Volunteers out in force for Irish Day of Action

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An Irish Day of Action volunteer brings ruined clothes outside to the trash.Photo courtesy of Maureen Sullivan
An Irish Day of Action volunteer brings ruined clothes outside to the trash.

BY MAUREEN SULLIVAN

Residents of the Rockaways experienced a different kind of surge as almost 1,000 Irish volunteers arrived to lend a hand in a massive display of community spirit.

Seven different meeting points throughout Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx were busy at the crack of dawn on Saturday, November 24 as volunteers boarded chartered buses to the areas most badly hit by superstorm Sandy.

The New York Irish Center in Long Island City was one such meeting point and also one of several Irish organizations that joined forces to create this special day of service.

“Our aim was to get as many able-bodied people to help out as possible; to make one big, united effort,” said Jane McCarter, the Center’s arts and cultural director.

Before they departed, volunteers were given T-shirts to wear with a slogan that read “Irish Day of Action,” and underneath it, one word familiar to many that day: “Meitheal” (meh-hull), the Gaelic word to describe the long Irish tradition of coming together to help one’s neighbor.

This was by no means the first relief effort by the Irish community; it was a move to support existing efforts, according to Peter Ryan, deputy consul general of Ireland who was present that day.

“We are complementing what was already being done,” he said. “We felt that it would be nice for everyone to come together and show solidarity.”

He estimated that, combined with volunteers already on the ground, the Irish Day of Action brought an additional 500 helpers, bringing the total to 1,000.

Members from such organizations the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Emerald Guild, the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Emerald Isle Immigration Center worked together in small groups that local coordinators assigned to devastated homes in areas like Breezy Point and Hamilton Beach – places that many generations of Irish Americans have called home.

“I don’t know what we would do without you, I really don’t,” said Cathy Segur, 63, of Old Howard Beach, as she watched a team of volunteers gut the home of her 90- year-old aunt, Elizabeth McCord.

Irish native Des McGoldrick, 47, his wife Fran, and their two college-age children, Chris and Caitlin, spent the day together, working on McCord’s home. Part of a team of 12, they spent hours clearing the house of its contents and knocking down walls.

“It was shocking. [That house] is as bad as it gets,” said Des, “but I was certainly impressed by all the volunteers. They were there for one reason – to get the work done.”