History was made in Yonkers on Friday night when 42 women with Co. Kerry heritage were sworn into the Kerrymen's Association. It’s the first time since the association’s inception in 1881 that women were permitted to join.
Current association president Tom Kennedy, told the Irish Voice on Friday after the inaugurations that it was a “very special” night.
“It was a very historic night for our association,” Kennedy, a Camp native, said proudly.
“As the current sitting president of the association I was very proud of see 42 great women installed at the Kerry Association meeting since it was established nearly 130 years ago.”
It was the highest number of new members in one night ever to be recorded. There are currently 355 male members.
As the doors of the Kerry Hall, located at 305 McLean Avenue in Yonkers, opened on Friday night scores of women of all ages proudly walked inside looking forward to what the night was going to bring.
“I can’t believe this night has arrived,” said one lady in a blue sweater.
Another woman was overheard telling her friend, “There is a bit of excitement in the whole thing. I’m looking forward to helping out in any way I can.”
A quick glance around the room revealed several mother and daughter duos waiting to join the association together, some of whom already had brothers, husbands, fathers and even sons part of the Kerry Association for years.
One such duo was Brosna export Teresa Casey and her daughter Marie Curtin.
“History is definitely being made here tonight and I’m proud of be part of the change,” said Marie.
Mary Brennan, a Listowel native, said she “was a proud Kerry woman.”
“My grandmother, who was very involved in the Kerry Association years ago, would be very happy tonight.”
Castlegregory lady Eileen O’Flaherty also talked about being part of an “historic night” and was excited to get involved in her county organization.
Kathleen Collins, originally from Tralee, looked elegant as she prepared for the night’s events. Sitting with some of her girlfriends, she waited patiently for her name to be officially announced as a member of the Kerry Association.
“It’s a great night for all ladies from Kerry. We are here to make the organization stronger and richer and we are excited about that,” she said proudly.
Peggy Horan, another Listowel export, echoed the sentiments of her friends.
“I’m just proud to be a member after all these years,” said Horan.
While the women waited on one side of the room at the Kerry Hall on Friday night, the male members of the organization sorted through the new member applications and were not long signing up all 42 applicants there and then.
After brief introductions all 42 women (including the author of this article) were proudly sworn into the Kerry Association by vice president John Halpin. When the formalities were taken care of the women sat among the male members and formal business was taken care of.
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A quick glance around the room revealed proud smiles on many of the women’s faces, but one stout women expressed the happiness she was feeling from within when tears began to trickle down her face as Kennedy welcomed the new gender members.
She was especially touched by Kennedy’s following remarks: “Our best years are not behind us, but they have yet to come for this association.”
Kennedy later told the Irish Voice that several key women down through the years have been involved in attempting to get the women members into the association, but one women in particular was the driving force behind everything.
“I want to thank everyone involved but especially Sally O’Shea, who has been there from the beginning organizing people to come forward. Her hard work and dedication really paid off tonight,” said Kennedy, whose two daughters and wife, Eileen, proudly joined the association too.
“This night had been coming for a long time and it’s finally arrived,” he said.
Hoping that Friday night’s outcome was just the beginning, Kennedy made it clear that all future members are welcome to join at any of the organization’s monthly meetings. (The next one is Sunday, October 9 at 3 p.m.)
“And from now on after every meeting there will be people playing music, maybe a set or two. It will become a great social gathering,” added Kennedy.
Before the night’s festivities came to a close Deirdre Burke, whose father is from Killarney, told the Irish Voice she was honored to have been accepted into the organization as a member and “looks forward to participating in the association, its activities and social gatherings.”
After several sandwiches and beverages were consumed one women, who appeared to be in her early fifties, glanced up at the wall over the bar. Above her head were pictures of dozens of past presidents.
She quietly nudged her friend and whispered, “It won’t be long before one of us is up on that wall.”
As male and female members slowly made their way out of the hall a little before midnight Kerry couple Hannah and Ken Moriarty said their goodbyes to friends, something they have done often after Red Mill dances.
But tonight was different. It was special. It was the first time they walked out the doors of the Kerry Hall both carrying membership cards to their county association.
“I’ve been waiting since I came here in 1957 to join this association,” said Hannah, who was a member of the Kerry Ladies before it was disbanded several years ago.
“This night was a long time coming but I’m so glad it finally arrived,” she said while smiling lovingly at her husband Ken who has been part of the Kerry Association for more than a decade.
“We can now enjoy it together,” she said departing into the night.