Tommy Traynor, a Yonkers resident and a lifelong advocate for the GAA, passed away on March 3 surrounded by his loving family. He was 85 years old. Tommy was born in Silverbridge, County Armagh, and was the youngest son in a family of four boys and three girls.
The young lad from the Orchard County began his education and Gaelic football career at the local Glassdrummond School. Tommy was a member of the first football team hosted by the school, and it was here that his love and passion for Gaelic games began. He continued to hone his football skills as he progressed through the minor and junior ranks of the Silverbridge club to make his debut with the county team in 1955.
The next year Tommy emigrated to England, but his sojourn there was of short duration as he was soon back in the Silverbridge colors. He captained his native team to a junior championship in 1959, and Tommy would go on to represent Armagh at junior and senior levels. In 1961, he was on the move again, this time to the United States, and over the next four decades Tommy would have had a profound impact on the GAA landscape in the Big Apple.
In 1965 Tommy married Kathleen O’Sullivan, a native of Borlin, Bantry, Co. Cork, and also a member of a family steeped in Gaelic traditions. The Traynor family would eventually expand to six children, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. For over 35 years, Tommy and Kathleen, along with her brother James and his wife Scotty, would operate the Tara Irish Gift Shop in Inwood, a provider of an array of Irish products, and of course, the local Irish county papers.
Upon arriving in New York, Tommy quickly immersed himself in the GAA network, starting as a player with the Louth Celtics, and later with the New York Celtics and Armagh. During his half-century of intensive involvement with the GAA, h held an array of positions which included player, manager, coach, trainer, mentor, president, delegate, transporter and referee.
As noted, 1965 was a memorable year for Tommy, he got married, but it would also become a watershed one for the New York GAA. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, signed by President Johnson, though well-intentioned, had the unintended effect of nearly closing the door to generations of would-be Irish immigrants. That slowed the flow of hurlers and footballers to a trickle, leaving county clubs on borrowed time if something radical wasn’t done. Thankfully a few people such as Tommy Traynor had the foresight to see that the future lay in reforming the New York Minor Board. A number of clubs sprang up, among them were the Celtics, with Tommy as a founding member. Incidentally a belated 50th anniversary of the club is being celebrated next month, but sadly Tommy won’t be there for the club that he laid the foundation for and nurtured it to become the vibrant entity that it is today.
Meanwhile Tommy and his like-minded ilk determined that the Minor Board would be the pipe line to the future rather than the Aer Lingus jet. I think the St. Barnabas club adequately answered that question. Tommy certainly became a champion of the young American-born players, and hence should be given the opportunity to develop like their more revered peers on the other side of the Atlantic. Though we had the “No Child Left Behind Act” here a couple of decades ago, Tommy has his version of no child left behind especially if they wanted to play Gaelic football. It wasn’t unusual to see a big blue suburban-type vehicle cruising around picking up young players to play for the Celtics. Meanwhile when this wanderly wagon got to Paddy’s Field, Gaelic Park or Rockland, there could be the guts of a team on board. With lots of family help, principally from his brothers-in-law Donie O’Sullivan and Jimmy O’Sullivan as well as John and Mary Cox, Celtics became a formidable force at all levels on the playing fields. After using a few under 18 and 21 titles as a springboard, Celtics made the breakthrough at adult level when they won the Junior B Championship title in 1987.
In the 1990s, the Celtics battled in the junior A ranks being defeated finalists in ’93 and ’94, though Tommy might have a bit of cognitive dissonance or divided loyalty as Armagh were the victors. However, there were no doubts, issues or reservations when Celtics captured the Junior A title in 1996 against Cavan. This victory was a major joy for Tommy, because not only were his three sons involved, Thomas, Kieran and Aiden plus his two nephews, Danny O’Sullivan and Kenny Cox. In the 1990s when I managed Leitrim, Celtic players such as Danny O’Sullivan, Kieran Traynor, John Walsh and Pat Donoghue won senior championship medals as well. Celtic, an All-American born squad, would perform at senior ranks for many years with Tommy being a very vocal and visible presence along the sideline. Of course I couldn’t forget Allison when she played with the great Cavan Ladies team and the New York team as well.
Though Tommy and Kathleen’s children have now hung up their cleats, the Traynor presence is still very much to the fore, as a new generation of Traynors, Cronins and Tierneys strut their stuff the way their grandfather did over 60 years ago. On close observation you can nearly see some of Tommy’s trademark tricks, the swagger, dummy, and sidestep as he soloed through the defense. In his later years when Tommy was gone from the sideline and dressing rooms, he still maintained a great interest in GAA affairs on both sides of the Atlantic. Ned Devine’s became the site for post-games’ analyses with the panelists being Seamus Dooley, RIP, Danny Doohan, RIP, Donie O’Sullivan and of course the late Tommy. By all accounts the debates were lively and quite argumentative, with the moderator Scan being kept on his toes.
The requiem Mass was celebrated at St. Barnabas Church, Woodlawn, on Saturday, by the Pastor Fr. Brendan Fitzgerald. In modern culture churches tend to be mostly forgotten or forsaken places. Well that wasn’t the case on Saturday as the pews were full and people stood shoulder to shoulder in the aisles and vestibule, while a few hundred more stood outside on the stoop and sidewalk. I have been in the neighborhood for close to 50 years and I have never seen such a crowd. According to the adage a picture is worth a thousand words, well this one was worth several thousand. It spoke volumes about the stature and standing this man had in the community and the impact and influence he had on so many people through his commitment to the GAA and the wider community.
Fr Brendan noted that while funerals are rightly regarded as occasions of sorrow and bereavement, but they are also a celebration of a person’s life and good deeds. The celebrant also alluded to the countless hours Tommy devoted to the GAA throughout his lifetime. Of course the bedrock value of the GAA is volunteerism, and Tommy was a wonderful exponent of that, and as Fr. Brendan said a massive role model and a legend. In a heartfelt homily Fr. Brendan said that Tommy’s life could be encapsulated with the 4Fs, namely his faith, family, football and fatherland. The symbols of Tommy’s life certainly accentuated that, among them were, the pioneer pin, as Tommy was a lifelong member of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, and especially the jerseys and the football, with the congregation in total agreement. The congregation was literally a who’s who of football greats who graced Gaelic Park over the last half-century as well as the dozens of players that Tommy mentored, trained and coached during his lifetime. Tommy’ s remains were waked at the Pelham Funeral Home, and he was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, Westchester.
We truly lost another great Gaelic personality, but Tommy will be in good company up above with the previously great GAA folks such as Seamus Dooley, Danny Doohan, John Riordan, Jackie Salmon, Pat Gavin and Pat Diamond among others. Now instead of the heated debates being in Ned Devine’s, they’ll be in the Devine Chamber, with St. Peter having his hands full as the moderator. May Tommy and these great Gaels, who did so much for the GAA, Rest in Peace.