The Irish community was shocked and saddened at the sudden death of Jimmy McGonagle on November 26th. The late Jimmy was a pillar in the Donegal GFC and the Donegal Association, as well as being a staunch supporter of the New York GAA for close to half a century. He was 72.
In many ways the cherished uncle was a father figure to nephews Frank, Connie, Lanty and Columba of the Molloy family in New York. He was especially proud of the achievements of his grand nieces and nephews especially that CJ was following in the footballing footsteps of the family.
Jimmy was the youngest of a family of six born in Glencolumcille, Co. Donegal. After finishing school Jimmy worked with Gaeltarra Eireann as a weaver of the famous Donegal tweed. However, in 1964, like many of his peers, Jimmy emigrated, and he arrived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
After initially working for the Kodak Company, Jimmy opened up Buckley's bar in Brooklyn with his good friend the late Phil Boyle before moving on to a position with the New York Times as a paper handler. In the late eighties, the staunch Donegal man was back in the bar business again when he opened the famed Sam Maguire's bar in Riverdale. This oasis of Irish culture became the favorite destination for Irish music groups such as the Whole Shabang, when out on tour from Ireland.
In recent years Jimmy worked as a bartender at Jay's place on Mosholu Avenue, in Riverdale. However, one of his greatest joys and proudest moments was when his nephew and captain Anthony Molloy brought the real Sam Maguire to the bar after Donegal won their first All-Ireland in 1992.
With Sam happily ensconced in Sam Maguire's, Jimmy is reputed to have thrown the mother of all parties.
Naturally, Jimmy was in Croke Park just a few weeks ago when Donegal lifted Sam for the second time and celebrated the long awaited homecoming to the rugged hills of Donegal. The good times continued for Donegal exiles as manager Jimmy McGuinness and the Donegal All-Star
contingent brought Sam to McLean Avenue, Yonkers, just over two weeks ago.
Naturally, Jimmy, the patriarch of Donegal football in the Big Apple, was in the van-guard of the welcoming party. There was no prouder man in his best suit, pressed shirt, matching tie, and polished shoes as he went to pose with and embrace Sam in the Heritage bar.
Sam was royalty of the highest order in Jimmy's books and the two decades wait made the meeting all the sweeter.
Jimmy was in every way the corner stone of the Donegal football club in New York and he had been active in every facet of the club. He served two terms as chairman, from 1989 to 1990 and again from 2004 to 2005. Jimmy was a constant member of the club's executive committee and he was, at the time of his passing, the club's delegate to the New York Board.
His contributions to the club were recognized in 1988 when he was guest of honor at a function that drew more than 1,000 people. He was a constant presence in Gaelic Park and acted quite frequently as a willing and reliable umpire.
Jimmy preferred the Manhattan College goals as he could have a quiet puff when half-time came. Jimmy was also a frequent visitor to the press box where he relished exchanging verbal volleys with some of his well-established pseudo adversaries. In the banter stakes, Jimmy could give as good as he got, and sometimes better. However, the exchanges were always entertaining and without malice, though a little stinger would occasionally help make the exchanges more focused.
Such humorous banter often helped to brighten up a dull game.
Jimmy also enjoyed good cuisine and we often crossed paths in Eileen's Country Kitchen on McLean Avenue on the weekends. Early in the year, Jimmy was also honored by the Donegal Association for his unwavering loyalty and for his roles in fundraising and in their myriad social events.
Jimmy was waked at the Riverdale-on-the-Hudson Funeral Home on Thursday and Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated by Fr. Terence Lee in St. Margaret's of Corona in Riverdale on Friday. The throngs of mourners at both events, besides the fitting homily of Fr. Lee and the authentic synopsis of Jimmy's life in Fiona's eulogy, Jimmy's niece, spoke volumes about the esteem in which one of Donegal's most favorite exiles was held in.
The sprinkling of Donegal jerseys and sashes at the Mass left no doubt where the late Jimmy McGonagle's heart lay.
Though Sam's return to Donegal was the cause of great joy earlier, sadly Jimmy's subsequent return to Donegal was the cause of great sorrow to his family and legions of friends as he was laid to rest in his native Glencolumkille on Sunday.
The passing of the jovial Jimmy leaves a huge void in the Donegal GFC and in the Donegal Association, and he had his favorite spot at the GAA meetings. Perhaps the Gaelic seanfhocal succinctly sums up his passing, ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís, simply there won't be another.