In 1898, a group of Irish immigrants in New York formed an organization called the Greater New York Irish Athletic Association. (A few years later they changed their name to the Irish-American Athletic Club). They adopted as their emblem a winged fist adorned with American flags and shamrocks with the Irish motto “Láim Láidir Abú” or “Strong Hand Forever.” They built a stadium in Queens, N.Y. they named Celtic Park that became a primary meeting place for Irish immigrants in New York, a venue for Gaelic football, hurling and track & field events, and a training ground for some of the best athletes the world has ever seen.
While they were formed as an Irish-American organization, the I-AAC quickly became one of the most ethnically diverse organizations of its kind in their day, and served as a "working man's" athletic club, regardless of race of religion, in an era of discrimination. The two main coaches for the club were Ernie Hjertberg (Swedish) and Lawson Robertson (Scottish), and their membership included the first African-American (Dr. John Baxter Taylor Jr.), the first Jewish & Polish-American (Myer Prinstein), and the first Irish-born (John J. Flanagan) athletes to win Olympic gold medals for the United States of America. While largely Irish or Irish-American in composition, their membership also included Finns, Swedes, Italians, Hispanics and German-Americans.
Members of the Irish-American Athletic Club competed for the U.S. team in seven Olympic Games, bringing home 53 medals for the United States of America. They particularly excelled in the controversial 1908 Olympics held in London, winning ten of the U.S. team’s twenty-three gold medals. In their era, they were world-renowned, but today they’ve been all but forgotten. In 1930, the stadium was demolished for the construction of Celtic Park apartments, which retained the stadium’s name.
The Winged Fist Organization was founded in the summer of 2008 (one hundred years after the Irish-American Athletic Club's outstanding peformance at the 1908 Olympics in London) to preserve the legacy of the Irish-American Athletic Club and to bring their athletic accomplishments to the attention of the public. In May of 2009, the Winged Fist Organization became a fiscally sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions to the Winged Fist Organization to support our research may be made to the Fractured Atlas, and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
If you have any information about the I-AAC, if you think you may be descended from one of their athletes, if you have any photos or ephemera relating to the I-AAC, if you have any questions pertaining to the I-AAC or Celtic Park, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Following nearly three years of negotiations with the Celtic Park Owners, Inc. Cooperative Board of Directors, the board (through its attorney, Mark Hankin) has chosen to "respectfully decline" a proposal to mount a plaque at the Celtic Park Apartments in Woodside, Queens, honoring the champion athletes of the Irish-American Athletic Club at the former site of their stadium.
Among the reasons cited in Mr. Hankin’s letter:
Additionally, Mr. Hankin’s letter misrepresents our effort by claiming we want to mount a plaque, "featuring the I.A.C.C's 'Winged Fist' emblem." It is clear that neither the attorney nor the board carefully reviewed the information we submitted, because they didn’t even get the name of the organization correct. (It’s the Irish-American Athletic Club or I-AAC, not the "I.A.C.C." or the “Irish-American Club,” as alternately referenced in the letter).
And despite our thoroughly documented application for approval –– and the detailed, historical explanation of the ethnic and religious diversity within the I-AAC membership –– the coop board, through Mr. Hankin, incorrectly characterizes our effort as purely serving and celebrating the "Irish-American community." That they see this effort as purely serving the "Irish-American community," shows a profound and fundamental lack of understanding of the intent of the proposed plaque.
Even a cursory examination of the proposed plaque language and accompanying material submitted by us to the board, would demonstrate that the plaque design doesn't feature the Winged Fist emblem, as Mr. Hankin claims. It includes it. The plaque design features extraordinary athletes who won a combined 53 Olympic medals for the United States –– including the first African-American, Polish-American, Irish-born and Jewish athletes ever to win Olympic medals for the United States of America.
Sadly, there is no mention in Mr. Hankin’s letter of the multicultural nature of the I-AAC, (before the term “multicultural” even existed), nor the important role Celtic Park played in producing American Olympic champions in the early part of the 20th Century.
The coop board and its attorney have suggested as an alternative that we approach public officials to have a nearby City park renamed for the former athletic and social venue. (Is the board suggesting that the park be renamed Celtic Park Park?) The park they have suggested, however, is already named in memory of Lance Corporal Thomas P. Noonan Jr., a local resident who sacrificed his own life while saving his comrades in Vietnam. Any attempt to rename this area would be a disservice and insult to the bravery of L/Cpl Noonan and the lasting tribute his family and friends look to with understandable pride.
The board has also suggested a "public sidewalk" as an alternative site for the plaque. Suggesting that a plaque be mounted in the ground down the block from the Celtic Park management office, where people walk their dogs, is not an appropriate way to honor the men who, through their Olympic victories, brought great honor and distinction to the neighborhood, New York City and the United States of America.
If you would like to contact the co-op board to express your support for a plaque in honor of the Irish-American Athletic Club, write to: Celtic Park Co-op Board of Directors, 48-10 43rd Street, Woodside, N.Y., 11377, or contact the board's attorney, Mark Hankin, c/o Hankin & Mazel, 7 Penn Plaza, Suite #904, New York, N.Y 10001, or by phone at (212) 349-1688, Ext. 103. (If you do write a letter, please send a copy to the Winged Fist Organization: P.O. Box 4623, Sunnyside Post Office, Long Island City, New York, 11104).