When we were very young in New York, our geography was fairly simple. There was our block; and the next block, where many of our friends lived and where we consequently played most often. There was the park, two streets up and one avenue over, which actually seemed a fairly significant hike at the time. There was the four-block walk to Incarnation School. There was the Bronx (most prominently, Alexander's on Fordham Road, where we bought our Easter clothes). There were, of course, JFK and Shannon airports, and County Kerry, where they led.
And there was Rockaway.
We've had cousins and friends in Rockaway Beach for as long as I can remember. As I think back, I recall a measure of magic to the place. It was a beach... but somehow it was still New York. It had an amusement park... but it was still New York. It seemed bizarre that you could actually take a subway to the seaside-- in fact, from our stop at 168th Street, the A train would take you practically the whole way without a single transfer.
I still remember how it felt when the train burst out of the dark cacophany of the tunnels, into the sunlight and sudden quiet as we coasted along the el and over Jamaica Bay. It felt a little like becoming airborne, or at least shedding a heavy cloak; it was also the trigger to turn around, and kneel on our seats to marvel at marshes, tides, and seagulls, and to watch the 747s in the distance taking off and landing.
Later on, during the summers that we couldn't afford a family's worth of flights to Ireland, we booked a suite of rooms in Rockaway for the season, in O'Connell's guest house on 115th Street.
Later still, my mother, then my sister, then both of my brothers, settled in Rockaway. My mom currently owns the Kerry Hills Pub on Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
As you've no doubt heard by now, Rockaway and the surrounding communities were among the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. It seems pointless to detail here the destruction and abject need. Each of the thousands of images taken, posted, and broadcast speaks its proverbial thousand words-- words like "incomprehensible," "biblical proportions," and "Hiroshima-like" are common-- yet, in my experience so far, everyone who has returned from the scene says that even all these pictures can't begin to capture the gravity of the situation.
So, for me, this is personal. That's why I'm so pleased to report that the Irish music community in New York has become a frenzied hive of benevolence and fundraising.
Since this is my blog I'll tell you about my event first. This Saturday, November 17, in Manhattan, I'll be opening for my friends and brothers-in-arms, the Narrowbacks, at Ulysses' Folk House, 95 Pearl Street/58 Stone Street. Accompanying me will be Katie Linnane, an exceptional fiddler (don't believe me?) who plays with the Bronx's Broken Banjo Strings band; and my go-to percussionist, Randy Decker. Besides the fact that proceeds go to Viking Love NYC, which is helping to relieve and rebuild, word is that this gig will be one to beat; please join us if you possibly can.
Other Sandy-related fundraising concerts in the near term:
- This Sunday, November 18, on Staten Island, NYC
- Saturday, December 1, in Manhattan, NYC
- Saturday, December 15, in Bristol, Tennessee (yes, you read that right)
- Friday, December 21, in Manhattan, NYC
Probably lots more out there, and more to come. Please contact me or comment below if you know of any others. Let's get the word out.