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Jack Irwin, Hibernian, immigration activist, dead at 84

Jack Irwin

By Ray O’Hanlon

John “Jack” Irwin, who for many years was a potent symbol of Hibernian tradition and Irish American political advocacy, has died after a lengthy illness.

He was 84.

Irwin died Sunday at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx.

Condolences from fellow members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and others came from the New York area and beyond as news of Mr. Irwin’s passing spread.

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His wake is today from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Donza’s Funeral Home 333 Atlantic Avenue, East Rockaway, NY (516)593-2521.

The Funeral Mass will be tomorrow, Wednesday, October 21, 9:45 a.m. at St. Raymond’s East Rockaway, where he was a parishioner.

Jack Irwin, whose Irish roots were in Kerry and Limerick, was born in Brooklyn but grew up in Sunnyside, Queens.

A child actor on television and the Broadway stage, Irwin was a familiar and well liked figure in New York’s Irish community over several decades.

A consummate public speaker and always good company, Irwin was a standout advocate for immigration reform in the 1980s when the Irish Immigration Reform Movement began to campaign for visas for the undocumented Irish.

Irwin was a crucial link between the AOH and IIRM and in 1988, at a speech in Queens, pledged the order’s support for the IIRM’s goals.

Irwin was also a bridge between New York State’s Irish American community and Albany, being for over a decade Governor George Pataki’s liaison to the community.

In a statement, the officers of the AOH New York State Board said they were saddened to learn of the passing of Mr. Irwin.

“Jack was a Past AOH National Director, Past AOH New York State President, and Past AOH Nassau County President. He was member of AOH Division #14 in Rockville Center/Lynbrook. We offer our prayers and deepest condolences to his entire family,” said the statement.

Tim Myles, President of the AOH Nassau County board said: “It is with great sadness I note the passing of Jack Irwin. Jack was past President of Div. 14, the Nassau Co. Board and the NYS AOH Board President.”

Irwin was a most prominent public face of the AOH on Long Island over his many years of membership.

His was also a familiar figure to many as a result of his younger-years movie, television and Broadway appearances, not least in “Life with Father.”

He was a Korean War veteran and retired as a vice president of Merrill Lynch after a 38 year career.

In 2007, Irwin was Grand Marshal of the Rockville Centre St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

"There is probably no one active in Long Island's Irish American community who is not familiar with Jack Irwin," said Parade Committee President Michael O'Reilly at the time.

Irwin was also Grand Marshal of Glen Cove's AOH St. Patrick's Parade, and an Aide to the Grand Marshal in both the New York City St. Patrick's Parade and the Long Beach Irish Heritage Parade.

Among other positions that Jack Irwin occupied over his many years of service to the community, he chaired the Nassau County AOH Feis, was a director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, vice chairman of the National Assembly of Irish American Republicans, vice chairman of the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, and and an Officer in the New York Guard, Irish Brigade.

In addition, he was a member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, Long Island, the Irish Immigration Working Committee, the Irish American Society of Nassau, Suffolk and Queens, the County Limerick Society, Irish Americans in Government.

He was instrumental in coordinating adoption of the MacBride Principles and MacBride Contract Compliance Act for the New York State and New York City areas, and was also a member of the Joe Doherty National Committee.

Irwin served as moderator for presidential, state and city Irish American political forums.

As well as being honored by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, he was also honored by, among others, the Knock Shrine Committee and the Irish American Legislators Society of New York State.

He was named "Favorite Son" of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Long Island and Man of the Year by Irish Americans in Government.

A member of St. Raymond's Roman Catholic Church in East Rockaway, Irwin was a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre and a member of the Father Joseph O'Connell Council of the Knights of Columbus in Oceanside.

Jack Irwin is survived by his wife Mary Ann, four children and grandchildren.