Category: Archive

Visiting Donegal politician dies at Brooklyn march

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Pierce O’Reilly

The chairperson of Donegal County Council, Fine Gael’s Charlie Bennett, 67, died of an apparent massive heart attack while attending the Brooklyn St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday.

Bennett, who also took part in the Manhattan parade on Saturday, passed away in the Methodist Hospital on 6th Street and Sixth Avenue shortly after retiring midway though the parade, which this year honored the late Donegal stalwart Willie Joe Cunningham.

Bennett, who neither drank nor smoked, was an invited guest. He was elected chairman of Donegal County Council last year after initially being co-opted onto the council after the death of Councilor Connall Boyle four years ago.

Bennett, who comes from Ardara and was mayor of the town, was honored as Donegal Person of the Year in 1993 for his dedicated and successful efforts within the county as a fund-raiser for several charitable organizations. He was also honored with the title of mayor of Ardara.

Several years ago, the Donegal Association of New York honored Bennett with its Distinguished Service Award.

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The 26th annual Brooklyn parade, which was remembering the 225th Anniversary of the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brooklyn, took place in Park Slope. Peter Touhy, one of the parade organizers, said the committee was devastated by Bennett’s death.

"Charlie was complaining of a pain in his knee midway through the parade and decided to pull out," Touhy said. "He wasn’t feeling good, so he went to the local hospital, where he died shortly afterward. We’re just all so upset. Charlie was loved by everyone and we’re just numbed by what happened."

Frank Molloy of the Donegal Association, who marched beside Bennett on Saturday in Manhattan, said he was in shock.

"Charlie was a personal friend of our family and we just can’t believe what has happened," he said.

Molloy, who himself was guest of honor at the association dance this year, said that Bennett was in "great form" on Saturday. "He was in a great mood and enjoying the celebrations all around town," he said. "His wife, Marian, was also with him on this trip."

Bennett came to prominence in Donegal when he let his name go forward for the vacant council seat four years ago. His popularity among locals was clearly evident when the County Council elections took place last July in which he received overwhelming support from his local town Ardara.

Westchester resident and Ardara native Brid McGivney said she heard the news from Ireland.

"My family called me to see had we heard anything out here," she said. "Charlie was such a popular guy all over the Northwest."

Apart from his prominent political career, Bennett was loved as the local breadman. "Charlie looked after everyone in the neighborhood," McGivney said. "We’re all just devastated by the news."

Bennett was a popular member of the local urban council and had friends in all the local committees. His involvement in the Gaelic Athletic Association from an early age was well documented and his promotion to the county panel in his early 20s surprised few. When he hung up the boots, Bennett became active in the backroom affairs of the local club. He was also still very involved in the county team and was appointed a selector at one stage. He was always on the go, according to Frank Molloy.

"Charlie was never idle," he said. "If he wasn’t at a meeting, he was on his way to one."

Bennett’s remains were flown into Shannon Airport Tuesday morning and brought to Ardara parish church. He will be buried Thursday. Bennett is survived by his wife, Marian, and their two children.

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