Irish grandmother an ‘icon and legend’ as driving force of Chicago
Local praise for Mayo woman Maureen O’Looney
One of Chicago’s most well known and loved matchmakers is none other than red-haired Maureen O’Looney, who originally hails from County Mayo.
"She's a legend and an icon," Tim McDonnell, executive director of the Irish American Heritage Center in told the Chicago Tribune.
"For guys like myself, and others who are a long way from home, she's been like an extra grandma."
So well respected, the 89-year-old has a street in her locality designated to her: “Honorary Maureen O'Looney Drive”.
O’Looney who emigrated from Bohola in County Mayo, established Shamrock Imports almost four decades ago, the store specializes in Irish goods.
The son of an IRA fighter and a shop keeper, O’Looney first arrived in Chicago in 1953, for what was supposed to be a three-week vacation.
She soon fell in love with what she describes as “the greatest city in the world”, married had a daughter and opened her shop in 1967.
In Chicago’s Cragin neighborhood, Shamrock Imports has established itself as a popular destination for locals, politicians and even state dignitaries, with O’Looney evolving into a well known force in the community.
Lobbying congress on immigration reform and organizing fundraisers for immigrants, the Mayo woman also helped establish Irish organizations such as Irish American Heritage Center, Emerald Society of Illinois and Chicago Irish Immigrant Support.
On Wednesday nights the grandmother hosts an Irish music radio show which includes a mixture of news and chat on AM sister stations WSBC and WCFJ. She also serves as a matchmaker at different events throughout the year.
The Irish woman still regularly helps immigrants who in search of work and housing.
"She got me a job within the first three days, and that was before I even wanted a job," said Andy O'Driscoll, from County Dublin, who stayed with O’Looney.
When Roscommon man Eamonn McDonagh was hit by a car and hospitalized for a year, kind hearted O’Looney offered him a loan.
"Here's the thing, I never asked for the loan," he sid. "I was handed an envelope, and I was told not to open it. I walked out to the car, and it was full of cash."
"My father always said, 'Each day you get up, do some small good turn before you go to bed,'" she told Coleen Mastony of the Chicago Tribune.
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