The Irish community in New York is mourning the passing of one of the greatest men to ever immigrate to the United States. 100-year-old Joe Cunningham passed away in Yonkers last week, December 13.
It was only months ago he celebrate his centennial with a big bash at the Kerry Hall in Yonkers along with many other smaller parties. Joe, born in Crusheen, Co. Clare, can only be described as a true gentleman.
Joe, survived by his wife Rose, 96, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchild, was known for spinning a few yarns and always putting a smile on people’s faces. His heart was pure, his words genuine and full of passion.
Joe always had a positive outlook on life. He always had a kind word to say. He made the best of a bad situation and always saw the glass half full.
The Clare man, part of the famous Cunningham Brothers back in the day, kept himself young at heart.
He didn’t allow anything to stop him. He was still driving his car up to the weeks before his passing.
He was known on occasion, mainly when there were events on at the Irish Consulate in Manhattan, to drive himself into the city. He got up every day, climbed down (and up later) six flights of stairs in his apartment building and drove himself to visit Rose (who now lives in a retirement home).
During the weekdays he also attended art classes at the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers and was one of the main members of the very active senior group there. He kept busy and never complained. He loved art and was even able to use a computer. “I learned to type using all my fingers so when I’m on the computer I can always look up at Rose,” he once said.
His last trip to Ireland was in 2011. He was 99. He attended the official opening of the Morrison Teach Cheoil (music house) in Riverstown, Co. Sligo, a center opened up in honor of James Morrison, a gifted musician, who taught Joe many years ago. Joe had a memory like an elephant.
Joe and Rose, a Co. Leitrim native, were 64 years married. They met at the Carmelite Hall in April 1948.
“I knew there and then she was the one. She was beautiful, still is,” Joe told the Irish Voice in 2008.
Rose, in a white dress, was as stunning as ever on the day of his 100th birthday party at the Kerry Hall. “Isn’t she beautiful,” Joe said to his guests.
On being married so long Joe once said “It’s not that long when you enjoy being with the one person.”
Joe was the sixth of seven children. Three of his sisters joined the convent and became nuns and the rest of his brothers immigrated to America. Joe, following in his brothers’ footsteps left Crusheen in 1929. He was 17. His parents lived in the U.S. from 1989 to 1902 before returning to Ireland.
While working many jobs in New York to make ends meet Joe found his musical fingers. He learned the accordion. And from there The Joe Cunningham Band was born. They played the New York circuit for 60 years and now his sons have taken over where Joe left off.
The Aisling Irish Community Center said “Joe was a great friend of everybody here at the Aisling Center and the oldest member of our "Young at Heart" Senior Group at 100 years old. While most of our seniors walk to the center twice a week to socialize with the group and the staff, Joe always drove here! Joe was an amazing husband, father, musician, friend and all round character with such a positive and humorous outlook. He will be dearly missed and fondly remembered by so many people.
Our deepest sympathies go out to his beautiful wife Rose and their children Cathy, Joe Jr., Jimmy and John, and the Cunningham and Einersen Families. May He Rest in Peace.
Joe will be dearly missed by his four surviving children and their spouses, Dr. Catherine and Michael Einersen, Joseph Jr. and Debbie, James and Joan and Deacon John and Elaine. He is predeceased by his loving daughter Mary Cunningham Einersen who was married to his son-in-law Peter Einersen. His grandchildren and great-grandchild will also dearly miss Joe’s smiling face.
Rest in peace Joe Cunningham.