For the month of March (also known as Irish American Heritage Month) IrishCentral is tapping into the heartbeat of the Irish American community. The Unsung Heroes series features inspiring individuals from across the US who do extraordinary work in their communities and respective fields. From advocates to artists, from local legends to dedicated educators; from a high school baseball team to dynamo nuns in their 80s, these people are making a difference and to them we tip our hats in thanks.
Kathleen Walsh D’Arcy’s Irish roots stem from County Offaly and Tipperary. Her parents emigrated from Ireland in the 1920s and she was born and raised in Manhattan, in Holy Name Parish. Her mother, Kathleen Kearney Walsh, was a founding member and president of the Offaly Association, the first woman director of the United Irish Counties Association, the founder of the Irish Hospital Cheer Committee, and the president and founder of the East Hampton Irish American Club.
Her father, Patrick F. Walsh, was a famous bandleader in New York, a member of the Musicians' Union, the Hotel Workers’ Union, and the Tipperary Association.
As a child, Kathleen was immersed in Irish culture. She was a step dancer with the McNiff School and a competitor in the U.I.C Feis, dancing and singing. She marched and step-danced up the avenue in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. She spent time in Ireland as a child and teenager, later living in Dublin in the early 70s, working for Sinn Fein.
Kathleen's late husband, Philip V. D’Arcy, was born in Killusty, Tipperary, and raised in Washington Heights in Manhattan. He was a transit supervisor, a proud union member, a great admirer of Michael J Quill, and a member of the MaBSTOA Emerald Society. Their daughter, Maeve D’Arcy, is a visual artist, who recently received an M.A in Fine Arts from Central St. Martins, in London.
Kathleen has worked as a writer, editor, teacher and social worker. She compiled and co-edited “Territories of the Voice/Short Fiction by Irish Women Writers” (Beacon Press). As a social worker, she has worked with homebound elders, teen mothers, and domestic violence survivors.
Kathleen is a Queens resident and she embraced the inclusive, multicultural St. Pat’s For All Parade in Sunnyside/Woodside. She marched annually, admiring the spirit of the parade that honored Irish progressives and human rights advocates (i.e. Frank Durkan, Mary Somosa, Fr. Michael Judge, Barbara Mohr, Mary Brosnahan, Peter Quinn, Jim Cullen, the McCourts, Susan McKeown, Pete Hamill, Stanley Rygor, Ellen Duncan,Terry George, Mary Lanning, Danny Dromm, Aidan Connolly, Pauline Turley,Terry McGovern and Tom Duane, to name a few).
Kathleen was honored to join Brendan Fay, "an Irish human rights hero" as co-chair in 2007. She is very proud of her work organizing a parade that welcomes everyone to join in and celebrate Irish culture, history, art and music. "The children," she says, "are the stars of the parade—school bands, step dancers, girl scouts, boys clubs, Shannon Gaels, multicultural performers—all bringing their families to the streets of Queens for a parade that ‘cherishes all of the children of the nation equally.' "
She hopes St. Pat’s For All will continue to grow, as it has every year, with the help of so many volunteers in the community, Irish musicians, local businesses, and the dedicated working committee.
"Immigrants, families, artists, human rights organizations and progressive city leaders have made St. Pat’s For All the highlight of the St. Patrick’s season on New York City."
* Originally published in 2014.