Shane Moynagh sits at a pew inside his Floral Park restaurant Swing the Teapot and stabs his fork into a lightly browned grilled potato, one of several smothered beneath a hefty pile of fried eggs, juicy sausage and thick, savory bacon, known on the menu as the “Irish Breakfast.”
His blue eyes drift away from the platter as customers saunter in, the cozy eatery offering a much-needed escape from the whipping winds hustling through the quaint village that boasts the largest Irish population on Long Island.
Moynagh postpones his feast to greet the new guests—responding to an immediate inquiry from an elderly man that “No,” he is not, in fact, related to another Moynagh the visitor happens to know. The man then joins his group at an adjacent table, intent on ordering the same dish Moynagh resumes devouring with the help of some warm Irish tea.
“That’s a man’s breakfast!” says Moynagh, a resilient and energetic 54-year-old who talks with his hands and punctuates many of his sentences with an infectious laugh.
Floral Park’s Tulip Avenue has blossomed into a literal Little Ireland. A half-dozen pubs and restaurants line the quiet street, which crosses the Long Island Rail Road and spills into Jericho Turnpike, the railroad a key mode of transportation for revelers descending on the village from Belmont Park and neighboring communities.
March is Irish-American Heritage Month, and Floral Park’s Emerald Aisle of pubs and eateries—from McCarthy’s and Jamesons to Jack Duggans and J Fallon’s Tap Room—are about to get a whole lot greener. Every day is St. Patrick’s Day here—even the local Key Food has an Irish section. Its manager is also of Irish descent, says Moynagh.
“I think they’re very important,” Floral Park Chamber of Commerce President Theresa Whalen says of the village’s row of Irish pubs and restaurants. “I think it keeps Tulip Avenue vibrant and alive and it also attracts a lot of the Irish people in the community.”
Originally from Ballyjamesduff County Cavan, a small Irish village with a population of slightly more than 2,200 people, Moynagh has been behind the counter since he was just 4 years old, working in his mother’s bakery in Ireland and then pouring drinks as a bartender for 15 years after moving to Sunnyside, Queens, in 1979.
Swing the Teapot, which Moynagh has owned for about five years, is comfortable and quirky, with a hodgepodge of antique furniture strewn throughout. The eatery features 19th Century dining tables from Italy, chairs from local antique stores and the streets of Floral Park, three popular sewing machine tables and two 18-foot-long pews that he purchased from a local church.
Dozens of teapots—many hand-me-downs donated by friends and customers—reside within a mammoth cupboard from Houston, Texas that encompasses an entire wall. Others festoon with paintings by his mother and brother. His favorite piece depicts a cracking fireplace, with the words, “This painting is for Shane,” inscribed on its back.
“Nothing matches,” Moynagh admits.
As inviting as the atmosphere is, the locals come here primarily for the food. More specifically, traditional Irish meals such as Chicken Pot Pie, Shepherd’s Pie, Fish & Chips, Irish Brown Bread, Irish Soda Bread and of course, the Irish Breakfast.
“It’s very much Irish,” Moynagh says. “Did I intend to go that way? No, but I’ve fallen into that category.”
Moynagh also owns Tulip Bakery in Floral Park, a staple in the village for more than 90 years that has changed hands five times. He considers himself “Tulip the Fifth,” he says, with a laugh.
Kathleen Duggan, who co-owns Jack Duggans just around the corner from Swing the Teapot with her brother, grew up in Galway, Ireland and has been “in the bar business for as long as I can remember,” she says one quiet morning in the village.
“It’s extremely vibrant,” she says of Galway. “It’s young and happening.”
The same can be said for Floral Park in the evening, when an older crowd gives way to a cluster of 20- and 30-somethings putting back Guinness, Magners Irish Cider and Jameson.
“Look, it’s empty,” Duggan, 43, says with a laugh, lifting the bottle of Jameson while offering the correct Irish pronunciation of her customers’ preferred whiskey.
Duggan made the permanent move to the United States in 1996 and planted her roots in Westchester. She spends long hours in Floral Park but splits the days with her brother, who typically takes the night shift.
“We were never looking for a business in Floral Park,” Duggan says. “It just happened this way.”
Jack Duggans offers a different experience than Moynagh’s Swing the Teapot. Seventeen high-definition TV sets attract dedicated sports fans and the layout is more conducive to popular sporting events. Yet Duggan, too, embraces her Irish culture and is driven by an unrelenting work ethic instilled by her father.
She keeps a black-and-white photo of her great-great grandfather, the place’s namesake, on a shelf above the bar alongside a picture of her 72-year-old father beside a racehorse he once owned. Two miniature traffic lights from the motherland flank the bar, splashing the message “Bar is Open” through a green light. Near the exit is a square sign that professes a traditional Gaelic message: “May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.”
Jack Duggans also offers traditional Irish grub—chicken pot pie, shepherds pie, fish and chips—but there’s also other favorites, such as bangers and mash—made with traditional Irish sausage—mashed potatoes, gravy and sautéed onions.
Duggan, her blonde hair flowing over a purple top and black sweater, believes her family’s Irish heritage has transcended to her business.
“It’s a friendly place,” she says, “[customers] sometimes think we’re just a bar, which it’s really not that, there’s much more to it than a bar. People feel at home here.”
Jamesons Bar & Grill, a short crawl from Jack Duggans, has also made a name for itself over its 15 years in business, serving up Irish-American dishes and playing host to many Irish-themed events.
Jamesons’ Super Bowl is St. Patrick’s Day. The bar will roll out Irish Step Dancers, the drinks will flow and the kitchen will be preparing a grand traditional feast.
The restaurant’s owner, 53-year-old Robert Sullivan, is appreciative of the support he’s received from the community throughout the years.
“It’s the type of community…that when [people] grow up and get married they actually move back,” says Sullivan. “And that says something about Floral Park.”
Many of the local restaurant owners, including Duggan and Moynagh, share similar stories. They were born in Ireland, spent their childhood working in the family bakery or pub, and have had success in Floral Park.
“I love Floral Park,” says Moynagh. “As an immigrant I’ve been accepted very well, I’ve been supported very well by the whole community of Floral Park. I never felt like I [wasn’t] wanted here.”