Letterkenny Town Councillor Jimmy Kavanagh has really set the cat amongst the pigeons today by revealing that the Donegal diaspora in America were very disappointed that few council officials travelled to celebrate St.Patrick’s Day there. Here is a report he has written about his trip.
“After flying to New York we went straight to Philadelphia on Saturday the 10th March, the parade in Philadelphia was held on Sunday 11th March. We met up with the Philadelphia Donegal Association before mass on Sunday morning; they then took us to the parade line up afterwards.
“The parade itself was held in glorious sunshine and was according to the local papers the largest St.Patrick’s Day Parade that the city had ever seen. The entire route was packed with people. The parade lasted for well over four hours, afterwards we went to the Irish Centre in Philadelphia, as guests of the Donegal Association, where we were treated to dinner and Irish music, as well as having the chance to meet with all the members of the Donegal Association.
“We also met Michael Duddy who had a stand there with Donegal made holy water fonts, and he was getting plenty of attention. We had a tour of the Irish Centre including the Donegal room and the library, the library has a marvellous framed photo of Letterkenny Cathedral which was presented in recognition of the fundraising done in Philadelphia to help build the cathedral.
“During our meeting with the Donegal Association we talked about this year’s Letterkenny reunion and there seems to be quite a lot of people coming home for it this year, and they are greatly looking forward to it. The Association also talked about the recent commemoration at Duffy’s Cut, where five of the victims were officially buried in the week previous to our visit, most of the Donegal Association were present at that ceremony and they requested that we send them a Donegal flag, to place at the site in memory of the Donegal victims. They also requested a Donegal flag for the St.Patrick’s Day Parade.
We made a presentation to the organisers of the parade including an engraved piece of wooden sculpture by Michael Parkinson from an old Elm tree in Rathmullan. We were presented with a book on Philadelphia.
“The next part of the trip was to Elizabethtown, entailing an interesting train journey through Amish territory on a Monday morning, we saw miles and miles of clotheslines full of washing, apparently Monday is a day off from work for the Amish, and the day that the washing is put out, and the clothes readied for the week ahead.
“We saw only washing, empty farmyards and empty fields; we did not see a single member of the Amish community, assumedly because they had no clothes to venture out in. In Elizabethtown we were met by Roni Ryan and Cindy from the Borough council, we were given a tour of the refurbished train station. We also met with the manager of the Elizabethtown chamber of commerce. From there we were taken to the retirement village for lunch and we had a long meeting with the Mayor Chuck Mummert, among the issues discussed were volunteerism which they place a great emphasis on, the community website is for example compiled and managed by volunteers.
“I also spoke to him about tidy towns and explained the competition that we have here annually, one of the most striking things about Elizabethtown is that it is absolutely spotlessly clean, there is definitely no problem with illegal signage, they simply would not tolerate it, they are also very strict about the type of business they allow to set up in the town centre, the large supermarkets are on the outskirts of the town, as are any enterprises which they deem unsuitable tattoo parlours, for example.
“We had a full tour of the town including the Masonic village, the water treatment plant, we had a look at the solar panels also installed in the village, and of course the M&M factory which apparently produces all the chocolate for M&M’s across America. We were also shown the new lit path which was inspired by our own engineer John McCarron, who told them about the path at Letterkenny on his visit the previous year.
“I asked that it be named “McCarron Way” and that the great man might be invited to perform the official opening, we will see. We were joined in the latter part of the tour by borough council member Clarke, as well as the local pastor, who was very keen to know about church attendance rates in Letterkenny.
“The tour ended back at the council offices, where we made a presentation to the council including an engraved piece of Irish elm from Killydonnell Abbey by Michael Parkinson which is now proudly displayed in the manager’s office. Incidentally one of the Borough Councillors Jeff McCloud has a blog called Chronicling Elizabethtown which gives regular updates on the work of the borough council and the issues they are dealing with. Anyone interested can take a look at it.
“The Town manager is keen to have a link up with Letterkenny on New Years eve, to ring in the New Year, her idea is that it should be a community event with the people of the two towns swapping new year greetings, this could be an opportunity for Letterkenny to organise a family event for New Years Eve, which is something the town has not had for many years, and I would hope that this can be followed up on and if possible we should liaise with Elizabethtown and try to make this a reality.
“The mayor has also expressed a wish to send a council delegation to Letterkenny again and he talked very fondly of their previous visit to the town.
“From Elizabethtown we went to New York for the parade on St.Patrick’s Day, again we met with the Donegal Association at mass in New York. Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who seems to be held in very high esteem by the entire community, and is very highly thought of by all the members of the Donegal Association.
“We were also treated to Dana singing at the mass, and outside the church we meet up with John McCandless in full uniform with the army reserve. The 69th battalion of the American Army, the fighting Irish, also led the procession into and out of mass, so between the two, the Letterkenny delegation were happy enough with the security arrangements.
“We also met Brendan O’Donnell from Letterkenny who was over for the parade after mass, as well as a guy in drag with a green beard carrying a poodle dog also painted green for the day, so there really was all kinds of everything in New York.
“The first St.Patrick’s Day parade in New York was held in 1762, so this year’s parade was a milestone in that it was the 250th. The St.Patrick’s day parade is the longest running parade in New York.
“The parade itself was amazing in terms of the numbers of people, they were gathering behind the barriers at eight in the morning when we were going to mass, and again we were blessed with an incredibly sunny day, it was one of the warmest months of March on record in America, the parade started after eleven in the morning and didn’t finish until five in the evening, it’s the only day of the year that fifth avenue is closed, and marching down that avenue, with the footpaths lined to capacity on either side is an amazing scene, and one that every country in the world would love to be able to claim as their own.
“The effort that goes in to the organising of the parade in both Philadelphia and New York is absolutely incredible, and its probably difficult to appreciate just how much it means to the Irish in America, and to everyone in America who consider themselves Irish of whatever generation, unless you are actually there to witness it.
“It is also difficult to appreciate just how much it means to them to have the native Irish present for the day. The genuine warmth of the welcome that we received in Philadelphia and New York was incredible and the pride that is taken in putting the whole event together is so evident and they want Irish people there to witness that and to be part of that.
“With that in mind I have to point out that there was very clear disappointment at the representation from Donegal this year, and in particular there was genuine disappointment and even anger that Donegal county Council had no representative.
“In Philadelphia I was the only Donegal councillor present in New York there was just the Mayor of Bundoran Michael McMahon and I, the disappointment was particularly evident in New York, where I was told loud and clear by the Donegal Association that the County Council should have been there.
“I am not a member of Donegal County council and it is therefore none of my business, but I am simply delivering a message, and it would be wrong if I didn’t do so, the view on this is very different in America than it is here, we might talk about not being able to afford to send delegations in the current economic climate, that is dismissed out of hand by the organisers who argue that it is now that we should be sending people, and it is now that we should be out there trying to galvanise the support of the Irish-American community.
“The greatest disappointment though is among the undocumented of whom there are many, and they rightly point out that our elected representatives need to go to them, because they cannot come home, I met many such people particularly in New York, and they were highly critical of the non attendance by the county council, many of these people have been there for ten, fifteen even twenty years, they are married have young kids, have aging parents at home who can’t travel to see them and is some instances the grandparents have never seen their grandchildren. All of these people seem to be in steady permanent jobs, they have health care cover from the companies they work with etc., and are for all intends and purposes are fully fledged members of American society, but they cannot come home to Ireland.
“In my opinion for what it worth, they deserve an annual visit from the elected representatives and officials of the county on what is the showcase of their year, and Donegal County council should have a serious sober debate about this well ahead of next years event and try to make a non political and emotion free decision on it.
“Maybe that is something that the county councillors on the Town Council and the county manager would like to follow up on. As I said it is none of my business but I’m delivering a message from the Donegal community in New York and Philadelphia and particularly from the undocumented Donegal community.
“The parade in New York was followed by a meal in Gossips restaurant in New York, where we got the opportunity to meet with and talk to the Donegal Association as well as many Donegal people who were in New York for the occasion.
“We again made a presentation to the New York Donegal Association including another engraved piece by Michael Parkinson made from Donegal Elm.
“On a personal note during some of the free time that I had, I paid visits to the 9/11 memorial site and to St.Paul’s church where much of the rescue operation was organised from, and which is now more or less a museum to the events at the twin towers on the 9th September 2001.
“It’s really striking to spend a while at the memorial at ground zero and to read the names of the victims, names like Barry, Blaney, Campbell, Doherty, Carroll, Collins, Gallagher, McHugh, Connolly, Coyle, Cunningham, Devlin, Keane, Dunne, Duffy etc etc., those names make the Irish connection to America all too apparent, and in particular the involvement of the Irish in the police service and fire service in New York.
“I also visited Ellis Island which is another amazing experience, when you think that people sailed for seven weeks from Ireland to arrive, tired hungry and often ill, to have their future decided on that small island that all the immigrants had to go through. Again the Irish influence on America is so apparent from a visit to Ellis Island where so many of the images and memorabilia are of Irish people and things Irish. One hundred million Americans can trace their ancestry to that small island.
“In conclusion I would like to thank everyone involved with the Donegal Associations in Philadelphia and New York, the Mayor, council members and officials in Elizabethtown, and in particular I would like to thank Frances Friel for all the organising before and during the trip, I know that it made her own free time very limited and she maybe didn’t get visiting all the shops she would have liked to visit. I’d also like to thank Liberty travel for their help and for their part in making the trip a well organised and hugely enjoyable one.