There's nothing unusual about an Irish immigrant coming to America for a few years, maybe even a decade or two, working hard, perhaps meeting a mate here and starting a family, and then choosing to return “home” – Ireland will always be home – for good.
But it’s quite rare to make the life-changing move when you’re 86 years of age, having spent 59 of those years in New York and New Jersey. Therese Crowe from Tipperary knows that the Ireland she left is vastly different from the one that she’ll go back to in the next few weeks, but as her many Irish American friends can attest, Gaelic Park’s indefatigable volunteer nurse will settle in just fine.
Therese will board the plane home with the ashes of her life partner Fonzie Farrell, who tragically passed after a fall at their home in Leonia, New Jersey last June. For several years, the couple talked about spending the rest of their lives back in Tipp, and Fonzie’s death accelerated Therese’s desire to put those plans into action.
She’ll leave behind legions of friends and appreciative players who she tended to down through the years at Gaelic Park, patching up everything from cuts to breaks and sprains.
How often did she have to call an ambulance for help? “I could call an ambulance every Sunday with that crowd,” she joked during a recent interview with the Irish Voice.
Therese’s American adventure and journey to first name only status – if the name Therese is mentioned in New York’s Irish community, it’s known who’s being referred to – pretty much began at Gaelic Park, right after she arrived in 1962. She had aunts who were nuns in San Antonio but she came to the Bronx on the advice of a friend and it wasn’t long before she found work nursing children, which she had done for a while at home and in England.
“I visited a friend who was having a baby at St. Francis in the Bronx, and a nun came in and saw how I was holding the baby. She asked me if I’d like a job,” Therese recalls.
She worked and studied in St. Francis for several years, becoming an infant care technician. Her career eventually took her to the Hospital for Special Surgery where she became an LPN, and then to the Hospital for Joint Diseases in Harlem where she worked and studied to become a registered nurse.
Therese retired “oh, many years ago,” she says, but she never quit Gaelic Park.
It was 1963 when she went there with a pal “who’s dead now, so many of them are dead,” she laments. A player by the name of Chambers from Co. Clare suffered a serious injury during a match and Therese went down to the field, advising those with no medical expertise not to touch the man. She braced him with “broken hurleys, towels, anything I could get my hands on until the ambulance arrived.”
He was taken away and the EMTs were impressed with the job she did to stabilize the player. So too was John “Kerry” O’Donnell, the all-powerful native of Co. Kerry who held the lease for Gaelic Park for several decades.
“John Kerry asked me for a cup of tea and told me that I did a great job out there. I said, ‘Thank you, sir.’ He said, ‘We’d love to have you here every week.’ And I said yes.
"Then he says, ‘Oh, by the way, you won’t get paid,” Therese recalls.
“I’ve been at the park practically every Sunday since.”
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She didn’t grow up in the Tipperary town of Thurles loving the GAA – Therese was actually born in Killarney, Co. Kerry and spent the first couple of years of her life there – but she quickly got hooked, and would travel back to Dublin most years to watch the All-Ireland finals.
She’s been ubiquitous at Gaelic Park in her nursing whites every Sunday. “I have loved it, I have to say. I met so many friends. And I know all the faces even though I might not know all the names. All the lads would call me mammy,” she says.
Back in the years after Therese first arrived, Gaelic Park was filled to the rim every Sunday. New York was still Irish then, but as emigration waned, so too did the crowds, especially in the last decade.
But there’s a silver lining. Irish Americans, the kids, and grandkids of players Therese likely stitched up at one point or another, are taking to the game in big numbers and helping to keep the New York GAA alive.
“There are juniors and seniors playing and they are so good. When they go back to Ireland to take part in a tournament they will win, that’s how good they are,” she offers.
“I always think that it is so important to keep our culture and heritage alive in New York, and these brilliant players are doing it.”
Leaving New York and Gaelic Park behind will be difficult for sure, but since Fonzie’s death last June 28, things changed. He was 90 years old, sharp as a tack and they had 30 great years together.
They knew each other in Thurles, before Therese came to America, and on one of her trips home, they became a couple. He packed his bags and came to live with her and they eventually settled into a home in Leonia, New Jersey.
It was a Sunday morning when Fonzie took a fall in the bedroom. Therese didn’t hear any disturbance and assumed he had walked to Mass at the nearby church which had just opened after Covid.
But something didn’t sit right – it was unlike him to leave without notice – and sure enough, she saw his cane by the bed, indicating that he hadn’t left the house. Fonzie took a fall which brought on a blood clot, and he passed.
They had a grand time together, attending GAA events, Tipperary functions, and Irish dances, but unsurprisingly life isn’t the same without him.
“It doesn’t feel right me being here anymore,” Therese says.
So she’ll head home to Thurles. She’s got a brother and sister still there, and plenty of nieces, nephews, and friends. She has a little house not far from town, but her plan is to sell it and move into a senior living flat in Thurles.
Though she’s 86, Therese is in “pretty good shape,” and doesn’t plan on letting her nursing skills go rusty.
“I’m going to volunteer if they’ll let me in one of the senior homes. I still have things I can do,” she says.
On Saturday night, legions of her friends gathered at McKeon’s in Yonkers to give her a proper sendoff. She sang a couple of tunes, and received a plaque that will join the many others she has from being the main honoree at so many functions.
Sundays at Gaelic Park will look different without Therese on the sidelines.
“Yes, that’s what everybody’s been telling me,” she says.
*This column first appeared in the June 23 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.