By Mike Fitzpatrick
Celtic Tigers did not exist in 1950s Ireland. The Western European island that spawned such literary and historical luminaries as Joyce, Yeats, Connolly and Pearse was a far different nation then than the one with which we are familiar today.
Beneath the facade of rolling green hills, thunderous white waves crashing against magnificent black cliffs, and salmon-filled lakes existed an entirely different country. The real Ireland, was an Ireland filled with hungry children, disillusioned men and women, and an economic climate so despairing that it would not seem out of place amid the pages of a George Orwell novel. It was 10 years before Taoiseach Sean Lemass claimed that the Irish had "never had it so good."
They were 10 long years filled with hunger, helplessness and heartache. During these depression-hit years, another mass exodus of Irish people occurred. One hundred years after the Great Famine had decimated the Irish population, tens of thousands of young Irish people immigrated to New York, swapping the bleak Irish countryside for the majestic Manhattan skyline. As Sinatra swung, the young Irish sailed. One of these immigrants was a young Roscommon hurler by the name of Terry Connaughton.
Connaughton arrived in New York in 1952 and immediately upon his arrival became involved with the New York GAA scene. It is because of this 47-year association with the GAA that Connaughton is to be honored at this year’s annual banquet. The 65th banquet is to be held on Feb. 13, at the Surf Club in New Rochelle. Before leaving Ireland, Connaughton had already captained the 1951 Roscommon Minor hurlers, losing the Connaught final versus Galway. Revenge was sweet the following year, however, when Connaughton’s Roscommon side defeated Galway for the first time in 45 years to clinch the Connaught Minor Hurling Championship.
Though joining Cork for the remainder of the 1952 season, it was with Clare where he made his mark in New York hurling folklore. Playing with the side for 21 years (1953-74), he was part of the unstoppable Clare side that won three consecutive hurling titles in the late 1960s. The immigration problems of the early 1980s, before the Morrison and Donnelly visas were distributed, led to fewer and fewer young men moving to New York and playing hurling and football. This inevitably led to Connaughton’s reappearance in Clare colors in 1980 when he admits that at that stage he was, he said, "almost drawing the pension."
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Though recognized far more as a hurler, Connaughton played football for both Roscommon (four years) and Good Shepherd (15 years), though he admits that he was a far better hurler than footballer. This is perhaps due to the fact that his native town of Athleague was practically an all-hurling town. Young children were taught the basic skills of the game early on, whereas football was introduced generally at a much later stage.
Toward the end of his playing days, Connaughton became involved in the running of the New York GAA. Elected vice president in 1971, he held on to the position for another two years before being elected president for the first of three terms in 1974. Two terms as president followed in the next decade in 1988 and 1989. The 1988 term being an historic one for New York in that it was the first year that New York GAA was to be affiliated with Croke Park. This came after a 70-year period which saw little recognition of the New York scene by the GAA in Ireland.
It was during his 1988 tenure that the playing area at Gaelic Park was extended by 14 yards, another accomplishment of which he seems proud. The Gaelic Park pitch was completely resodded in 1988 during his second stint as president.
As well as his presidential terms, Connaughton managed the Good Shepherd team to three Junior Championships in the 1980s. He is currently holder of the PRO position for the New York GAA. When the New York Ladies Football Division was founded in 1992, he became its first president, a position he still holds today. The women’s system seems to be going from strength to strength with a tour to Australia and New Zealand on the cards for late 1999, where the ladies will play a few games against local sides in Sydney and Auckland.
Retiring from a distinguished 20-year career in the New York Police Department in 1977, Terry and his wife, Anne, and children, Terry Jr., Donal, Eamon, Eileen and Mary Anne returned to Roscommon for a year, but missing the excitement of New York, returned to the United States in 1978, when he bought the Riverdale Steak House.
All of the Connaughton children have followed in their father’s footsteps, with Terry Jr. playing at every level for Good Shepherd, senior football with Cavan, senior hurling with Clare and junior hurling with Offaly, winning every possible honor in the process. Donal and Eamon both played underage football with Good Shepherd and Rangers and were members of the minor all-star football teams. Eileen played ladies football with Roscommon and Na Mishnig, and New York Rose of Tralee (1991) Mary Anne played for Roscommon, Na Mishnig and the New York Ladies all-star team.
Connaughton sees the New York GAA in a healthy state, mentioning huge improvements in the set-up in recent years and dismissing comments an ex-Kerry star recently made concerning New York football in his autobiography.
He is also impressed with the level of commitment portrayed by the 43-panel members of the recently assembled New York side, regularly turning up at training sessions to watch the lads preparing for the most important game in New York GAA history.
It is due to this incredible service to the GAA that Connaughton is to be recognized and honored by those to whom he has given so much. Tickets for the event are $65 each and are available in tables of ten. These can be obtained at the regular meeting at the Lansdowne Bar or by contacting any committee member. The banquet will be held at the Surf Club, 280 Davenport Avenue in New Rochelle.