Breen’s visit to the Aisling Irish Community Centre in New York coincides with Clareman’s Centurion Celebrations.

April 13th, 2012 - Pat Breen

dsc_0935-joe-cunninghamChairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade Pat Breen visited the Aisling Irish Community Centre during this visit to New York; where he met with Clare Native Joe Cunningham on the occasion of his 100th Birthday.

“One of the most interesting Clare people I met during my visit to the Aisling Centre in New York was Joe Cunningham from Doon in Crusheen. Joe was celebrating his 100th Birthday and I was delighted to present with his family and friends to pay tribute to Joe, a Clareman who became a legendary Band Leader in the United States for over sixty years.

Joe is still a very active man and he regularly drives to see his wife Rose who now suffers from Alzheimer’s and lives in a retirement Home. A deeply religious man, who loves his wife and family, Joe is also a man who retains a deep love for Crusheen and for County Clare and he enjoys meeting with people from his Native County and catching up with the news from back home.

Joe was born on the 11th April 1912, 3 days before the sinking of the Titanic, the sixth of seven children. Three of his sisters joined the nuns and all four brothers emigrated. In 1929, at the age of seventeen, Joe left Crusheen and immigrated to the United States. It was not surprising that he chose to go to America. His parents lived there from 1898 to 1902 and were married before coming home to settle in Crusheen where they reared their seven children. He was also following in the footsteps of his two older brothers and a number of aunts and uncles who were already living over there. “We emigrated because my parents wanted us to; that’s the way it was, we did what we were told”, he told me.

Joe travelled over by boat which that time was the only way to get there and arrived in America in the height of the Stock Market Collapse of 1929, when work was scare and the Country was deep in depression. He recalled how at that time Clare People looked after one another and it was not long before Joe got a job as a clerk in a Daniel Reeves store in Scarsdale. Daniel Reeves was one of four Clare brothers who had set up a chain of Grocery Stores in New York. Joe lost that job 12 months later, fortunately though he was not out of work for long and almost immediately he secured another job working as a Supervisor in Butlers Stores where he worked 3 days a week for the princely sum of $9.

When he found himself living alone in New York after one of his brothers left for Detroit to get a job in automobile industry and the other left to come home to Crusheen, he picked up an accordion which he found thrown on a bed; took up accordion lessons and the rest is history, as they say.

The Joe Cunningham Band played the New York music circuit for sixty years. And his love of music continues to live on through his two eldest sons who are running their own band, “The Cunningham Brothers. And this love of music also lives on in his extended family here in County Clare. His three nephews Tom Liam and Stephen and their extended families that live in Crusheen carry on this music tradition, most notably Stephen’s son Francis, Joe’s grand-nephew, who is the All Ireland U18 Concertina player and one of the most promising musicians in the Country.

Together with the Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton T.D., I was delighted to be on hand to present Joe, a fellow Clare man with his Certificate of Proclamation on behalf of Mike Spano, Mayor of Yonkers, New York in recognition of Joe’s contribution to enriching the social, civic and philanthropic fabric of the city and beyond. Joe is a great man who continues to live life to the full and it was great to meet him and to share in the celebration of his life.

I met many other Clare people during my visit to the Aisling Irish Community Centre which is a home away from home for many of them. The Centre provides help for people with employment,