If you are not Irish-American, it might be difficult to understand how important the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade is to the community here. It is actually far bigger here than it ever was in Ireland, and being honored is a big deal. That is why the Greenpoint Irish community is so proud of Gina Sheehan, who is the Kings County Aide to the Grand Marshal.
When a journalist writes, he or she is supposed to be objective. Well, I cannot be, because Gina is a long-time friend. Although she is in her eighties, she has all the vibrancy, humor, and enthusiasm of a teen. She is a lively conversationalist with strong beliefs and a great sense of humor.
Gina embodies all that is best in the Greenpoint Irish. She comes from a very large family and is as devoted to them as they are to her. Interwoven with family is her strong faith. She prays the rosary daily and believes that God will provide. Born in Greenpoint on New Year’s Day in 1930, she was baptized in Saint Anthony of Padua Parish, where her parents were married by the legendary Monsignor O’ Hare many years ago. She grew up going to the church, and it has been a touchstone of her life since childhood.
Gina won the honor of being Aide to the Grand Marshal for her decades of giving back to the community. Like many Irish-American women of her generation, she worked in the telephone company, but since her retirement, she has been active in a group of telephone company retirees who do community service. She has also been active for years in helping Irish immigrants through the New York Irish Center. She has been involved as a member of the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians for decades, amongst other activities. She told me that she loves working in her own community, and it shows.
As a girl, Gina saw her mother, an immigrant from Cork, Ireland, march yearly in the parade, and it has since become a lifelong tradition. Gina confessed she will be thinking of her parents when she marches, and that she is very proud to represent Brooklyn in the parade. There has been a blizzard of media attention after her being named as Aide, and I joked with her that the publicity might spoil her. Gina laughed, but we all know that nothing will ever change the graceful, warm, and radiant Irish lady from Greenpoint.
Gina will walk the Fifth Avenue parade route on Thursday, March 17th, alongside Grand Marshall George Mitchell, the former U.S. Senator from Maine and United States Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, who is known for brokering peace in Northern Ireland.