The Kerrymen’s Association of New York didn’t even allow women among its ranks until 2011, and now, five years later, the county society has proudly inaugurated its first female president.
Loretta King, a second generation Irish American whose maternal grandparents came from Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, was unanimously elected as president and sworn in last Friday evening during a ceremony at the Kerry Hall in Yonkers attended by members old and new. King, a mother of three who was raised in the Parkchester section of the Bronx, joined the association soon after the ban on females was lifted by a more than two-thirds majority vote in 2011.
“I’m delighted to be leading the Kerrymen’s Association,” King told the Irish Voice on Monday afternoon.
“I’ve always felt extremely welcome and I’ve become friends with some wonderful people. We’ve helped each other in a lot of ways.”
Not long after joining the group King was elected to various leadership positions, including auditor and recording secretary. She became vice president for 2015, a historical Kerrymen’s stepping stone for the highest office of president. She was elected unopposed in November of last year to fulfill that role for 2016.
King, now based in Stamford, CT where she runs her own digital marketing business, LiKing Marketing, has taken the lead in bringing the Kerrymen’s Association up to speed on social media, which she plans on continuing in the future.
“It’s how people communicate and it’s a way to reach out to many different people,” she said.
The association has roughly 400 members now, and like all of the other county associations faces challenges in growing its membership. Cultural connections are key to increasing awareness, King says – she became a member of the Kerrymen’s after attending many set dances at the Kerry Hall – and casting a wider net that includes Irish Americans of all generations is also needed.
“We can’t look down on Irish Americans. I’m second generation and I feel completely Irish even though my family has been here for 100 years,” King says.
She also wants to heighten the Kerrymen’s outreach to local Irish groups such as the Aisling Irish Center, and strengthen the relationship the association has with the younger Irish.
“It’s important to us to support the new Irish who are coming here. I have three children, and I would like to think that if they went to live abroad, there would be a group they could reach out to that would help them if they needed it,” King said.
She pointed out that the association was founded in 1881 after a Kerry immigrant in New York was asked to visit a morgue to identify the body of a male who had died, with the only item in his pocket a piece of paper with an Irish address in Co. Kerry. Funds were raised by fellow natives of Kerry in New York at the time to provide the deceased with a Christian burial, and at the gathering for the man, the Kerrymen’s Patriotic and Benevolent Association was born.
“We have a history of helping others and I definitely want to continue in that tradition,” King said.
King grew up as an avid Irish step-dancer but eventually gave it up in her teens; her two daughters also Irish danced until their teen years. King eventually re-connected with Irish set dancing, took adult classes in Greenwich, CT and attended Irish ceilis and dances to broaden her connection. The Kerry Hall hosts such events on a regular basis.
The annual dinner dance is set for Friday, March 18, and the Kerrymen’s also plans on marking the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising by delving into its historical archives, which include meeting minutes from 1916.
As for the Kerrymen’s Association name? King is just fine leaving the “men” part of it as is.
“Honestly, I don’t have a problem with it at all. It’s tradition,” she said. “It’s been in our constitution forever, and if someone wants to change it down the line, well, that will be up to them. But I’m fine with it.”