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Author: Terrence Flynn, Sr.

Publication Year: 1998

Journal Volume: 12

Article Reference: NYIHR-V12-14

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The Irish in the Rockaways

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Terrence Flynn, Sr. is an attorney with his own practice in Rockaway Park, and a former New York State Liquor Authority Commissioner (1978-1992). He was educated at St. Francis de Sales (Manhattan), Cardinal Hayes H.S. (Class of 1949), and Fordham University. His LL.B. and LL.M. are from Brooklyn Law School. The Flynns were a well-known family in the Rockaway Irish social scene during the 1950s: Terry and his brother Joey played accordion and violin, their sisters Marion and Kathleen did Irish step dancing. Terry taught step dancing in Manhattan (1952-53 and 1955-1958) and married the popular Rockaway singer Mary Hart. n the eighteenth century, the Rockaway APeninsula was much smaller than it is today. It was approximately five miles smaller in length, beginning at the Nassau County line and running all the way to Beach 88th Street, which was considered the Point of the Rockaway Peninsula at that time. It was also part of the Town of Hempstead in Nassau County. Thus, "Far Rockaway" was named for its distance from Hempstead, as was "Near Rockaway" now known as Oceanside. As the nineteenth century opened, the Rockaway Peninsula had literally grown, due to the sand that accumulated during storms and floods, until the Point reached what is now Beach 137th Street in Belle Harbor. By 1900, storms and a sand bar had accumulated an additional two miles of sand in a straight line, extending the Point of Rockaway from Beach 137th Street to its current location. The Rockaway Peninsula is now nine miles long.

At the time of the Revolutionary War, some of the Rockaway residents who fought for independence had come from Ireland and bore such names as Bayles, Carpenter, Smith, Wiggins, Wilson, Betters, Evert, Higby, Henderson, Innis and Miles, to list a few. All of these were typical Irish names at that time, immigrants who had come to the colony of New York well before the War of Independence. During the War of 1812, when Britain without warning attacked American ships and invaded and destroyed the Capitol, the U.S. government built Fort Decatur on the Point of Rockaway. And again, the Rockaway Irishmen of the time manned the fort to ward off any British invasion. These men bore names such as Finnigan, Fernough, Craig, Gale, Maguire, McGowin, McGinn, Ryan, Sullivan, Smith and Sweeney.

One Captain John Palmer bought the Rockaway Peninsula from the Rechouwacky tribe of the Canarsie Indians [for $150 in 1685] but the Town of Hempstead claimed the sale was illegal. After a long court battle, Palmer sold his interest to the Cornell family who commenced the first construction of any notoriety on the peninsula, the Marine Pavilion. It was completed in 1830 on Central Avenue overlooking the ocean, at a cost in the range of $40-45,000. The Marine Pavilion was the focal point of social activities at that time and included large hotel running over 230 feet along the water, with two wings (one 75 feet and the other 45 feet in length). Famous people visited there, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Washington Irving, until it was destroyed by fire in 1864. Rumor has it that James Gilfoyle drove the first stage coach from the Town of Hempstead and the Town of Jamaica to Far Rockaway in the spring of 1830. This, in addition to the Marine Pavilion, seems to have been the initial impetus for the development of the Rockaway Peninsula, attracting both Irish and English immigrants to the area. As Far Rockaway developed, more and more people moved there, but the rest of the peninsula was slow to follow. Transportation to and from the Rockaways and on the peninsula itself was limited or non-existent. Beginning in 1864, summer ferries from Canarsie initially handled the connection with Brooklyn. In 1868, the South Side Railroad Company started construction, continuing a line from Valley Stream. This line, built by Irish laborers, ran all the way to Far Rockaway and was the first method of mass transportation to the peninsula. The same company constructed the Rockaway Railway in 1872, which ran from the "Ocean Crest" in Far Rockaway along the ocean front for four miles to the "Neptune House" in Rockaway Beach. The following year, the Long Island Railroad built a spur from Hillside through Cedarhurst into the Rockaways. Again it was Irish laborers that laid the tracks. Then, in 1880, the Long Island Railroad constructed a trestle across Jamaica Bay to connect Rockaway with the mainland, as well as with the tips of Broad Channel, the Raunt (no longer in existence), Hamilton and Howard Beaches.

In the 1850s there was an organization known as the Sons of Erin in Far Rockaway, and the names of the members read like the famous Irish songs that name names from the different parts of Ireland. For example, there Vol.12, 1998 NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY PAGE 51 was Caffrey, Mulrey, McArty, McCarthy, Morgan, Finukin, Norton and Kelly. That was Kelly the Sheriff because there was also Kelly the mason. There were Harper, Conway, Bowe, McManus, Horton, Winn, Reilly, Healy, McKelvy, Horan, Mulhern, Schilling, Graig, Minnow, Skelly, McTieg, Jones, Murray, Hughes, Hickey, Fitzpatrick, and Prendergast, Gunning, Allan, Clark and Clarke, Cleary, Curtis, Darcy and Deragh, Donaghue, Flynn, Griffin, and McCabe. erns were built. [Editor's Note: Prominent families like the Vanderbilts, Sterns and Strauses had their summer homes there at the time./ The entire Seaside area around Seaside Avenue (then known as Beach 103rd Street) got solid wood plank sidewalks. The newspapers of the day claimed that in 1881 there were more than fifty bars and grills in the Seaside area, most operated BEb Irish men. Indeed, the names of property owners or licensed proprietors in the area in 1886, according to contemporary maps, readily indicate why Seaside was also It was after the Civil War that the Rockaway Peninsula began to really develop as a seaside resort area. ? MICHAEL McCABE and MICHAEL McGUIRE SOLE PROPRIETORS AND OPERATORS LEITRIM HOUSES OF THE ROCKAWAYS Now Features the known as "Irish Town": O'Brien, Ennis, Norton, Water, Smith, Harrison, McGerris, Welsh, Emmett, Boyle, McDebbitt, Fallon, Murray, Valentine, Curley, McClean, Morrison, Reynolds and Farrell, Sheerin, Fannigan, Hepburn, Coughlin, Griffin, Ryan, Muir, Donnelly, Friel, Horan and Brosnan.

Edward Kelly printed the first newspaper on the peninsula. He was an advocate of law and order. Kelly pointed the finger at a so-called "Den of Inequity" in McNULTY FAMILY nightly TWO DANCE FLOORS TWO BANDS Catholics who lived on the Rockaway Peninsula had to travel to Jamaica in order to go to Mass on a Sunday. So in 1847 William Caffery gave his hotel over every week for the reading of the Mass, and in 1851 Andrew Brady donated ground as a site for church. St. Mary Star of the Sea was completed in 1857 by local men who donated their time and money for the construction. As the peninsula grew, so too did the Catholic Church in the Rockaways: St.

Genevieve's was mission church until it became a parish in 1911. St. Rose of Lima became a parish in 1886 and its missions were St. Francis De Sales and St. Camillus. They became parishes in their own right in 1906 and 1912 respectively. In 1919 St. Genevieve's in Roxbury started the Mission of the Holy Ghost serving Army personnel at Fort Tilden. Holy Ghost became a parish in 1950. St. Edmund's in Rockaway Point became : parish in 1937 and St. Thomas More in 1954. It was after the Civil War that the Rockaway Peninsula began to really develop as seaside resort area . Many hotels, bathhouses, restaurants, bars and grills, breweries and tav-Seaside run by Ellen Kelly (no relation), claiming that persons of questionable character frequented and hung out there. The Citizens of Seaside, a local vigilante group, removed everyone from Ellen Kelly's and burned her place down to the ground. Soon, more professional law and order enforcement arrived with the formation of Rockaway's first police force.

Whether by somebody's plan or by Divine Providence, in 1892 the entire area known as Seaside, from Beach 102nd Street to Beach 106th Street, burned to the ground right after the summer season. But that didn't stop the Irish. While the cinders were still warm, they immediately started building new restaurants, hotels and taverns for the following summer, the same year (1893) that James Keenan founded The Wave newspaper. After the fire, the fastest way to build housing was to put up tent-like structures made of wood and canvas. Tent City in Seaside (with as many as 1,500 tents) lasted until approximately 1910, when John Egan decided that he would replace it with wooden structures. He bought the property, took down Tent City and built a goodly number of bunga-Advertisement: Irish World, 28 August 1943. Vol.12, 1998 PAGE 62 NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY FOUNTAIN SERVICE CIGARETTES NEWSPAPERS Photo: Rockaway St. Patrick's Day Parade, intersection of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and 116th Street, circa 1984. Photo by Peter Dolan. Courtesy of the NYTHR Vol.12, 1998 OTE DOERS STAURANT BAR AEMRE7RICICA0NNIRISE SH ALUMNI lows, some of which are still in existence. [Editor's Note: Tents rented for $20 a summer, mainly to Irish vacationers. As wealthy resort-goers moved east to summer in the Hamptons, Rockaway was transformed into a resort for the middle and lower middle classes. Rockaway Beach Amusement Park opened in 1901 and Rockaway's Playland after World War L.J In the roaring Twenties, further progress came to the Rockaways when Cross Bay Boulevard, with its two bridges, was built. The construction of this major thoroughfare made it possible for automobiles to get onto the peninsula without going through Nassau County from the Far Rockaway end. The result was wild land speculations in the Rockaways that spelled a real estate catastrophe in 1925. [Editor's Note: The Marine Parkway Bridge connected Rockaway with Floyd Bennett Field in 1937 and with the Belt Parkway in 1941.] A number of premises that operated as speakeasies during Prohibition continued their business into the 1930s when they were joined by a number of new places. For example, beginning in 1933, there was Allan's dance hall on Beach 98th Street, Brogan on Beach 92nd Street which later became the Blarney Castle, Dick Smythe's on Beach 87th Street, Hugh McNulty's on Beach 109th Street (later the Ocean Lounge), Michael Gilfather's on Beach 103rd Street, as well as Curly and Burns which became known as Curly's on Beach 116th Street until it was destroyed by fire in 1968. Then there was Buckley's on Beach 103rd Street and Rogers on Beach 116th Street. There was Quinlan's and Billings on Beach 101 st Street and Murphy's on Beach 102nd Street and there was Fitzgerald's on Beach 108th Street at the beginning of Shore Front Parkway, the only solid structure to survive the fire in 1892. The Greenrose on Beach 90th Street became another Blarney Castle operated by Ed, Chris and John Gillespie until it reverted back to its old name as the Greenrose Caf?. Wainright and Smith [bathhouses] was on Beach 103rd Street [as was the ferris wheel], the Crystal Hotel was on Beach 102nd Street and another Crystal Hotel was on Beach 105th Street. Reilly Brothers was located on the corner of Beach 107th Street, on the corner opposite Geary's. On Beach 106th Street there was Tarpy's which later became Timmy Hickey's. Across the street was Con Sullivan's where you knew that every Saturday and Sunday you could always get a fantastic chicken dinner. There was Allen's between Beach 105th and 106th Streets, with McCrudden's next door and Mike Reilly's across the street. The Vinegar Hill Annex, formerly Harrington's, was between Beach 106th and 107th Streets. Coney's, The Mermaid, and Valenti Brothers were side-by-side between Beach 104th and 105th Street. Tom Toomey had a place between Beach 103rd and NEW YORK 1RISH HISTORY PAGE 63 104th Streets, Barney Flynn and Willy McLaughlin's Innisfail Ballroom was on the corner of Beach 103rd Street and Rockaway Beach Boulevard, which was diagonally across from the Mayo House operated by Mickey Carton, which was straight across the street from the New Leitrim House Caf? run by Ed Brennan.

In the "famous" partof the street known as Irishtown, John O'Gara owned and operated the Sligo House. And there was a third Blarney Castle (the Snake Pit) there, run by Joe and Bob at the corner of St. Mark's Avenue and Beach 103rd Street, which the McNulty family took over for a few seasons in the 1940s. Then everybody knew it as McNulty House. Opposite this, on the south end of Beach 103rd Street, was a place successively known as Healy's, Gildae's, Ryan's and finally the Green Isle. Directly across the street was Jack O'Connell's and proceeding north again, you had the Leitrim House, probably one of the most famous places on Beach 103rd Street. Nearby on the Boulevard was the Rainbow, owned by Bob Morriarty, Red Whalen, and Ben Varrone.

Murphy's was on the corner of Beach 102nd Street and it was one of the first places to open after the repeal of Prohibition and it is said to have been the first place on the Rockaway Peninsula to have live music every night. Reardon's, operated by Matt Reardon, was right across the street from Murphy's as was Hickey's. This Hickey's was run by Pat Hickey, the father of Tim mentioned earlier on Beach 106th Street. Proceeding further east there was O'Rourke's, beyond which was Martin's (later owned by Ed and Pat Brennan). On Beach 98th Street and the Boulevard [near the Steeplechase amusement complex), there was Hickey's (later Gilda's) as well as The Cave, operated by Harry and Mary Dougherty. The Howleys ran a family-style restaurant on Beach 97th Street. The Brennans had another place on Beach 105th Street at St. Mark's Avenue. It was known as the Famous Seaside Inn, where there was always a Western singer as well as Irish music. One block away was Mickey O'Connor's. Further west St. Mark's Avenue became Rockaway Beach Boulevard where, at Beach 113th Street, there was Mohan and McKenna's. Bill Mann's was further west again. On Beach 116th Street there was Danny Maher's, Curley's, Frank Duffy's, and Patrick Curran's.

Favorite entertainers danced and played music in cabarets at these Rockaway establishments. After the McNulty House, Ma, Eileen, and Peter McNulty worked predominantly at the Leitrim House. Peter continued to perform there even after his mother and sister retired from the business. Rita Martin did a single dance act. There were the Hill sisters and Ruthie Morrissey (even before she teamed up with Mickey Carton). There were Danny Legs Kiernan and Timmy Cronin, who did a songand-dance act. There were the Callahan Family--Larry, Billy and Loretta. Larry was Cfonrd of mimicking Peter McNulty. Helen and Kevin Coffey danced in the Sligo House. A goodly number of entertainers (like the Brown brothers, Vinny and John) were capable of playing music and dancing, but none could compare with Joey Flynn. He not only played violin and danced, but he taught step-dancing for many years. Ed and John O' Reilly did a brother dance act. Lillian and Donald McDonald had a brother and sister routine until Lillian joined the McNultys. Vincent O'Connor played the violin and Terry Flynn the accordian; both could dance as well.

Then there were great dancers like Patricia Maloney, Mary McElhatton, Claire Claughlin and Mary O'Leary. And great singers such as Kay Hart, who became one of the Champagne Ladies on the Lawrence Welk show and who also worked for Jack Bennyuntil his death, when she went to work for Bob Hope. Ruthie Morrissey sang on the Irish circuit for a number of years until Irishtown was torn down in the 1960s. Mary Hart entertained on the same circuit and at college proms until she married and had children. John Tarpey had good baritone voice. Another song-and-dance man was Steve McHugh who would also tell jokes and he was quite humorous. The McNulty Family would STAY WITH THE CROWDAT "There were Danny Legs Kiernan and Timmy Cronin, who did a song-anddance act.

GILDEA'S& HEALY'S Variety Ficor Showa -Nightly feaAtCurCinOg RDIONIS 181 Beach 103rd Street, Rockaway SCTOHTETIBES.APARNRDKECLTFOITNFMGAPAMNIYLY; D. O-LLY, SINGING JOHN ? VEt al ORUS, Polar pore ma SGIELVDEARAanLdOAT.HEaRLYB.IG-APrCoTprSietors Branch 2o24fFlJaothbunshGildea's Ante Hi Sober si, cod. Restaurent Advertisement: Irish World, 28 August 1943. Vol.12, 1998 PAGE 64 NEW YORK 1R15H HISTORY Photo: The Walsh sisters at Rockaway Playland circa 1930s. Courtesy of the Archives of Irish America, New York University.

Edited by M.R. Casey from the original by Terrence Flynn, Sr. This version ? 1998. Published with the permission of Terrence Flynn, Sr.

Charlie Gillen (who had played in the Army Band when he was not in combat), Terry Burn, and the excellent clarinet player Barney Burke. Accordion players such as Dennis Carey and Mickey Carton and Bill McElliot, Jim Heppran and Joe Cunningham stood out from the others. But one young man who was exceptional on the accordion was Luke O'Malley. He played not only the Irish-style accordion but the piano accordion as well. Johnny Hickey and Sonny Callahan were memorable drummers. All of these entertainers were around from Vol.12, 1998 put on a concert each year and it became an annual event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where they had guest singers and dancers in addition to themselves. The Flynn sisters (Marion and Kathleen) danced at Healey's but every year they joined the McNultys for this concert.

Some of the musicians who were renowned at the time were the saxophonist Jack Healy, the thirties through the fifties. Before that, James J. Corbett did an act at Morrison's Theatre on Beach 102nd Street at the Ocean. Carrie Nation gave lectures there as well, Charlie Chaplin and the Great John L. Sullivan performed in Rockaway too. to Politicians to my knowledge in the last fifty years who lived on the Rockaway Peninsula were sO many that we will stay with the ones known personally to the writer. The former Borough Presidents of Queens (Clancy) and the Bronx (Lyons) have ties to the peninsula. Jim Corrigan, who owned and operated the Mermaid Bar and Grill back in the fifties, of was one of the most ardent supporters of Senator Barry Goldwater's Presidential campaign. Jim was also great Conservative Republican and could be considered in some ways one of the originating people of the movement within the Republican Party. He ran for the Assembly in Rockaway: couple of times.

Peter Hogan and Kenneth Huhn were other important Conservative Republicans. Joe Fitzgerald, Felix Gilroy, and John Dannaher were key players in the local Fifth Ward Democratic Club. Margie Flynn from Breezy Point was the person who did the brick and field work that made the Democratic Party so strong in Rockaway Point. Neal Reardon did the same in Far Rockaway. Dan Tubridy was very active in the finalization of the purchase of property from the City of New York by local residents in Broad Channel during the 1980s. Other activists in the sale of properties from the City to the people were Father Kieran Martin, John McCambridge, Charlie Fay and George O'Neill. They were all tenacious from the very first legislation in 1967 until the actual sales started in 1984. Both Geraldine Chapeys (mother and daughter had the same name) were activists on educational and senior citizen issues. Jack Haggerty was very active in making sure that the Development Corporation of the Rockaways would be financed to as high a degree as possible. The origin of the St. Patrick's Day Parade in the Rockaways was the result, over twenty years ago [in 1975], of the insistence of the late George O'Neill. He proposed it, researched how to do it and formed an organizing committee madeup of himself, Dan Tubridy, Jack Tubridy, Dick Majorie, Larry Kelly, Maurice Kelleher, Pat Kirby, Sean McGonigle, Pat McCarthy, Jimmy Sullivan, Joe Wheeler, Chick Tolan, Ed and Chris Gillespie and Terry Flynn.