By Harry Keaney
Mark your calendars for this year’s Great Irish Fair; it’s on Sept. 11-12.
But after 17 years, this could be the last in which the extravaganza of Irish culture takes place at Steeplechase Park, in Brooklyn’s Coney Island section.
That’s because the New York Mets plan to start construction in Steeplechase Park next year on a minor league baseball stadium.
"The current timetable would have construction beginning early in the year 2000 with completion in June 2001," according to Dave Howard, the Mets’ senior vice president for business and legal affairs.
However, Al O’Hagan, chairman of the Great Irish Fair, said he understood construction wouldn’t start until mid-August next year.
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That’s a question O’Hagan will be asking New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani during a meeting scheduled for Aug. 20. O’Hagan will also be urging Giuliani to ask the Mets to "postpone construction for a few weeks" to enable next year’s fair, the 20th headed by O’Hagan, to take place in Steeplechase Park.
The fair has traditionally taken place on the weekend after Labor Day.
The first two fairs were held under the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Great Irish Fair benefits Catholic Charities. A press conference and luncheon, hosted by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, will take place Aug. 26 at Brooklyn Borough Hall, on Court Street.
Eyeing Steeplechase Park
The New York Mets is not the only group with plans for Steeplechase Park.
Brooklyn Sportsplex, part of Brooklyn Sports Foundation, which is a division of Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, is hoping to build 16,000-square-foot indoor arena for indoor high school and college sports.
O’Hagan, who works with Coney Island Chamber of Commerce, says he has come to an arrangement with Brooklyn Sportsplex but not with the Mets.
"I think both would be good for Brooklyn, but Sportsplex would be best for the Great Irish Fair," O’Hagan said.
"Our position is that the stadium and Sportsplex can both go ahead if properly integrated," the Mets’ Dave Howard told the Echo. As regards the future for the Great Irish Fair, Howard said, "I think we would have to take a look at that."
"Next year, during construction, I could see that could be a problem," he added. "For 2001, when the project is completed, maybe there is something that could be worked out. We would be open to discussion with the group," he said, referring to the organizers of the Great Irish Fair. "I think that would involve ourselves as well as the city."
O’Hagan, however, raised the possibility that the Mets may not be able to accommodate the Great Irish Fair if the projected minor league team’s season extends into September.
O’Hagan also pointed out that fair organizers currently are not charged to use Steeplechase Park and he would have to work out a similar deal with the Mets.
For generations, Coney Island has been a magnet for the Irish; in fact, it an Irishman who began that amusement attraction that Coney Island became famous for, according to O’Hagan. Furthermore, O’Hagan said it was the Hibernians who helped create Steeplechase Park, helping to transform it from what was an unsightly dumping ground into the first special events park in New York City.
"In return, the Brooklyn parks commissioner and Brooklyn borough president promised they’d give us a park to hold the Great Irish Fair in, and they did, and now they take it away from us," O’Hagan said.
But the parks commissioner for Brooklyn, Julius Spiegel, promised he would do whatever he could to help find another location for the Great Irish Fair if "it is impacted" by construction next year.
This year’s Great Irish Fair, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., is dedicated to the 100th anniversary of Catholic Charities in the Brooklyn, Queens Diocese. In celebration of the occasion, Bishop Joseph Sullivan, vicar for human services, has been chosen as chief brehon, the fair’s top honor.
The other honorees are: colleen queen, Elizabeth Creane, a prize-winning stepdancer; bard award, Denis Hamill, Daily News columnist; Paul O’Dwyer Memorial Award, Brian O’Dwyer; Round Tower Award, Peter Quinn, author of "Banished Children of Eve"; Thomas Cuite Memorial, Dave O’Brien, and Hibernian Award, Jerry Callahan.
The Maud Gonne O’Brien Award will be presented to Claire Grimes, publisher and president of the Irish Echo, in recognition of her service to the Irish community.
The festival features seven stages of Irish music, step dancing, war pipe bands, Irish restaurants, import vendors, arts and crafts, displays and rides, and games for children.