The Great Irish Fair is an annual celebration of culture that has been going on for 35 years in Brooklyn at various venues.
It began as a project of Catholic Charities. For its first two years, it was held on the streets beneath the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges and was meant to celebrate a different culture each year.
But the Irish Fair was such a success that Charities decided to keep it Irish and engaged the Ancient Order of Hibernians under the leadership of Al O’Hagan to organize it. For the next 22 years, O’Hagan and his band of Erin’s own, assisted by volunteers from Catholic Charities, moved the Fair to Coney Island on the site of the old Steeplechase Park, in the shadow of the historic Parachute Jump.
Once the Irish proved that people would come back to Coney Island, which had fallen in hard times, the City decided to build KeySpan Park on the fairgrounds and it now serves as MCU Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.
The Fair moved for a couple of years to Drier-Offerman Park near the Belt Pkwy. When O’Hagan moved out of Brooklyn – which many thought something unimaginable – the reins of the Fair were turned over to Tom Shanahan to organize the 25th Great Irish Fair.
For Catholic Charities, the Fair had run its course and no event was held in 2006. After an absence of a year, a group of young Irish-American calling themselves the Irish-American Building Society, approached the diocese and offered to resurrect the happening with proceeds going to Catholic schools in Brooklyn and Queens.
Marty Cottingham of Holy Name parish, Park Slope, has been chairman since then. He brought the Fair back to Coney Island, taking over the parking area of MCU Park. But this year, Cottingham, whose firm, Avison and Young, has been helping to develop the new Ford Amphitheater on the Coney Island Boardwalk, brought the Irish Fair to the new venue that used to be the famed Child’s restaurant.
It’s now a 5,000 seat open-air arena that has hosted concerts throughout the summer. But on Saturday, Sept. 24, it was home to the Irish who turned out by the thousands to sing and dance and generally throw the Blarney with old and new friends.
Old reliable Dermot Henry emceed the proceedings as New York tenor Andy Cooney and his band, the legendary Derek Warfield and the Young Wolfe Tones, and the U2 tribute band, Unforgettable Fire, raised the tent with their music, while the O’Malley and Buckley Schools of Dance performed an assortment of jigs and reels.
The pipe and drums of the Knights of Columbus, the NYFD, Clann Eireann and the Breezy Point Catholic Club paraded throughout the grounds.
Hibernians sold their soda bread, T-shirts and jewelry could be purchased and Catholic schools boasted their achievements in booths inside and outside the tented area.
Chief Brehon Brian Ruane, CEO of BNY Mellon’s broker dealer services, ruled the day and Fontbonne Hall junior Katie Byrnes reigned as Colleen Queen.
Of course, the day started with prayer as Mass was celebrated by Msgr. John Bracken with concelebrants Msgr. Martin Geraghty, and Fathers Kevin Sweeney, all former honorees and Father Bill Sweeney, recipient of the Fair’s Father Mychal Judge, O.F.M., Award.
A new chapter in the history of the Irish Fair had begun.