Gerry Hughes arrived in the United States from Dublin, Ireland in June 1969 as an exchange student on a three-month J-1 visitor visa. His first impressions of New York weren’t very good, but thanks to a friend’s uncle, he managed to land his first job at Rockaway’s Playland amusement park.
“I believe the reason I live here in America, which is the best country in the world, is because of the people of Rockaway,” said Hughes. “When we first arrived everyone made us feel very welcome and they went out of their way for us. That was over 50 years ago.
Hughes was immediately won over by the community. He even landed a second job cooking burgers at Martin’s Corner across the street, before his visa expired and returned to Ireland. He spent two more years in college before dropping out in 1971 to return to Rockaway.
“Because we had such a great time in the Rockaways and the people were so friendly, I decided to come back to Rockaway and have been pretty much in the country ever since,” said Hughes.
Hughes married his ex-wife, a Rockaway resident who grew up on Beach 134th Street, and together they had two children, Tara and Brian, who both raised on the peninsula.
For about 27 years he ran the Rockaway Beach Inn – a local pub on 88th Street Beach, which later changed its name to RBI’s – before selling it in 2018. It would later become Epstein’s Beach, which unfortunately closed for good. its doors in 2019.
Today, he is the proud owner of Connolly’s Station in Malverne, a local watering hole near Long Island that has corned beef and cabbage on the menu every Sunday.
But Hughes is not just an ordinary pub owner. He is in fact a talented musician who has continued to grace the Rockaway and Long Island music scene with performances of traditional Irish music for over 40 years.
Hughes said that in Ireland whenever there was a gathering or celebration everyone had to contribute either by reciting a poem, singing a song, playing an instrument or just standing up and dancing.
“I used to sing to these things,” said Hughes. “But I never played guitar. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. “
After spending a decade in the United States at this point, he decided to look for a guitar teacher and picked up a copy of The Wave newspaper to find an ad for lessons. It was because of this that he was introduced to his guitar guru, Walter Ensor.
“I called Walter and said I wanted to learn Irish music,” said Hughes. “He knew some of it… but he was such a good guitarist he could do anything and a few months after I was playing we got together and we were playing all the bars in Rockaway.”
Ensor immediately sympathized with Hughes, creating a long-standing professional friendship between the two musicians that lasted for almost 40 years.
“We were lucky,” said Hughes. “We were playing for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee, [which] used to have a concert at Beach Channel High School, and the funds were used to pay for the parade.
This gave them a major opportunity to open up for one of Ireland’s biggest bands, the Wolftones.
“Real rebellious songs they played,” said Hughes, “and we’ve had the opportunity to open up for them two years in a row. It was a nice feather in the hat.
This is what he describes as “a party band with an Irish Flare”. Over the years they have performed with many different musicians from across the region including Mickey Carton and Ruthie Morrisey, whom he thinks some Rockaway locals may remember.
The current formation of the Gerry Hughes Band consists of Hughes, Mark Magliaro of Fools Night Out on guitar and banjo, Frankie Lee on keyboards and Jimmy Walsh on drums. The group performs regularly at Connolly’s Station in Malverne every Sunday evening. They will also play Irish music on Wednesdays at Kennedy’s in Breezy Point throughout the month. Their next performance will be on Wednesday August 18 at 8 p.m.
Gerry Hughes (left) performs with his son Brian (right), who is also a musician.