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Ireland sends its lads to peninsula to restore damaged parish center

Members of the Gaelic Players Association pose with Breezy Point residents after helping to rebuild a community center. Photo by Steve Mosco
TimesLedger Newspapers

Battered and burned by Hurricane Sandy, the bungalow community of Breezy Point received a helping hand from the luck and brawn of the Irish.

Residents of the tight-knit neighborhood packed into the newly renovated Monsignor Connelly Parish Center next to St. Thomas More Church, at 204-25 Rockaway Point Blvd., Sunday to smell the fresh paint and thank those who came all the way from Ireland to help with the rebuilding.

In the days following the superstorm, the Irish government allocated $320,000 to assist Irish-American communities in New York and New Jersey — including $50,000 to Breezy Point, where more than 100 homes burned down during the late October storm — and the community joined with members of the Gaelic Players Association to dedicate the rebuilt facility.

“Sometimes it is in adversity that we see the very best of people, and the response of the community to support the recovery efforts in the areas most impacted by Sandy, has been hugely successful,” said Brian Hayes, the minister of state at the Irish Department of Finance. “The presence of the Gaelic Players Association work team has boosted morale in Breezy Point as well as been a practical help in refurbishing community projects that were badly damaged.”

Led by their chairman, Donal Og Cusack, 20 members of the Gaelic Players — Tipperary hurling players, tradesman and engineers — flew into Breezy Point last month and quickly went to work gutting the storm-ravaged youth space as well as tackling other projects, including the volunteer fire house. Working with the Breezy Point Relief Fund, Habitat for Humanity, the Emerald Guild and the Catholic Youth Organization, the GPA laid floors and replaced sheetrock and also instilled a sense of optimism in the neighborhood.

Cusack thanked Aer Lingus for providing flights for the volunteers and said the community repaid the players in spades, with unmatched gratitude and hospitality.

“We received so much warmth from the community,” he said. “We learned there are proud people here and it made us equally proud to help the residents of Breezy Point.”

Residents marveled at the bright walls and painted walls and remarked that the sight of the rebuilt facility raised the hopes of the entire community.

“Even having this one building up and running again is a huge relief,” said Debra Byers, a resident. “It’s amazing that this all came together.”

According to Tim Devlin, a contractor and former Breezy Point resident now living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, two-thirds of the community’s residents are Irish and Irish American. His claim is backed up by the 2010 federal census, which noted Breezy Point is 60 percent Irish American.

Devlin presented the volunteers with plaques in recognition of their work, but said the most profound gift is the sight of Breezy Point children running around on the glossy new floors.

“This is the fruit of their labor,” he said. “A truly blessed gift.”

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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