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Greenpoint's Irish History Is Evident in Its Buildings, Parks and Streets

By Gwynne Hogan | March 17, 2017 9:53am
 Parade spectators line the marching route along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on March 16, 2013.
Parade spectators line the marching route along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on March 16, 2013.
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DNAinfo/Paul Lomax

GREENPOINT — Long before North Brooklyn became a hipster haven, the neighborhood was a hub for Irish immigrants who helped drive a burgeoning ship building industry and built homes and historic churches still standing today, a local historian said.

Geoffrey Cobb, author of "Greenpoint Brooklyn's Forgotten Past" and "The King of Greenpoint," has worked to unearth that history, meticulously peeling through archives.

"The Irish helped to build Greenpoint," he said, adding that he is an Irish transplant who's lived in Greenpoint for 25 years.

The Irish began settling in the neighborhood around the time of the potato famine in the late 1840's and helped fuel a burgeoning ship building industry along the neighborhood's shores, Cobb said.

By 1855, the neighborhood was 30 percent Irish, while most other residents were American Protestants and Germans. But by the 1880's, the Irish had surpassed all other ethnic groups.

Irish workers were responsible for some of the spectacular churches still standing today, including St. Ceclia’s on Herbert Street, built by Father Edward McGolrick, also the namesake of McGolrick Park, in the late 1800's.

"He kind of took this kind of beaten up, poor, wood-frame parish, raised a huge amount of money and built this beautiful limestone church," Cobb said.

Nearby McCarren Park, was named after Irish-American State Senator Patrick Henry McCarren, though he lived nearby in Williamsburg.

Irish architects and builders constructed the quaint homes that are now preserved as part of Greenpoint's Historic District and St. Anthony's of Padua on Manhattan Avenue.

Citywide power broker Peter J. McGuinness, famous actress Mae West, bare-knuckle boxer Jake Kilrain, Irish revolutionary leader Thomas Clarke and painter John Mulvany were all from Greenpoint.

Local Irish immigrants also opened up beloved watering holes like the Palace Cafe, which closed last fall after more than 80 years of operation. And what's currently Capri Social Club, first opened as an Irish Pub called Murphy's in the late 1880's.

"Greenpoint has this long, long Irish tradition," Cobb said.