The Great Irish Fair is just one month away and organizers are gearing up for a great weekend of music, dancing, food and camaraderie.
The Irish American Building Society Charities, Inc. (IABS), which sponsors the fair, and the fair’s organizing committee, officially launched this year’s festivities with a reception at St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, Aug. 13.
Attendees had a chance to meet the honorees and whet their appetites for the fair, set for Sept. 26-27 at MCU Park in Coney Island. The fairgrounds will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. both days.
Founded 34 years ago, the purpose of the fair is to spread Irish faith, culture and heritage in a family-friendly atmosphere, while raising funds to support Catholic education in the Brooklyn Diocese.
Originally conducted by Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, the Brooklyn chapter Ancient Order of Hibernians organized the fair for many years under chairman Al O’Hagan. Since 2007, the IABS has sponsored the yearly event. Organizers have since added a Saturday-afternoon 5k run/walk with all proceeds benefitting Catholic education.
“It is our duty and responsibility to continue the great tradition of the Great Irish Fair while supporting charities and foundations like Futures In Education,” said Martin Cottingham, IABS president and fair chairman.
Following cocktails and Irish music, Cottingham welcomed attendees and honorees with a formal program emceed by Jim O’Dea.
“We’re very, very excited,” Cottingham said of the upcoming fair. “Nothing comes easy, especially putting on a fair for two days in south Brooklyn, Coney Island, with all of the infrastructure and all of the good things that are required.”
He thanked everyone who has helped bring the fair to fruition through the years, especially “the great Al O’Hagan,” who was in attendance with family and friends.
Cottingham also expressed his gratitude to State Senator Martin Golden, who helped the IABS bring the fair back to MCU’s outdoor parking facility this year after some years using an adjacent lot.
The long-term plan, Cottingham said, is to move the fair into a forthcoming beachfront amphitheater “with all the infrastructure to continue to put on a great event.”
As it has since the very beginning, the fair annually honors men and women of Irish heritage who have distinguished themselves in various fields. Eleven honorees were named this year, and introduced by O’Dea.
Serving as Chief Brehon is Kenneth D. Daly, president of the New York business of National Grid, while the honor of Colleen Queen goes to Grace Sullivan, a rising senior at St. Saviour H.S., Park Slope.
Mercy Sister Caroline Tweedy, chief development officer for Mercy Home, is the Kathleen Slattery Woman of the Year, and Msgr. Martin Geraghty, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine, Bayside, is receiving the Father Mychal Judge Memorial Award.
Judge Mary O’Donoghue is receiving the St. Thomas More Award. Martin McManus, diocesan comptroller, is accepting the Celtic Cross Award and Irish Man of the Year honors are going to James Halpin, president of Platinum Maintenance.
Sean T. Fitzpatrick, labor leader, and James McHugh, banking executive, are accepting awards in memory of Paul O’Dwyer and Jerry Forest, respectively.
Firefighter Patrick Nash is receiving the Capt. Timothy Stackpole Memorial Award, and the Patrolman Edward Byrne Memorial awardee is NYPD Chief Kevin Ward, chief of staff to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton.
“The Irish have had such an impact on this country,” Chief Ward said, addressing those present. “First and foremost, they built this country.”
He spoke about how Irish immigrants literally built railroads, bridges and skyscrapers, and later went on to establish themselves in every walk of life as clergy and religious, in public service, the armed forces, business, finance, politics and labor.
“They’ve built the Catholic education system. They’ve built hospital systems through Catholic charities and Catholic works,” he said. “It’s something we should all be proud of.”