Gaelic Park in the Bronx, the main home of New York’s GAA since 1928, may one day – and possibly relatively soon – be sacrificed at the altar of a bustling city. The hardscrabble park, which sits in the shadow of the repair shop and storage yard for the MTA’s Nos. 1 and 9 subway lines, may have to go in order to make room for the expansion of those facilities to accommodate the increased demands on mass transit. Plans to develop the site may be finished in two years, according Manhattan College, which holds the lease for the city-owned stadium and grounds through 2011 but can be forced to forfeit it at any time.
It’s unlikely that the New York GAA will be greatly affected should the city move forward to reclaim Gaelic Park for its own purposes. It is believed that the organization is preparing to announce plans to buy and develop a site of its own, making a long-time dream a reality. For land-poor Manhattan College, however, which sublets Gaelic Park to the GAA and uses the field for several of its own team sports, such a decision by the city would prove deeply problematic.
Gaelic Park would not, of course, be the first stadium in New York to meet the wrecker’s ball. Many still remember with sadness the razing of Ebbetts Field in Brooklyn and later Manhattan’s Polo Grounds, across the river from Yankee Stadium and the site, more than 50 years ago, of the first and only All-Ireland final played outside Ireland.
As any true sports fan will tell you, stadiums are made of more than brick and mortar. They are also made of memories — memories collected and savored over the years and passed from generation to generation. The older the stadium, the richer the memories.
By that calculation, Gaelic Park is a veritable museum of sporting memories. But it is also much, much more. Indeed, perhaps more than any building or institution in New York City, it stands as both a monument to Irish immigration in the 20th century and a link to the even more heartbreaking immigration of the previous century. As a social, political and sporting hub that flourished in parallel with the founding and development of modern Ireland, it was also a place where the great issues of the day were debated.
The MTA will, in all likelihood, get its expanded subway shop and yard. The GAA will get its own pitch. Manhattan’s teams will have to get used to the threadbare, uneven pitches at Van Cortlandt Park. And Gaelic Park will itself become a memory, but a rich and abiding one.
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