One could spend a lot of time discussing finances and bottom lines for Comhaltas, but the greatest asset it could ever tout is the quality of the people who generously volunteer with great passion, vision and hard work.
Foremost among them in North America and New York especially was John “Jack” Whelan, originally from Ballyvaskin, outside of Miltown Malbay in Clare.
Like many Irish immigrants who came to America, he brought a fierce love and pride for his native land and the rich cultural heritage that nurtured him as the youngest of eight in the Whelan family.
Trained as a nurse, he worked in England before coming to the U.S. where he spent 35 years working in physical therapy for the prestigious Rusk Institute of New York University Hospital, where his care for his patients was legendary and committed as everything else he put his time and talents to in life.
Married for over 51 years to the love of his life, Mary (Mae) Clancy, a great Clare woman in her own right and devoted partner, they reared four children, Maureen, Theresa, James and Eileen, who all went on to academic and professional success with their parents’ full encouragement and support in the close-knit family.
In their golden years, they enjoyed the company of their five grandchildren from their home in Mineola, Long Island not far from the Irish American Center which benefitted from their involvement after moving from their long-time home in Elmhurst.
For almost 30 years, I had the pleasure of working alongside Jack Whelan in both the Clare P.B.S Association of New York and CCE, and to say he was an inspirational mentor would be an understatement.
With a steely resolve that was as strong as his handshake and grip, he displayed a progressive and innovative mindset in both organizations that stressed inclusion and expansion as primary objectives to ensure growth that not only acknowledged past accomplishments, but also promised a healthy future for both organizations.
With his wide-eyed enthusiasm and broad smile he was everyone’s friend, greeting them in happy situations or providing comfort when support was needed, living up the greatest ideals of his faith and organizational missions at all times.
With daring and a “can-do” attitude, he spurred on fellow members to greater heights and efforts and as the ultimate team player. His nature was to be positive and optimistic, and the only time he would get frustrated was when people weren’t open-minded and threw unnecessary impediments or personal shortcomings in the way of progress.
Jack Whelan didn’t just live the American Dream. He was the embodiment of it, and thankfully he was recognized recently as part of that greatest generation of Irish immigrants whose hearts were big enough to “love two countries” like Ireland and America and contribute to the success of both while inspiring others to follow in his path.
Jack left this world on April 26 at the age of 84 (he would have been 85 on June 6) from complications from Parkinson ’s Disease that beset him in recent years.
Befitting the rich full life of friendship and dedication to all things Irish and American, his memorial services in Mineola were hugely attended. His passing was celebrated with some Irish music, helping to ease the pain of loss at the sendoff in the church and cemetery as his nephew Mike Flanagan was joined by his wife Rose and their children Bernadette and Kieran Flanagan along with his namesake and friend boxplayer, John Whelan, and friends John O’Neil, Dennis O’Driscoll and Tommy Mulvihill in a musical tribute.
The Clare anthem “Spancil Hill” was played as his remains left the church, marking his final duty to fulfill as he moved onto his heavenly rest at Holy Rood Cemetery.
John’s spirit was never many miles from Spancil Hill, nor was his life a long way from Clare to here because he always carried the music and the set dancing from the Banner County with him.
Up the Banner and Jack Whelan, whose legacy in New York will always be profoundly remembered, and farewell to the best friend one could ever meet.