“Ni bheidh a leitheid aris ann,” (There won’t be anyone like him again) said Liam Browne about the passing of his old friend Austin Delaney, who lost a long battle with cancer on Friday, May 15.
Delaney, 70, up until the day he passed away, poured his heart and soul into the Irish community in his adopted home of New York, yet constantly shied away from gratitude and recognition.
Those who knew Delaney, both professionally and personally, all echoed the same sentiment about the Co. Mayo export -- that he was probably the most modest Irish man to grace this earth.
Delaney, who came to the U.S. in 1963 as a young lad to make a better life for himself, wasn’t long leaving his mark on New York.
Delaney found his niche in bars and restaurants. His first bar was in Bedford Park in the Bronx.
In 1969, Delaney and his friend Mike Carty joined forces and together they created some of New York’s finest dining establishments, including the Rosie O’Grady’s saloons in Midtown Manhattan and Harbour Lights Restaurant at the South Street Seaport.
Delaney, who lived on the Upper East Side and had three children and many grandchildren, was waked in New York on Sunday night. His funeral Mass was on Monday.
The Mayo man was flown back to Ireland late Monday evening accompanied by dozens of family and friends to carry out his final wish -- to be buried on Irish soil, right in the heart of where he spent his childhood.
Pat Gavin, honorary vice-president of the Mayo Society football club, told IrishCentral that Delaney was a “fine gentleman” if ever there was one to come from Ireland.
“It was sad that he had to go at an early age because 70 is young this day and age,” said Gavin.
Although they traveled different roads -- Gavin was a bus driver, Delaney a publican -- when their paths did cross, Delaney always had a kind word to say to his fellow countryman.
“We’d always have great words,” Gavin said. “Anytime you called him up and asked him to support anything Austin would always respond very favorably.”
However, with the generous donations came the warning. “’Don’t mention where you got this now,’ would always be his last words,” adds Gavin, who hails from the outskirts of Westport, Co. Mayo.
“He was very, very modest. If you thanked him he would just shush you away. A pure gentleman.”
Joe Flannery, former president of the Mayo Association of New York, fondly recalled the “great man” he called a friend for more than 35 years.
“Austin supported the association very strongly. There was never a time when we went down there for a donation that we didn’t walk out of there with a sizable and appropriate donation,” remembers Flannery.
“He was a true gentleman who never wanted to be the center of attention.”
Flannery is quick to point out that Delaney was the go-to man for young people who would arrive in the U.S. seeking employment, and maybe a place to stay.
“If Austin didn’t have a job himself he knew someone who had one. He was an absolutely gem of a man when it came to those situations,” said Flannery.
“Harbour Lights will certainly not be the same even though the family does a great job running it. He will be a sad fixture missing from the place.”
Patrick O’Rourke, general manager of Harbour Lights, had nothing but kind words for his boss.
“Austin was a gentleman and no better man to work for. You don’t get them like that. Just one of those guys who knew when to move in and then to step back,” said O’Rourke.
“He was unbelievably kind to work for. He would let you motor with it.”
O’Rourke, a Co. Galway native, was manning the fort on Tuesday while the Delaney family returned to Ireland to bury Austin.
“He didn’t want the place closed at all at all,” said O’Rourke softly.
Bill Burke, president of Country Bank, knew Austin for over 30 years.
“He was a valued friend. A great businessman and very loyal to his friends. You could always rely on him for anything. A really great guy,” recalls Burke.
“One of the biggest things we will miss is his big smile that he had for you when you met him. He was such a great character.”
Delaney, a racehorse fanatic who owned and raced several star thoroughbreds on the New York circuit, including the famous mares Irish Linnet and Irish Actress, winners of several graded stakes races, was always kind to Burke during racing season.
“Austin was great for giving me tickets to the Derby,” laughs Burke. “One call to Austin and I’d have the tickets.”