Sunday, March 3, 2024

Micheál Martin visits Irish centre providing home away from home in New York

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A warm Irish welcome awaited Tánaiste Micheál Martin when visiting Queens on the third day of his New York trip to mark the St Patrick’s Day festivities.

Although thousands of miles from his home county, Mr Martin managed to bump into a few Cork faces at the New York Irish Center.

The centre is vital to Irish immigrants who left our shores in the 1950s and 1960s to seek a better life in the States, and as one Dublin man explained, the centre “keeps us alive”.

Whether you are Irish, Irish-American, or you trace your roots back several generations to Ireland, or even Italian or Korean, Indian or Ecuadorian, the centre opens its doors to give a space for senior members in the community to come together every day.

“For those who may not know, my name is Micheál Martin,” he told the crowd of around 70 people who gathered to eat a meal provided by one of many Irish restaurants in the city.

Plenty in the room knew of him as they kept in touch with issues back home and were aware of the housing crisis and the cost-of-living crisis, the same challenges their community was facing.

Community resources 

The centre provides a number of resources for the community, including mental health services from Solace House, based on the third floor of the property.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin during his New York trip to mark the St Patrick’s Day festivities.

Clients, aged up to 97 years, have been availing of the services at the New York Irish Center, particularly the counselling service which has become inundated.

A tax expert, as well as an immigration lawyer, also hold weekly clinics while members of the community come to the centre for speed dating, bingo, music, and tips on how to use technology.

Music provided by Cork men Donie Carroll and Máirtín de Cogain was recognised by the Tánaiste who took the opportunity to let the crowd know that Máirtín, a regular at the centre, featured in the famous film The Wind that Shakes the Barley.

Mr Martin was also happy to see the familiar face of Donie who many years ago trained with the Tánaiste’s father, known as Paddy ‘the Champ’ Martin, while boxing in Cork.

Donie is better known in New York for his music and philanthropy work.

In his walk through the room, which was covered in green bunting and St Patrick’s Day decorations, the Tánaiste met Tony from Dingle who moved to the States in 1956.

Mr Martin told the crowd that Tony had some tough words for him, pointing out that his son, Micheál Aodh, plays in goal for Cork, and to tell him ‘we’re coming for him’ when Kerry and Cork meet on the pitch next.

Government support

The Tánaiste reassured those using the centre that the Irish Government will continue to support the services they provide to the Irish community in Queens.

“We’re the vanishing race, the older crowd are dying out and there are no replacements,” was a fear expressed by Tommy Ring from North Cork who moved to America in 1957, initially for “the wandering lust”.

Many Irish immigrants said the centre was a place to go to pass the time together, highlighting the importance of human engagement, something the Tánaiste touched on in his speech in which he said the centre provided space for the community to come together and reminisce. 

He said that it must have been difficult for the senior community during covid-19, adding that the company of each other was what people missed most during the pandemic. And it was clear the New York Irish Center provided that home away from home.

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