Martin O’Grady bought the white house on East 236th Street in Woodlawn as an investment. He carries a $2,400 monthly mortgage on it.
It’s a lovely house on a lovely street, but as an investment its payback comes mainly in the higher arena of personal fulfillment. In the eight years since he bought it, he has let Irish music, art and dance teachers use it free.
On a recent early evening, a small army from P.S. 19 was singing there. Upstairs, Bronxite Michelle McLoughlin tutored three keyboard musicians. For adults, there are painting classes, Irish dancing Tuesday nights and old-fashioned jive dancing Monday nights.
This summer, an arts camp will use the space for two 10-day sessions.
What began as a whim by O’Grady, an octogenarian and still active in his Woodlawn-based O’Grady Plumbing business, has grown from a handful of students and teachers to, today, some 20 instructors and 300 students. “Maybe 350,” the one-time County Roscommon resident said.
The word-of-mouth catchment area is from the Bronx to Rockland County. Many of the students, O’Grady said, are members of Irish-music bands. They use the house to study everything from guitars to penny whistles and many will travel to Ireland come summertime to display their flair in music contests.
There’s also a current of “Riverdance” flowing through the house. Car bumpers in the historically Irish neighborhood often flaunt the distinctive silhouettes of the dancers. When the Bronx Times last caught up with O’Grady, he was five years into his personal Irish cultural crusade. In the three subsequent years, the humble effort on the quiet street has turned into something of the whole shebang. He ponies up an additional $100 a week above the mortgage to keep the house running.
“With all the cutbacks in arts education in the schools, this is important,” O’Grady said. “We’re seeking pragmatic instruction to help these kids get going in life.”
McLoughlin, who has worked at the house since its arts inception, agreed there is “definitely” a need for the space. “He’s the most wonderful man in the neighborhood,” she said.