Diocesan News

New Home, Same Traditions Celebrated at 41st Great Irish Fair

  • Bishop Robert Brennan made an unscheduled visit, biking to the fairgrounds from his residence in Clinton Hill. (Photo: Ed Wilkinson)
  • (Photo: Ed Wilkinson)
  • (Photo: Ed Wilkinson)
  • (Photo: Ed Wilkinson)

WINDSOR TERRACE — Faith, Family, and Catholic Education were the themes at the 41st annual Great Irish Fair at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Brooklyn.

From the homilist at the opening Mass to the acceptance speeches of the honorees, all the talk was about families’ sacrifices and the value of attending a Catholic school, as trademarks of the Irish.

Msgr. Sean Ogle, the main celebrant and homilist at Mass, recalled how hard his father worked to raise his family and how he insisted on preserving the Irish traditions at home.

“Irish food, Irish music, Irish friends — these made up the matrix of our lives growing up,” said Msgr. Ogle, the diocese’s vicar for clergy and consecrated life. “We were very much connected to a network of people who shared many of the same values we did.” 

“The thing he was most proud of was that he had never missed Sunday Mass in his life. I was a little surprised,” he added. “I knew he always went to Mass, but I didn’t realize what a point of honor it was for him.

“It was only after he died that I found out about his participation in the Nocturnal Adoration Society. For a man who worked double night and day shifts and couldn’t get much sleep anyway with three children running around the house, I never knew the additional sacrifices he was making for his faith and prayer life.”

That’s typical of the Irish, said Msgr. Ogle. They “were forged in the matrix of values that we celebrate today, values that were embodied by my parents and your parents and grandparents and forebears. Yesterday’s Irish built a new world from the ruins of famine and oppression. Today their descendants and their friends are rebuilding a society that has been physically attacked and in some ways is morally bankrupt.”

After a long run at different sites in Coney Island, Brooklyn’s Great Irish Fair was held Sept. 24 on the parish grounds of Holy Name. Two large yards and the parish’s baseball field became an outdoor concert venue, a vendors’ market, and a children’s play area.

Originally fair organizers hoped to use Prospect Park, but red tape caused delays, so they decided to use nearby Holy Name.

“We have all these properties, why not use them,” said Marty Cottingham, director of the Fair.

Following breakfast and Mass in Holy Name Church, the fair honored some outstanding members of the community in a ceremony in Shepherd’s Hall.

Reagan Grace Murphy, who reigned as Colleen Queen, spoke about how her late father, Joe, enrolled her in the O’Malley School of Irish Dance just a few weeks after her birth. She lauded her mother Patricia’s efforts to raise her in the Catholic faith and for sending her to Good Shepherd School, Marine Park, and St. Edmund’s H.S., Sheepshead Bay, where she is a junior.

She also thanked her co-honoree, Maureen O’Malley, for passing on Irish traditions through the O’Malley School of Dance. 

Holy Name native Msgr. John Vesey was presented with the Father Mychal Judge Memorial Award, even though he was reluctant to accept it.

“I told them that I didn’t need an award,” Msgr. Vesey said, but Cottingham and committee member Jim O’Dea persuaded him to accept it in honor of the contributions of his mother and father to their family and community.

Msgr. Vesey, who serves at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish, Jamaica, explained that he works with today’s migrants who, like the Irish, came to America simply wanting to work and provide for their families.

Local community personality Jim “Hooley” Houlihan became the first person to be honored posthumously as Chief Brehon, the fair’s highest award. Houlihan, co-owner of Farrell’s, a legendary neighborhood bar and grill, died one week before the fair at the age of 83.

Hooley’s longtime friend, Mike Coyne, accepted the award. He said Houlihan was totally dedicated to his job, his neighborhood, and his church. He added that he was “untiring in his efforts to raise money for local projects.”

Msgr. Vesey recalled Houlihan as “a gentle, humble and generous man. He was a unifier in the neighborhood.”

At about 7:30 in the evening, before the Canny Brothers took the stage as the final act, Bishop Robert Brennan made an unscheduled visit, biking to the fairgrounds from his residence in Clinton Hill. He circulated among the crowd, thanking people for attending and organizers for their efforts.

“He was so gracious,” Cottingham said. “We walked him around the fairgrounds, and people were overjoyed to see him and to realize that he had made time for us. He told the crowd that he intends to join us next year and spend even more time with us.”

During the afternoon entertainment, a symbolic check for $30,000 was presented to Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, the diocese’s vicar for development.

The funds will be used for assistance to St. Joseph the Worker School at Holy Name, as a scholarship in memory of the late firefighter Thomas Phelan to St. Michael Catholic Academy, Sunset Park, and for the Futures in Education “Be An Angel” program.

Early entertainers included popular Irish singers, Susan and Gerard, as well as the Screaming Orphans, an all-female rock group. Also featured in the program was the Buckley School of Irish Dance.

Rounding out the afternoon and evening were The Hambones, the Canny Brothers, and the O’Malley School of Dance.

Despite the late decision to use Holy Name’s grounds, Cottingham declared the Fair a success, explaining that more than 1,000 people passed through the gates. He said the decrease in overhead would mean that another check would be made available to Futures in Education before the end of the year. 

Cottingham hinted that the Great Irish Fair just may have found a new home.

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