Irish in Queens Oral History Project Director: Eileen Colleran Sprague
The Irish Studies Program is pleased to embark upon an unprecedented oral history of the Irish and Irish-Americans who emigrated to or settled and grew up in Queens in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Queens College is fortunate to be located in a borough which thousands of Irish immigrants made their home, in neighborhoods such as Woodside, Sunnyside, Bayside, Astoria or Maspeth; Queens was not only their first encounter with America, but so did it offer them their first exposure to a range of experiences and people—namely, German and Italian--they had never known before. Based in Queens, they were forced to make lives for themselves, to build families, to redefine their identities as Irish and American; and it was in Queens where they contributed to the city in a multitude of ways, many of which have gone unsung.
We hope to celebrate the Irish in Queens, not only those born in Ireland but their children and grandchildren. And we aim to capture their lives particularly today, when many have moved on to other places, and neighborhoods such as Woodside—once known as Irishtown—have witnessed the increased presence of young professionals or new immigrants primarily from Asia and Latin America.
By focusing not on the Irish in America, but the Irish in Queens, we hope to capture the enormously interesting and often challenging lives these men and women forged for themselves, as new arrivals, support system go-betweens, business owners, businesspeople, bartenders, nannies, construction workers, politicians, housewives, artists and writers, gangsters, policemen and firemen: in short, the lives of those who contributed so much to the life of the city today.
Under the directorship of Eileen Sprague, we are working with Queens Memory, under the aegis of Queens College and Queens Library, to capture these individuals’ memories, many of which will be digitally available on our websites. The material will also be archived at Queens College for the purpose of future scholarly research. Beginning with Woodside, we will then move on to Sunnyside and other neighborhoods. Podcasts will also be made of these interviews, beginning with “JFK Memories,” which will highlight the impressions of those Irish whose first exposure to this country was shaped by their arrival at the airport.
Volunteers are welcome as interviewers and interviewees; please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and watch this website for recordings of interviews in Woodside that have already been conducted.