Three days before the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 a special little boy was born. His parents, living in Crusheen, Co. Clare, called him Joe. He was the sixth child born into the family.
There would be one more after Joe Cunningham. Little did his parents know then that a century later their precious son would still be alive, healthy as a horse and living life to its fullest potential in New York.
Co. Clare export and Yonkers resident Joe Cunningham turned 100 on April 11. To celebrate this special and rare birthday Joe’s family threw him a massive bash at the Kerry Hall on Sunday.
The Clare man keeps himself young at heart. He doesn’t allow anything to stop him.
He is still driving his car. He has been known on occasion, mainly when there are events on at the Irish Consulate in Manhattan, to drive himself into the city.
He gets up every day, climbs down (and up later) six flights of stairs in his apartment building and drives himself to visit his wife Rose, a mere 95,, who now lives in a retirement home.
People came from all over to help this wonderful man celebrate his centennial. Friends and family came from Ireland. Others traveled from different parts of the U.S. and Joe, often dubbed the mayor of Woodlawn because he knows everyone, welcomed all his guests.
Donning a dapper tuxedo Joe, like always, wore a huge smile on his face. He was elated to be celebrating such a special birthday. He made it his business to get around to all his guests and tell a few tales.
Joe, accompanied by his wife Rose, 95, their children and grandchildren, is known for spinning a few yarns, and he didn’t hold back on Sunday either. He quickly made people forget their woes. There was nothing but smiles and good cheer around the Kerry Hall, and this was thanks to the birthday boy.
Several dignitaries attended Joe’s special day, including Irish Consul General Noel Kilkenny and his wife Hanora. Joe’s guests were entertained by the Cunningham Brothers, Joe and Rose’s sons.
Joe set up the band many years ago and he was very proud on Sunday to have his own blood perform for his friends.
So what is his secret to living 100 years? The answer is his positive outlook on life.
Joe always has a kind word to say. He makes the best of a bad situation and always sees the glass half full.
“He never had stress, he never let himself get stressed,” Joe’s son Jim shared with the Irish Voiceon Sunday.
“He eats fried food and has never been sick a day in his life.”
Joe worked hard for everything he had. He never paid for items on credit and when he could afford something he would get it.
During the week he also attends art classes at the Aisling Irish Community Center in Yonkers and is one of the main members of the very active senior group there. He keeps busy and never complains. He can even 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.
Not so long ago Rose asked one of her sons how old Joe was. They told her. Rose’s response was, “God must have forgotten him then.”
It’s Joe that tells this story all the time. He gets a great kick out of it.
Joe goes back to Ireland whenever he can. His last trip 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 shared his memories of Morrison and recalled events from his life dating back to 1930s and 40s. Joe has a memory like an elephant.
Joe and Rose, a Co. Leitrim native, are 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 Sunday. “Isn’t she beautiful,” Joe said to his guests.
On being married so long Joe said, “It’s not that long when you enjoy being with the one person.”
In between catching up with his party guests, Joe would make his way over to Rose on several occasions to kiss his wife on the forehead. They are as much in love today as they were 64 years ago.
Joe is 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.
On Sunday they played many old tunes, and when the opportunity arose Joe sat back and proudly and happily watched them perform. He is their biggest fan.
God may have forgotten Joe, but the people he touches along the way certainly haven’t.