At this year’s Great Irish Fair, set for Sept. 22 in Coney Ireland, I will be pleased to accept the second annual Al O’Hagan Memorial Award for Community Service. I am honored because in some small way it will continue to keep alive the great legacy of O’Hagan, one of the chief architects of the Fair.
An executive for Brooklyn Union Gas, O’Hagan worked tirelessly not only to enhance the image of the company, but also to build up everything that involved faith, family and his Irish heritage. One of the many honors bestowed upon him for his contribution to the community was being named the Grand Marshal of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the ultimate laurel for any Irishman.
For 25 years, he conducted the Great Irish Fair on behalf of Catholic Charities. He was the one who moved the Fair to Coney Island at a time when many people avoided the area because of urban blight. O’Hagan showed that if you build it, people will come. By the thousands, each year the Irish and their friends descended on Coney Island during a weekend in September.
It proved so successful that other events were scheduled for the neighborhood. A minor league ballpark was built and now we have exciting Cyclones baseball all summer long. Two years ago, the old Child’s restaurant was converted into the spectacular Ford Amphitheater, where concerts are held throughout the season and where Marty Cottingham and the Irish American Building Society carry on the tradition of the Great Irish Fair.
There is always music and singing, food and drinks, and all sorts of booths with Irish goods. It starts with a parade and Mass and the awards ceremony. All proceeds from the Fair are donated to support Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens.
Every year, I marvel at the quality of the people who are honored at the Fair and this year will be no different.
Presiding over the event as Chief Brehon will be Peggy Smyth, CFO of National Grid, only the second woman to do so.
St. Francis College alumna MacKenzie Mooney Iburg will serve as the Colleen Queen.
Al O’Hagan’s daughter, Sheila O’Hagan McGirl will be honored as the Woman of the Year. Msgr. Joseph Nagle will accept the Bishop Joseph Sullivan Award. Sister Kathleen McKinney, C.S.J., will be presented the St. Brigid Award. Franciscan Brother Leonard Conway will receive the Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M., Award, named in honor of the FDNY chaplain who died in the terrorists’ attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.
Other honorees will include: Tom Duffy, the Irish Man of the Year; attorney Paul A. Michels, Commissioner Eileen Flannelly Mackell, FDNY Chief Joseph Duggan, Mark Edwards, The Phalen Family in memory of the late Firefighter Thomas Phalen, Margaret Minson, NY Times writer Kassie Bracken, NYPD Detective Patrick Donohue and James McDonough.
As I sat with this impressive group of people at a recent reception at St. Francis College (see photo on Page 9), I couldn’t help but be even more proud of my Irish heritage than I already am. You will learn more about the honorees in a special edition of The Tablet (Sept. 22) that will include a pullout section about The Great Irish Fair.
We’ll be beaming up an advance copy to Al O’Hagan as he proudly smiles down on the day and intercedes for the sun to shine on the Great Irish Fair.