Queens Oral History Project Immortalizes Irish Immigrants' Memories

Woodside is now a melting pot of cultures and heritages. But at one point, the neighborhood was known as "Irishtown."

"Thousands of immigrants through the years settled in the Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria, Maspeth area," said Eileen Colleran Sprague, one of the organizers of the Woodside Irish Oral History Project.

It is an effort aimed at recording the experiences of Irish immigrants in order to preserve their stories.

"I came by boat. I was a week on the water. I came to Woodside; I had never been away from home. I was born and raised on a farm," recalled Mary O'Sullivan, who emigrated from Ireland in the 1940s.

The project is collaboration by the Queens Memory Project and the Irish Studies Department at Queens College. Colleran Sprague says revisiting memories has been valuable for the interviewees, too.

"To think about or talk about what it was like to be young and on your own and coming by ship or by plane for the first time," she said.

Liz Kenny can relate. She moved to Maspeth almost 30 years ago and admits at first it wasn't easy leaving family and friends behind.

"That was a very lonely time, but I began to love America and what I could achieve here," she said.

Kenny has achieved her own version of the American dream. While working at Celtic Hair Design on Grand Avenue and 72nd Place, she noticed the storefront next door was vacant. So, she opened her own business, Celtic Gifts & Treasures, bringing a little piece of Ireland to her new home in Maspeth. Colleran Sprague says stories like Kenny's should be shared.

"It's a way to remember and to celebrate. The Irish have made an impact on this city," she said.

The Woodside Irish Oral history project is open-ended and will develop over time. All of the memories will be archived at Queens College.

For more information, call 718-997-5393, or e-mail woodsidehistory@gmail.com. 

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