PICTURE this scene from the 1900s, it could be a cousin, a friend, a sister, or a brother — how did they feel leaving Ireland in search of a better life?
“As I stepped off the crowded steamship onto Ellis Island, I was overwhelmed with a mix of emotions — hope, excitement, and uncertainty. Leaving behind my home, embarking on a gruelling journey in hope of a better life in America.
“The bustling, unfamiliar sights and sounds of New York City felt like a world away from my small village. The immigration officials inspected my health and documents, their faces unfamiliar and not the Irish welcome I thought I would receive.
“I was one of many fellow immigrants aboard this ship, crossing the sea, perhaps never seeing home again. Where would I find work, somewhere to live, a familiar community?”
Many immigrants like the first Cork immigrant, Annie Moore, set foot on Ellis Island in 1892 and found themselves in the same position as the above paragraph describes.
How did they stay connected with their own culture and community?
County Associations have long been a social magnet for people emigrating to new cities and they haven’t changed their system a lot over the years. One in particular in New York is still going strong since it was founded in 1884.
Originally called “The County Corkmen’s Benevolent, Patriotic and Protective Association (BP&P Association)”, their purpose “was to promote unity, goodwill and protection amongst its members and to foster their culture and traditions.
“A fund was established to aid the sick and disabled members and assist in payment of funeral benefits.”
As Irish citizens flocked to New York and New York citizens continued to increase, so did the need for the B.P.&P. Association, resulting in the necessity to purchase a building in Woodside, Queens which became their headquarters.
In 1983, ladies were allowed membership and the name was modified to the “County Cork BP&P Association”. They then relocated to Greenpoint Avenue in Long Island.
The association became a popular destination for politicians, sports and entertainment luminaries to visit, including former Taoiseach Jack Lynch, as well as actress Maureen O’Hara.
Current President of the Association since 2023, Thomas Browne says: “My role involves chairing the monthly membership meetings, appointing the committees that run our various endeavours and initiatives, such as our successful annual dinner banquet in NY and the recent Cork Reunion banquet honouring Corkonians Denis Mulcahy and Maureen Forrest.”
Tom Browne’s connections with Cork are still prominent to this day.
He says: “My grandfather was born in Fahouragh, Castetownsend, Skibbereen and he was forced to leave during the civil war, although he had 10 siblings, over half remained in Ireland.
“I have dozens of cousins, some still in West Cork and many primarily in East Cork where the Browne family continue their dairy farming tradition and I am proud to say, are now among the largest dairy farmers in Ireland.
“My father’s first cousin is Maureen Forrest, founder of the Hope Foundation, our co-honouree along with Denis Mulcahy of Project Children this year at our Cork City reunion.”
The values and support of the Association in NY are vast. Tom adds: “We hold fundraisers for families of sick members who need help with medical expenses and/or living expenses.
“Recently, we were proud to have raised over $100,000 for a little girl named Grace O’Gorman whose cousin was a member.
“Today Grace is a teenager and is cancer-free. The Association also sponsors yearly scholarship Awards at college level for relatives of members and is involved in numerous other charitable causes.”
Many important decisions were made in the Association including the Irish Immigrating Reform Movement (IIRM) in May 1987.
“During the 1980s, thousands of Irish immigrated to the US and were undocumented. Many of those Cork-born immigrants living in NY joined the Co Cork Association looking for assistance with jobs and housing.
“The Irish Immigration Movement (IIRM) was founded at the Cork Association to help change the US immigration laws. As a result of their lobbying efforts, the Immigration Act of 1990 was enacted into law awarding 48,000 visas to the Irish.”
To this day, the Emerald Isle Immigration Centres in Woodside and the Bronx continue to help immigrants.
Past President Denis McCarthy has a personal affiliation with the association, he joined in 1995 to spend more time with his father who also became a member after attending numerous dinner dances with Denis’ mother. Coincidentally, Denis had his first date with his wife Bridget, at a Cork Banquet in New York, 1998.
He says: “My role in the Cork BP&P Association is Past President (2013-2014), Recording Secretary for many years, Chairman of Dinner Banquets Dances and numerous historical and social events.
“I recently signed on as 1st Vice President to aid the Association and officers post-covid and assist with the 23rd Cork Banquet as Reservations Chairman.
“It is difficult to reach an audience of membership serving the five NYC boroughs. Many members of the previous generations lived within close proximity of New York City.
“Recently, many young members created the ‘Young Professional Network’ to extend the Association to more Corkonians — having their first jaunt in NYC, this July.”
Social gatherings have also crossed the sea linking and honouring Cork/American members.
A recent honorary event in Cork had one of the founders of the Project Children charity, Denis Mulcahy and the director of The Hope Foundation, Maureen Forrest as honourees.
It amplifies the ongoing connection between Cork and the US.
Denis McCarthy shares about other recent events and get-togethers. He says: “The Association has also held events honouring and remembering the historic Titanic passage, as well as contributed to the Titanic Memorial in Cobh, Co Cork.
“We have acknowledged and recognised Cork-born musical composer Jimmy Crowley, with his book release of Songs from the Beautiful City aided by Cork member musician Donie Carroll.
“Most recently we helped underwrite the Co Cork Pipe and Drum Bands Easter visit to Cork celebrating the Centennial end of the Irish Civil War. The Association has supported renovations of Cork’s North Chapel, the Opera House, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, and the erection of the Famine Monument in Skibbereen.
Current president Tom Browne talks about the association’s membership which continues to grow and is still as popular as when it all began.
He says: “There are many Irish citizens still making the move to New York, including Cork City Banquet chair, Rob Daly who is a computer programmer for Amazon. A UCC education certainly carries some weight in the NYC corporate world.”
In relation to more reunions in Cork and NY, Tom says: “We feel there are a myriad of reasons our reunions are truly special, in addition to one big extended family gathering which fosters our love of Ireland and Cork. It is our hope that they are cherished, continued, and emblematic of our historic bonds.
“The Association growth endures, always supportive of their community values — including altruism, friendship, togetherness and in keeping with their motto — Benevolence, Protection and Patriotism.”
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