Matty Maher, owner of McSorley's and native of Threecastles in Co Kilkenny, passed away surrounded by family on January 11

Matty Maher, the longtime owner of the historic McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York City, passed away on January 11 following a battle with lung cancer. The Co Kilkenny native was 80 years old.

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Maher was reportedly surrounded by his five daughters and his wife Tess, a native of Co Meath, when he passed away. 

Maher had owned McSorley’s, which is considered New York City's longest continually operated Irish pub, for nearly five decades. His story is that of the American Dream mixed with, of course, a bit of Irish luck. 

In 1964, Harry Kirwan, the then-owner of McSorley’s, was visiting Ireland when his car broke down. 25-year-old Maher came to his assistance on the roadside, and Kirwan told Maher to call in if he was ever in New York City and promised the young Irish man a job.

Maher took Kirwan up on his offer and immigrated to New York City. There, he began as a waiter and bartender at McSorley’s, slowly climbing the ranks before eventually buying the business from Kirwan’s son Danny in 1977.

The official Facebook page for McSorley’s confirmed the news of Maher’s death on January 12. The post read in part: “From a young man who farmed and delivered meat to make ends meet, Matty left Ireland in the early '60s and through hustle and grit became a world-renowned publican. 

“When he started working at the bar, McSorley's was still a men-only establishment with dozens of flophouses within blocks from 15 East 7th Street. When they had to let women in by court order on August 11th, 1970, the bar's future was uncertain.

"And when Matty purchased the place in 1977, the city was near bankrupt and the neighborhood's future uncertain. Landlords were just walking away from their buildings, heroin was rampant, cars had to wait in lines that extended for blocks just to get gas, crime, and grime everywhere. 

“But Matty left poverty back in Ireland and he was determined to leave it behind for good. He saw an opportunity and believed in the American Dream. And he loved history and all things Irish and knew McSorley's and the city could survive when so many others told him he was absolutely nuts.

“All of us who were lucky enough to have known the man will forever be eternally grateful for his generous spirit, and his compassionate understanding and forgiveness in man's folly.” 

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Comments poured in on the McSorley's Facebook post offering condolences in the wake of Maher's death. One man wrote: “He [Maher]  gave me a job when I needed one, 35 years ago. His act of kindness and generosity was a matter of fact for him. It was just Matty being Matty. But for me, it changed my perspective! It instilled in me an understanding! An understanding of how one can be kind and generous, to another, and how much it can mean to someone. Matty, gave me "The Start"! I’m still going and I am better for having met a son of "Threecastles". Rest in Peace Matty, and Thank You.”

Condolences were also being offered in Maher's native Co Kilkenny. The Kilkenny People memorialized Maher saying: "The accordion playing, fun-loving Threecastles man who had a kind word for everyone was revered by Kilkenny exiles and his love of hurling and the GAA was famous. He always came home for the hurling All Ireland and was in Croke Park last August for the final against Tipperary. He made friends easily and never forgot one. 

"He had a welcome for every person from Ireland and made life easier for many people who came to the US to start a new life or to earn enough to set out on their own.

"It was and still is a home from home and a meeting place for Irish people and in particular, Kilkenny people. And if you were down on your luck, there was always an extra special welcome for you from Matty and the staff at McSorley's."

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Maher's daughter Ann Pullman told the NY Daily News that she and her family expect to keep McSorley's "going exactly how it’s been since the doors first opened in 1854.”

Maher’s nephew Michael Brannigan, who has worked at McSorley’s for about 30 years, also told the NY Daily News: “We’ve been inundated with calls and comments, everybody’s had something nice to say.

“It’s amazing, he hasn’t worked in 30 years and everyone still remembers him. He made an impact."

Brannigan added: “People’d always ask him, ‘You own the bar?’"

“He’d say, ‘No, you own the bar.’ The customers own it.”

Maher’s wake will be held Tuesday, January 14 at Martin A. Gleason Funeral Home on Northern Blvd. in Flushing, Queens. His funeral is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. January 15 at Holy Trinity Church in Whitestone. He’ll be buried at Locust Valley Cemetery in Nassau County on Long Island.

Have you visited McSorley's Old Ale House before? Did you ever get the chance to meet Matty Maher? Tell us in the comments