Shawn’s was founded in 1970 by two immigrant brothers from Tralee in County Kerry, Ireland, Patrick “Paddy” and John “Shawn” Fitzgerald (Shawn is a bastardization of the Gaelic name for John which is “Sean”).
Paddy arrived in the U.S. in 1950 after serving in Germany with the post-war American army. Upon his honorable discharge, Paddy had not only achieved the rank of Staff Sargent but had amassed enough money, through selling black market goods like silk stockings, which were particularly in vogue, to not only gain his citizenship but to start his new tavern business in the then rough and tumble wilds of Park Slope, Brooklyn. Paddy, and a partner, started a small empire of shot and beer saloons along Seventh Avenue, serving union workers, mobsters and cops alike. John emigrated to America shortly thereafter.
While Paddy was serving on merchant ships during World War II (Ireland was neutral), shoveling coal to power liberty ships through the North Atlantic, John was serving prison time in an Irish detention camp “The Curragh” in County Kerry, Ireland. Though the English called it a prison, the Irish Republican Army regarded it as a concentration camp. John had been first recruited into the IRA in his teens and rose to the rank of Brigadier after the interment of so many of his comrades. After John was arrested in 1940, he and his fellow imprisoned IRA members burned their cots and prison clothes in protest to their imprisonment as political prisoners. His belief in his country’s right to be free of English colonization was so strong that John refused to sign a pledge, which would have gained his release after serving one day, to renounce the IRA and to not engage in any future activities. Because of this, and after five years of imprisonment, John nearly died from prolonged exposure to the elements- a conviction that destroyed his health for the rest of his life.
When John arrived in America, his main purpose was to continue the IRA war against the English. From the same humble storefront at 141 Seventh Avenue that still houses Shawn’s, John and four of his compatriots headquartered the fundraising and gun raising activities in the U.S. This helped to sustain the IRA’s battle against the English occupation in Northern Ireland for close to a decade.
In 1977, John eventually succumbed to the respiratory problems which had plagued him since his imprisonment during World War II. Unbeknownst to him, at the time of his death, the FBI had John and his cohorts squarely in their sights. Paddy took over the business after Shawn’s passing and the FBI’s attention became more focused on Shawn’s and the activities within the building. After his house was wrecked in an FBI raid, the top floor of the building was now occupied- at Paddy’s invitation- by one of John’s co-conspirators George Harrison (not one of the Fab Four). The whole building was subsequently bugged by the FBI.
After they had garnered nearly two years of recordings from Shawn’s and the top floor apartment, the U.S. federal government indicted George and his three remaining coconspirators. Given the amount of evidence they had obtained against him, John was noticeably absent from court proceedings and, furthermore, the government thought their case against all of the men just as airtight. Unfortunately, the presiding Judge Joseph McLaughlin, another son of Eire and past Dean of Fordham Law School, disagreed with their findings. The rather dubious defense contention was that a CIA associate had knowledge of the operation, and had helped in supplying them, with the tacit approval of the agency and the U.S. government itself. In a stunning rebuke to the government, the four men were found innocent on the grounds the U.S. government, through the CIA, had supported the operation against the British occupation of Northern Ireland. One of the freed codefendants, and insurance actuary named Michael Connelly, subsequently served as Grand Marshall of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Back to Shawn’s, the liquor store. With John deceased, another Irishman Donie O’Sullivan took the helm. However, change was in the air in Park Slope. With the beginning of the eighties, gun running and the IRA were not quite as in vogue in Park Slope as were renovation and gentrification of brownstones. Shawn’s changed with the neighborhood. A new manager, Charles O’Donnell, the son in law of the now sole owner Paddy Fitzgerald, took the helm and transitioned the business into a wine-savvy magnet for the local professionals and artists moving into the neighborhood. Under his guidance, the store was transformed into a respected wine shop, from its humble beginnings as a local liquor store or more accurately, a convenient front for IRA shenanigans that it had once been. Charlie’s tenure was long and prosperous at Shawn’s.
The millennium brought great changes to Shawn’s as well. In 2011, Charlie ceded the reins to Paddy’s only son, Kevin, who had been practicing law and helping found another wine shop in the same neighborhood. In 2011, the store underwent a complete renovation and a new staff of professionals were employed. In that same year, Paddy Fitzgerald passed at the age of 89. Up to his death, he neither confirmed nor denied his involvement with the Irish Republican Army. However, following his passing, the N.Y.P.D. did make inquiries regarding his gun permit and the whereabouts of his firearms.
There have been two significant changes since the passing of the Fitzgerald brothers. With the end of the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, English and those of English descent are now graciously welcome at Shawn’s. Employees of the FBI are now welcome as well, as long as they remain on the ground floor with their hands in their pockets and don’t mess with the wiring.