By Harry Keaney
Dannel Malloy has never been to Ireland. But at the rate Irish businesses are opening in Stamford, Conn., where Malloy is mayor, he may not have to go. Already, he’s only got to take a stroll a few blocks to Bedford or Summer Streets to experience plenty of Irish hospitality.
Road signs as one enters Stamford, just across the border from Westchester County, declares it to be "The City that Works." It’s a message, it seems, that more and more Irish people are discovering.
Within the suburban area surround New York City, few cities have seen such a reinvigorated Irish presence during the last five years as has Stamford. It’s also a revival that has happened to coincide with Malloy’s reign as mayor.
"I think there is a revival of the Irish influence," said Malloy, an energetic 45-year-old Irish-American Democrat who many see rising much further up the political totem pole. But Malloy added: "The Irish have always been influential in the growth of this city. We even had a neighborhood called Little Dublin."
In recent years, however, the Irish influence has grown much more obvious with an array of new Irish business opening right in the city center. For example, three new bars and restaurants — Tigín, Temple Bar and John Barleycorn — are located within a few yards of each other on Bedford Street. A block away, on Summer Street, are Kennedy’s and The Playwright, while down the street is the Fifth Province Irish Gift Shop. Farther from the city center is Hickey’s Bar on Hope Street, a favorite of local GAA enthusiasts, as well as Fiddler’s Green, in Shippan, and, of course, the long-established Burns Bar on Hamilton Avenue.
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Stamford is also the location for the U.S. offices of the Guinness Import Company and the Irish telecommunications company Eircom.
And 1996, Malloy’s first full year as mayor, saw the revival of Stamford’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade under parade committee chairman John Condlin, another Irish American, who’s now president of Stamford’s Chamber of Commerce.
"I think the year 1996 was important because the Irish had not been as active for a long time, culturally or politically," Malloy said. "I think, right now, we are at a high point in the Irish influence in the community."
Malloy’s great-grandparents were Irish immigrants; one of his grandmothers, nee Fagan, came from Dublin. The extended ancestral Malloy family tree includes names such as O’Brien, Collins, Egan, Fagan and Adams.
"That’s a map of Ireland there," joked Malloy last week during an interview with the Irish Echo.
Malloy, a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, practiced law for 11 years in Stamford, a city that now has a population of 110,000 and to which about 50,000 come to work every day. About 17 percent of the city’s population is Irish, according to Malloy.
In various surveys, the city has received high marks for its education system, crime reduction and as a place to start a business. The latter was a point that Condlin focused on when commenting on Malloy’s performance as mayor.
"I would say Dan Malloy has been a real true partner of the business community and he has worked very hard to make sure the city is a good place to do business," Condlin said.
Condlin added that Malloy is "not afraid to roll up his shirt sleeves and delve into issues related to business, growth and development."
Although Stamford is not without its problems — lack of affordable housing and traffic congestion among them — the city’s overall performance under Malloy is seen by some as his springboard to higher political office, perhaps senator for Connecticut, or governor, or a place at the cabinet table in a Gore-Lieberman administration. (Joseph Lieberman, the current senator for Connecticut, is the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate).
Malloy doesn’t deny his ambition; rather, he sets it out in a temperate tone.
"Unlike a lot of politicians, I do not live for the next job," he said. "I am honored to do the job I am doing."
But he quickly adds: "I will take a look at opportunities that present themselves — or seek to make them."
From a politician talking about his future plans, that’s about as honest an answer as one could expect.