By Ray O’Hanlon
The political heart of retiring Rep. Ben Gilman’s district has been Rockland County, long a home to both Irish Americans and Irish immigrants searching for the suburban version of the American dream.
Gilman was able to draw on the support of many in the county’s Irish community in a congressional career spanning three decades.
So now, just as Gilman will clearly miss a political seat that is being taken from him as a result of redistricting, so too will many of his Irish constituents miss the man they have been helping send to Washington since 1972.
Brian Pearson for one is disappointed at the outcome for Gilman.
The Tyrone native, who stepped out as grand marshal of this year’s Pearl River St. Patrick’s Day Parade, said that Rockland’s Irish were going to lose a friend.
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“Ben was always available when we needed help,” Pearson, a member of the group known as the deportees, said recently. “I was disappointed to hear that he’s going to resign. He was always genuinely interested in the issues and willing to do the work. We still need him as there is still unfinished business.
“Gilman was always friendly and caring, a gentleman. I have the greatest respect for him.”
Maire Liberace, a Dublin native living in Pomona, said that Gilman always very quietly went about his work.
“He was extremely supportive of the whole Irish situation and always supportive of the thrust for peace,” she said.
“Ben did his research very thoroughly. He went to Ireland and met with average people, not just the prominent ones and because of this he developed a great insight. He will be greatly missed.” Liberace said.
Said Ann Loughman, a Galway native living in Pearl River: “You always felt free to pick up the phone and call his office no matter what the issue. Nothing was ever too outlandish.
“Ben Gilman has been our best friend on Irish issues going back many years. He is a very open person, very sincere and gracious.”
Janette Major, a Dublin native living in Stony Point, said that Gilman had long been a good friend to the Irish.
“He did great work and his departure is going to be a big loss for the Irish community and the community in general,” she said.
Matt Reilly, a member of the Fort Worth Five, said that Gilman’s departure from the political stage would be a “huge loss” for the Irish-American community.
“Ben Gilman was right in the fight for us from the very beginning,” Reilly, a native of Derrylin, Co. Fermanagh, said.
The Fort Worth Five were charged with gunrunning offenses in 1972, the year that Gilman entered Congress. All were acquitted in a trial in the Texas city.
“Gilman has been a champion of the Irish cause, a great friend of the Irish in Rockland County and around the U.S.,” Reilly, who lives in Blauvelt, said.
Ken Tierney, another Rockland resident who was a member of the Fort Worth Five, described Gilman as a wonderful man who had always been responsive to the Irish community.
“Even in the most difficult days he stood firm. We all wish him well, long life and happiness,” Tierney said.
Rep. Peter King, the other GOP co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, said the loss of his colleague would be a severe one to the Irish-American community and to the issues the community considered vital.
“Ben was in many ways the unsung hero of the ’90s,” King said. “He was doing in the House [of Representatives] what Clinton was doing in the White House. His leaving will have a real impact.
“In one particular sense, because of his being a Jewish congressman, Ben was particularly effective because he was able to get around the kind of stereotyping that labels Northern Ireland as being just an Irish-Catholic issue.”