Maureen O'Looney, pillar and beloved member of Chicago’s Irish community, passed away on August 20. Born on February 8, 1922, she was 92 years old.
She was at home, surrounded by friends and passed away peacefully. She is survived by her daughter, Theresa Dermody (Kevin) and four grandsons; Kevin, Brian, Conor and Brendan.
Over the years, Maureen helped thousands of newly arrived Irish immigrants, hailing from all parts of Ireland. Her store Shamrock Imports became a home away from home to passing generations. She found jobs and accommodation for many and lent a friendly ear to all.
She was deeply passionate about Irish games, especially when her native county of Mayo was involved, and she played a huge role in keeping them alive in the Windy City through thick and thin. She was born and raised as Maureen Staunton in Bohola, Co. Mayo. In 1953, she came to Chicago to spend three weeks visiting a relative on the south side. She instantly fell in love with Chicago, found a job, married, had a daughter, and never left.
She was very active in the early days of the Gaelic Athletic Association in the Chicago area. She played camogie as a girl in Mayo and continued in Chicago with Erin’s Own Hurling Club. As one of the founding members of Chicago Gaelic Park, her love for Irish sports never waned.
She played a major role in the political arena of Northern Ireland and in local politics in Chicago as well. A staunch Irish Nationalist, she was a founding member of Irish Northern Aid in Chicago and the Irish National Caucus Chicago Chapter.
In 1967, she opened up her own store, Shamrock Imports, in Chicago's Belmont-Cragin neighborhood. Not only did the retail store provide imported Irish food, newspapers and gifts, but O’Looney used the store as a way to help Chicago's many Irish immigrants and visitors.
She went above and beyond to assist new residents in finding housing and jobs and setting up bank accounts. She aided those who wished to become citizens and even allowed the Irish visitors in need to stay in her home, rent free, until they could find their own home and support themselves.
She also hosted frequent matchmaking events, pairing up Irish locals and Irish Americans looking for companionship, and leading over 160 fundraisers to help those dealing with any sort of hardship.
O'Looney lobbied to have Congress reform immigration laws to make it easier for Irish immigrants to become citizens. She helped establish locally-based Irish organizations, including the Irish American Heritage Center, Emerald Society of Illinois, and in 1998, the Chicago Irish Immigrant Support (CIIS), a nonprofit organization created to aid Chicago's growing Irish population.
She was a founder and proud member of Chicago Gaelic Park and the Irish American Heritage Center, and was an Honorary Life Board Member of the CIIS. She received many awards, including most recently the 2014 Americanism Award from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
A sign was placed near her shop in 2005, designating a section of Laramie Avenue as Honorary Maureen O'Looney Drive. Shamrock Imports has since moved to the Irish American Heritage Center, located at 4626 North Knox Avenue.
For almost 40 years, O'Looney hosted her popular American Irish Radio Network program on WSBC-AM which provided Irish news to and from the Irish community. O’Looney knew governors, cardinals, congressmen, senators and was even a luncheon guest of President Bill Clinton at the White House.
There will be a mass, memorial service and reception celebrating the life of Maureen O’Looney on Sunday, August 24 at 1pm at the Irish American Heritage Center at 4626 North Knox Avenue, Chicago, and is open to the public.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked donations be made in Maureen's name to the Irish American Heritage Center at 773-282-7035 or Chicago Gaelic Park at 708-687-9323.
For more information on the memorial, contact Irish American Heritage Center President John Gorski at 630-272-3612.