A Greenpoint Irish Primer for St. Patrick’s Day

Most people associate Greenpoint with the Polish community, but our area has a long and deep connection to Ireland. Let’s answer a few questions to prepare you fully to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day locally.

1) When, how and why did the Irish come to Greenpoint?

Greenpoint really began to be a community in the 1850s, just after the Irish famine devastated the country. Already in 1855 a third of the local residents were Irish. The Irish dominated the local waterfront. The McAllister family from Cushendall, Co. Antrim started a tugboat and lighter fleet and brought over many family members and neighbors from Northern Ireland and many Greenpoint Irish families have Cushendall roots. By the 1880s The Irish were a large and growing presence in the area.

McGolrick Park, photo by Megan Penmann
McGolrick Park, photo by Megan Penmann

2) What local places have Irish associations?

Perhaps it is better to ask what places do not? McGolrick Park was named for local parish priest Monseigneur Edward McGolrick who was born in Donegal and rebuilt St. Cecelia’s Church. McCarren Park was named for Irish-American State Senator Patrick McCarren. McGuinness Boulevard was named for Peter J. McGuinness the politician who popularized Greenpoint’s nickname “ The Garden Spot” and brought the area the McCarren Park pool and the G Train.

McCarren Park
Connie O’s (via Google Maps)

3) What local Irish pub are around to celebrate in?

Sadly we lost Shayz Lounge, which was run by two Dubliners. Connie O’s on Norman Avenue is the last real Irish-American Greenpoint bar. The Capri Lounge, once known as Murphy’s, resurrects its Irish past and throws a great party with many locally born Irish- Americans. The Palace bar was for many years run by an Irish-American family. Derry man Stevie Howlett at Lake Street gives an Irish aura to the Minnesota bar on Manhattan Avenue.

4) Did Any Irish Greenpointers affect Ireland?

Yes and how! Thomas Clarke who lived at 175 Russell St. returned to Ireland and took part in the Easter Rising. He formally declared the existence of the Irish Republic before he was captured and shot by the British. He and his wife are honored heroes in Ireland.

Pete McGuinness

5) Which Irish Greenpointer became a local icon?

Local politician and larger than life character Peter McGuinness so embodied Greenpoint that it was said that it was hard to think of the one without immediately thinking of the other. The amateur boxer and former lumber handler ran Greenpoint from the end of the First World War until his death in 1948. A slew of the public works he spearheaded still define the area.

6) Most Surprising Fact about the Greenpoint Irish?

In the 1880s a local physician Thomas Gallagher started a terrorist cell that tried to bomb England. The plot was uncovered and the Greenpointers involved in it did many years in prison.

Jake Kilrain

7) Who was the Greatest Irish Greenpoint athlete?

Local heavyweight prizefighter Jake Kilrain fought and lost the last bare-knuckle heavyweight title bout to the legendary John L Sullivan in 1889. The bout, which lasted over two hours in hundred-degree temperatures, is considered one of the greatest prizefights ever. Kilrain was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Saint Anthony of Padua Church - image via Historic Districts Council
Saint Anthony of Padua Church. Photo via Historic Districts Council

8) What is the greatest local monument to the Irish?

Irish Greenpointers built St. Anthony of Padua on Manhattan Avenue in 1875. The church’s architect was the great Irish-born church builder Patrick Keely.

About Geoff Cobb

Geoffrey Cobb is a Brooklyn high school history teacher and writer of the blog historicgreenpoint.wordpress.com. He has lived in Greenpoint for over 20years and is the author of a book on the history of the area, "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past."

3 Comments

  1. Jeanette Klym Kiesnoski says:

    Dr.O’Connell who lived on Milton Street and had his office there was a well known and respected physician who delivered me and my sister at Greenpoint Hospital in the 40s and was doctor to most of my relatives who lived there at that time. He used to come to your house to provide medical care. I went to his office as a patient until I was in my early twenties.

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  2. Patricia Mulvena says:

    My late grandfather Hugh Mulvena (spelled Mulvenna in Ireland) came over to Greenpoint from County Antrim. He worked on a tugboat and there was a big explosion. He was injured & home wearing a truss for a long time to hold his stomach in tact. No medical insurance at that time. He used to walk to McCarren Park to meet others from the Old Country and catch up on news!

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  3. Margaret McGuinness McKeon says:

    It is with great pride to see a picture of my grandfather Pete McGuinness on your website. He loved Greenpoint.

    Reply

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