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May O’Boyle Deegan

New York Irish County groups struggling for new members

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May O’Boyle Deegan

As Irish associations and societies across the country dwindle in numbers due to lack of immigration and other factors, a number of organizations in New York are taking measures to ensure their longevity.

The Irish American Center in Mineola, Long Island is no exception. President May O’Boyle Deegan, 48, whose parents are from Co. Donegal, said that the center is worried about its future. 

“Most of our members are older people. What will happen to the center when our members who come to everything can’t come anymore. Who will then be left to carry on the traditions and keep the center going?” questions O’Boyle Deegan.

She told the Irish Voice that although the center holds many great dances and events, “missing from the floor are the younger people.

“We seem to be missing the 20, 30 and 40 year olds,” said O’Boyle Deegan, who sells Irish dancing wigs for a living.

Wanting to keep the center going and attract new members, O’Boyle Deegan and the rest of the committee at the Irish American Center decided to organize a Saturday Night dance party.

The center opted for a disco as opposed to a band to keep costs down and create opportunities to have more frequent events for younger people interested in attending.

“There are some great bands out there but we can’t afford them, so we thought why not throw a disco with music going as far back at the seventies,” said O’Boyle Deegan.

“We thought this would be a great way to get the younger Irish and Irish Americans involved with the center,” said O’Boyle Deegan, who was just back from a four week visit to Ireland when she spoke with the Irish Voice.

The first dance party took place on August 29. Due to its success another one is scheduled for January 9.

“It was a great night. About 60 people showed up and the floor was full for the night,” said O’Boyle Deegan.

Aside from the regular members, O’Boyle Deegan said a few younger people attended. “That’s a good start,” she said.

Aside from the discos, O’Boyle Deegan said the center plans to host a number of other family friendly events in hopes of attracting young parents with children.

“We are talking about doing a tea social that would be for mothers and kids. Tea for the adults and ice cream for the kids,” she said. “We are even thinking we could then teach the children different cultural things like Irish dancing.”

Respecting the fact that young adults don’t have much spare time on their hands, especially those with families, O’Boyle Deegan feels without the young people the center and the Irish organizations throughout the U.S. will die out.

“Most of our members are older people at the minute and we are desperately trying to get younger people to join,” she added.

This past Sunday, the center had an open house where people who were interested in getting involved with the center had an opportunity to check it out.

O’Boyle Deegan is urging parents who “don’t want their children to lose their Irish heritage” to get involved with the center.

“We’re not asking people to come to everything. Just to the odd event and support the center and the work we do,” said O’Boyle Deegan.

Frank Brady, president of the Leitrim Society of New York, said like the rest of the county associations in New York, his own is also suffering from lack of young members.

“The societies have a crisis of relevance at the moment, and they would seem to be more infused with the older generation as opposed to the younger generation, so it’s a challenge to definitely get the younger people involved,” said Brady last week.

County associations and societies were originally set up to act as benevolent associations but, said Brady, “there isn’t as much need for that anymore.”

One of the events that draws in the younger people to Leitrim, said Brady, is its annual picnic, which just took place this past weekend.

“The older members brought along their children and their relatives and it worked very well. It brought people together,” said Brady.

“The annual dinner dance is also another big event that draws in a lot of younger people.”

Looking forward, Brady said he hopes that younger people from Leitrim or with Leitrim connections will join the association and take part in keeping the organization alive. 

President of the County Cork Association Mary Power told the Irish Voice that although nothing specific is being done by the organization to attract new and younger members, it seems to be pressing forward on its own.

“For the past few years we have had a lot of young presidents, most in their early forties,” said Power.

“Of course we could do with a lot more younger people but it’s nice to have the ones we do have.”

The association has made it their business to honor young men and women during their annual dinner dances.

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