer” in GAA parlance, as he has held all the top positions, sometimes more than once. Anyway the emcee and a former chairman, Sean Price, a Kerryman, was to be the perfect opportunist as he introduced Liam. He  stated that in future all Shannon Gaels games would be played in Queens. You could hardly blame him for the request now that they have great facilities and I’m sure they’d be delighted to have other teams play there.  Yes, Sean would be an ideal candidate for the program called “Shark Tank” 

 Meanwhile the Secretary opined that the facility would be a great asset to the GAA, as numbers are rapidly exploding. He also pointed out another milestone in the Big Apple’s GAA history, namely St. Barnabas, an All-American team winning the New York senior championship, and that could eventually be the pathway for Shannon Gaels. Danny Browne, Chair of the NY Minor Board, and Vice-Chair of Shannon Gaels, expressed a similar sentiment in his remarks. He said the “Field of Dreams” had become a reality, but it didn’t happen because of dreaming, but lots of hard work. He stressed that the most important group in promoting Gaelic games, is the Under 7 Program. The Tyrone man stated that “to grow apples, you must plant apple trees, and they will produce the apples” Amen, too often we have been seduced by the  glamor of transplanted teams, while failing to properly promote  native talent. Nollaig Cleary, Chair of Cumann Peil na mBan and Ellen McGrail, from Gaelic for Girls, spoke of the importance of continuing to produce players at all levels as many native players have already graced the hollowed grounds of Croke Park. Others attending the grand opening were Council Member Paul Vallone, Richard Lee, former Budget Director, former State Senator Tony Avella, Ciaran Reilly, Irish Repertory Theatre and Margaret McHugh from the Community Board. In addition the chairman thanked Mia and Garfield from the Park staff, along with the volunteers, coaches and everyone who helped get the club to this level as well as those who contributed to today’s celebratory events. The Chairman finished by reading two congratulatory messages from former President Liam O’Neill and Pauric Duffy, the former Director General, and then there was the ribbon cutting to officially open these pristine playing facilities.  
Attachments area

Tourism Ireland Banner Ad