Great Irish Fair

Queen Reigns with Resilient Spirit


Traditionally, the Colleen Queen of the Great Irish Fair of New York is a young woman of beauty, grace and charity. Not only does this year’s queen possess those qualities, but she is also blessed with another admirable trait: resiliency.

Raised in Brooklyn, Grace Marie Sullivan, 17, is a senior and varsity softball star at St. Saviour H.S., Park Slope. She lives in Gerritsen Beach and attends Good Shepherd Church, Marine Park, with her parents, James and Amber, and younger sister, Mary.

And she has her sights set high – pre-med studies and collegiate-level softball next fall – and perhaps an Olympic run down the road.

If everything seems to be falling into place for this promising young lady, it’s because she works hard to make it happen, despite the challenges she’s faced along the way.

Her first test in life came when she was just a baby. She suffered from a rare gastrointestinal disorder, and underwent surgeries to correct the condition. Physical scars are a reminder of the strength she displayed at such an early age.

She was just a few years old when her parents relocated the family from Johnson City in Upstate N.Y., to south Brooklyn.

She attended elementary school at Good Shepherd, but transferred by sixth grade to an accelerated academic program at I.S. 206 in Gravesend. She started her high school career at James Madison H.S., Midwood. During those years, she said she “felt lost” not being in a Catholic-school setting.

Then in the fall of her sophomore year, Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast.

“My parents saw the water coming down the street,” she recalled. “We got out as fast as we could and went straight to my (paternal) grandparents’ house” in Marine Park.

Back in Gerritsen Beach, water damage destroyed the first floor of her family’s home. Much of their life had been washed away.

They stayed in Marine Park with relatives and then in a rented house for a year before they returned home in October, 2013. Further repairs are still needed and the family will have to temporarily relocate in the coming months so the work can be completed.

Amid these adjustments, Sullivan endured yet another: transferring high schools. Halfway through 10th grade, her parents decided it would be best for her to go to St. Saviour H.S., where her younger sister was a freshman.

It turned out to be a great move.

“It’s a small, tight-knit community,” she shared. “One big family.”

She is happy to be back in a Catholic school and playing softball.

“Sports are my life,” said Sullivan, who also enjoys basketball, tennis, swimming and golf. “Sports were my release to get my mind off of what happened.”

Hard work has earned her the role of pitcher and captain on St. Saviour’s varsity softball team. She’s been named a two-time Tablet All-Star.

She also plays with traveling tournament teams to showcase her talents for college coaches as far as Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Sullivan hopes to play on the collegiate- and even professional-level one day. Right now, her sights are set on the 2020 Olympic Games.

“That’s the goal I’m shooting for,” she said.

Weighing her options for college, Sullivans says looking as far as Florida for premier softball and pre-medical programs. Her long-term aspiration is a career as an orthopedic surgeon.

Grace Sullivan, third from right, will be the Colleen Queen of this year’s Great Irish Fair. Pictured, from left, are her grandparents, James and Louise Sullivan; sister Mary; the Colleen Queen herself; and her parents, Amber and James.
Grace Sullivan, third from right, will be the Colleen Queen of this year’s Great Irish Fair. Pictured, from left, are her grandparents, James and Louise Sullivan; sister Mary; the Colleen Queen herself; and her parents, Amber and James.

As she steps into her role as Colleen Queen, Sullivan says she’s proud to be a third-generation Irish-American, and stays close to her roots, which she traces to counties Longford and Cork. She enjoys learning about Irish culture, and is proud of the nine years she spent step dancing with the O’Malley Irish Dance Academy.

“But as my grandfather says, I hung up my dancing shoes for softball cleats,” she said.

Outside of sports, she’s also active at school as a member of the National Honor Society, the History Matters Club and, of course, the Gaelic Society.

In all things, Sullivan credits her parents and their loving support with her successes in school, sports and life.

“My parents are a godsend for everything they do for me,” she said. “They sacrifice so much for me.”

Following their example, and that of her paternal grandfather, James Sullivan, director of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, N.Y.S. District 5, she likes to give back to her community.

She has assisted with sports clinics for children, and participated in fundraising walks for cancer research. Though she says she derives the most joy from helping her grandfather with the Toys for Tots Program through the A.O.H. She hopes to start a chapter at her school this fall.

But first, she has to preside over the Fair, which, she said, is “kind of a big thing in my family.

“I’ve seen the Colleen Queens, and I always looked up to them when I was younger,” she said.

This year, young girls will be looking up to Sullivan – and there is much for them to admire.