HISTORY OF THE COUNTY LEITRIM SOCIETY OF NY
Although Irish societies have been in America for more than two hundred and forty years, the idea of county or local societies is relatively recent. The first appearance of a ‘county society’ came in 1850 when a group of Sligomen came together in New York, but no Leitrim group can be found until several years after the American Civil War. It was then in the decade of the 1870’s that numerous Irish societies were formed in New York, whereas in the previous twenty years scarcely a dozen county or local groups were to be found in the city.
The earliest Leitrim organization came into existence about the time an Irish World article mentioned them in their January 17, 1874 issue “The Leitrim Young Men’s Association. At a meeting of the Leitrim Young Men’s Association, held on Monday evening, 5th inst., the following were elected: Matthias K. O’Rourke, President, Owen Gilbride, Vice President, James McDermott, Recording Secretary, John Burke, Financial Secretary, Captain William James, Treasurer, Henry H. Flynne, Sergeant-at-arms, Thomas Stack, Patrick Devany and James Kilbride, Trustees.
Unfortunately, we have been unable to find nothing else on the Leitrim Young Men’s Association, but further research will probably bring some more information to light about them. The description, “Young Men’s Association,” indicates that the society was primarily beneficial in character, providing sick and death benefits to young immigrant workers. The concept of a purely social organization was to come much later, and the beneficial nature of these early county societies was not to totally vanish until after World War I, when private and government security plans came into widespread use.
On December 4th, 1886 the Irish World mentions a new name in connection with Leitrim, the Leitrim Men’s Patriotic and Benevolent Association. The paper reported that this society held its second annual ball at the New York’s Irving Hall, a popular spot with the Irish county associations. The event was judged by the association to have been a great social and financial success.
By simple arithmetic we can determine that the first annual ball of the Leitrim Men’s P & B Association was held in 1885, and this pre-dates the incorporation of the society in 1895 by a full ten years. There is no doubt a connection exists between the Leitrim Young Men’s Association and the Leitrim Men’s P & B., but the link has not so far been found. In any event, Leitrim has had a society in New York for almost 125 years.
The Hall of Records of the City of New York still contains the original incorporation papers of the association dating to 1895, and they are in remarkable good shape. It was while examining this document that record of another Leitrim group called the County Leitrim Athletic, Social & Benefit Association was discovered, and whose incorporation also took place in 1895.
One of the biggest events ever run by the Irish Counties in New York was the Irish Palace Building fair held at the Grand Central Palace, Lexington Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd streets, between the 10th of May and the 10th of June, 1897. Twenty-nine counties were represented in an effort to raise funds for the Irish building in the city for cultural and social events. Leitrim staffed its own booth, which was hosted by the following: Rose A. Kiernan, Hannah McGuire, Annie Egan, Mary A. Reilly, Lizzie Kiernan, Mary Curran, Nellie Hackett, Ellie Tully, Rose Kenny, Andrew Haggerty, Peter Lennon, Stephen McFarland, John O’Neil, John McMurray, P.J. McGarry, Joseph Sweeney and Bernard Shanley.
Leitrim could boast afterwards of having one of the most successful exhibits and ranked 5th in total receipts with $1,250. It was an achievement the Leitrim people of New York could justifiably be proud of, since it far outdistanced many of the bigger, more populous Irish counties.
The first time Leitrim appeared in a St. Patrick’s Day Parade was in 1899, and it was but one of three Irish counties that marched. For the next few years Leitrim’s participation was sporadic, but by 1903 it was back in the parade on a regular basis when there were still but half a dozen counties joining in. In 1908 twenty-five counties marched.
Sometimes the society was called upon to host visiting dignitaries from the “old country”, such as in 1900 when Leitrim combined with Sligo to tender a reception for Patrick McHugh, an Irish Member of Parliament for Sligo and Leitrim. McHugh went on to a public speaking tour of several American cities with other “Irish Party” leaders.
Irish sports had always been a great interest to county societies, and Leitrim had been among the organizers of the Irish County Athletic Union. The association ran a “Grand Bazaar” to raise money to build a Gaelic sport athletic ground in New York City, and Leitrim helped by running its own “Irish Night” on July 18th, 1907 at the I.C.A.U. Headquarters at 341 West 47th Street.
At the 1911 Annual Ball of the Association, held in the Central Opera house in January, the fast growing Leitrim Ladies Association presented an Irish flag to the men through its President, Rose Kiernan. Leitrim President, Andrew Haggerty, in turn presented to William Reilly a diamond ring for selling the most tickets to the Ball, an affair the Irish World described as ‘one of the most successful of the season’.
Just how successful the earlier fund-raising efforts of Leitrim and the other counties had been towards acquiring a Gaelic sports field could be seen in the games Leitrim hosted on September 14th, 1919. The new grounds of Celtic Park in Long Island City were the principal Irish sporting park for many years and the site of the annual Leitrim Games.
We have set out only to briefly skim over the early years of the Leitrim Association, and it is perhaps no more appropriate to choose from 1921 our final item. For in that year, despite or perhaps because of the fight for independence being conducted in Ireland, the association was at the very top of its prestige and popularity. The 36th Annual Ball, held at the Central Opera House, needed three halls and three bands to contain the crowd. Indeed, the association President, Peter Curran, felt a special pride as he looked out on the faithful sons and daughters of Leitrim who had never forgotten their ancestral home.
* Pat Fitzpatrick -1895 – 1896
* Andrew Hagerty - 1897 – 1897
* John McMurray - 1898 – 1898
* John McMurray - 1899 – 1899
* Thomas O’Neill - 1900 – 1905
* James Connolly - 1905 – 1908
* Patrick McGarry - 1908 – 1910
* Patrick J. Hoey - 1910 – 1915
* John P. Hayes - 1915 – 1921
* John McHugh - 1922 – 1932
* Robert Lynch- 1933 – 1936
* James Shanley - 1936 – 1938
* Brian Reynolds - 1938 – 1940
* Joseph Gillespie - 1940 – 1942
* Peter Nesdale - 1942 – 1944
* Peter Dola - 1944 – 1946
* Joe O’Brien - 1946 – 1948
* Peter Flynn - 1948 – 1950
* Patrick Higgins - 1950 – 1952
* John McManu - 1952 – 1954
* Michael McTague - 1954 – 1956
* William Brennan - 1956 – 1958
* John Curran - 1958 – 1960
* Kevin Quinn - 1960 – 1962
John Dolan - 1962 – 1964
* Joseph Reynolds - 1964 – 1966
* Aloysius Melia - 1966 – 1968
* Farrell (Val) Reynolds - 1968 – 1969
* Edmund Shanley - 1969 – 1970
* John O’Rourke - 1970 – 1972
* Barney Ferguson - 1972 – 1974
* John Slattery - 1974 – 1976
* Peggy Booth Barry - 1976 – 1978
* Patrick J. Mahon - 1978 – 1980
* John Reagan - 1980 – 1982
John Taylor - 1982 – 1984
Thomas Maguire - 1984 – 1986
Joseph McManus - 1986 – 1988
* Bridie Keegan - 1988 – 1990
Catherine Mitchell Miceli - 1990 – 1992
*Francis Beirne - 1992 – 1994
Joseph Taylor - 1994 – 1996
William Reynolds - 1996 – 1998
*James Keenan - 1998 – 2001
Margaret Taylor Finucane - 2001 – 2003
Noeleen Bohan McGovern - 2003 – 2005
Michael O’Rourke - 2005 – 2007
Frank Brady - 2007 – 2009
Helen Lavin - 2009 – 2011
Tony Gormley - 2011 – 2013
Bernadette Dunleavy - 2013 - 2015
Sharon Brady - 2015 - 2017
Desmond McWeeney - 2017 - Present
* Deceased (R.I.P.)
SEAN MAC DIARMADA
Sean MacDermott, (Sean MacDiarmada) was an Irish political activist, journalist, writer and volunteer soldier. He is best known as one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, which he helped to orchestrate as a member of the Military Committee of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. He was one of the leaders executed for his part in this at the age of thirty-three.
Raised in rural County Leitrim, he took part in many associations which promoted the cause of the Irish language, Gaelic revival and Irish nationalism in general, including the Gaelic League and the Catholic fraternity the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He was one of the formative members of Sinn Féin and as part of this was a founding journalist with the Irish Freedom publication, alongside Bulmer Hobson. After joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he became a protégé of veteran nationalist Tom Clarke.
Mac Diarmada was born in Corranmore, close to Kiltyclogher in County Leitrim, an area where the landscape was marked by reminders of poverty and oppression.
Surrounding Mac Diarmada in rural Corranmore, north Leitrim, there were signs of Irish history throughout the area. There was an ancient sweat-house, Mass rocks from the penal times and the persecutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, and deserted abodes as an aftermath of the hunger of the 1840s. He was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers. In 1908 he moved to Dublin, by which time he already had a long involvement in several Irish separatist and cultural organizations, including Sinn Féin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Gaelic League. He was soon promoted to the Supreme Council of the IRB and eventually elected secretary.
In 1910, he became manager of the radical newspaper Irish Freedom, which he founded along with Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullough. He also became a national organizer for the IRB, and was taken under the wing of veteran Fenian Tom Clarke. Indeed over the year the two became nearly inseparable. Shortly thereafter Mac Diarmada was stricken with polio and forced to walk with a cane.
In November 1913 Mac Diarmada was one of the original members of the Irish Volunteers, and continued to work to bring that organization under IRB control. In May 1915 Mac Diarmada was arrested in Tuam, County Galway, under the Defense of the Realm Act for giving a speech against enlisting into the British Army.
Following his release in September 1915, he joined the secret Military Committee of the IRB, which was responsible for planning the rising. Indeed Mac Diarmada and Clarke were the people most responsible for it.
Due to his disability, Mac Diarmada took little part in the fighting of Easter week, but was stationed at the headquarters in the General Post Office. Following the surrender, he nearly escaped execution by blending in with the large body of prisoners. He was eventually recognized by Daniel Hoey of G Division. Following a court-martial on May 9, Mac Diarmada was executed by firing squad on May 12 at the age of 33. In September 1919 Hoey was shot dead by Michael Collins's Squad. Likewise, the British Officer Lee-Wilson, who ordered Mac Diarmada to be shot, rather than imprisoned, was also killed in Cork on Collins's order during the Irish War of Independence.
Before his execution, Mac Diarmada wrote, "I feel happiness the like of which I have never experienced. I die that the Irish nation might live!”.
Seán MacDermott Street in Dublin is named in his honour. So too is Mac Diarmada rail station in Sligo, and Páirc Sheáin Mhic Dhiarmada, the Gaelic Athletic Association stadium in Carrick-on-Shannon. Sean MacDermott tower in Ballymun, demolished in 2005, was also named after him. In his hometown of Kiltyclogher a statue enscribed with his final written words - see above - was erected in the village centre, his childhood home has become a National Monument.