Wednesday 19 December 2018

President Higgins visits the the largest Irish parish outside Ireland and is reunited with old school friend

President Michael D Higgins meets John Hickey, they were in Ballycar primary school together
President Michael D Higgins meets John Hickey, they were in Ballycar primary school together
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

IT'S the largest Irish parish outside Ireland and today President Michael D Higgins paid a visit to the New York neighbourhood known as the 'Emerald Mile'.

On the last day of his trip to the US, Mr Higgins and his wife Sabina met members of the St Barnabas parish community.

Parish priest Fr Brendan Fitzgerald told Independent.ie there are 37,000 families there. Around 90pc have Irish connections, with more than half born in Ireland.

He said it's a “great honour” for the President to visit.

Speaking during his five-day visit to the US, Mr Higgins said: “I very much define my presidency as a president for all of the Irish wherever they may be.”

He pointed out on a number of occasions that in 1901 there were more Irish-born people living outside Ireland, than in their home island.

The number of Irish people in the St Barnabas community on the border of the Bronx and Yonkers today is comparable to a large town in Ireland.

Some, like Frank Brady have divided loyalties ahead of next week's GAA Connacht Football Championship clash between Leitrim and New York in Gaelic Park.

Michael D Higgins. Photo: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE
Michael D Higgins. Photo: MAXWELLPHOTOGRAPHY.IE

From Leitrim originally, Mr Brady has lived in the US for four decades and has coached the New York side in the past - including to victory over his home county.

He jokes: “some Leitrim people basically wanted me excommunicated.”

As for next week's clash he reckons Leitrim will have a “tough battle on their hands” but are likely to prevail despite New York's strong team this year.

Mr Brady is president of the Scór na nÓg Nua Eabhrac organisation which is today holding an Irish music and dancing competition for 300 children.

Mr Higgins' next stop was across the Hudson River at Rockland County GAA, one of 42 clubs in New York.

Mr Higgins delivered a speech at the club praising the role of the GAA around the world.

He told the crowd that as president he wouldn’t comment on the upcoming clash between Leitrim and New York.

Someone in the audience yelled “up New York”.

And Mr Higgins quipped “There you are... you have either to be ecumenical or neutral. Both things are very difficult.”

Several hundred members of the local community turned out to see the President including members of the youth teams.

One man John Hickey (75), who emigrated to the US in the early 1960s went to primary school with Mr Higgins in Ballycar Co Clare.

The club has 700 members and its chairman, Tyrone-man Marty McKenna delivered a speech outlining the history of Rockland GAA.

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