A CASTLETOWNSHEND native, now resident in Connecticut, is behind what he believes may be the only commemoration of the centenary of the Easter Rising in the US.
Paddy O’Connell, a native of Castletownshend, was the driving force in bringing about the production and erection of a monument to the Rising, which now sits outside the Gaelic American Club (GAC) in Fairfield, Connecticut.
Paddy was born and reared on the Coast Road in Castletownshend and emigrated in 1961, first to New York and then Connecticut. His sister Anne Daly still lives here and, she sent him the recent Southern Star supplement, 1916: A West Cork perspective, which he says he read ‘from cover to cover the first night I received it’.
Having been involved in the Co Cork Association of New York, The Ancient Order of Hibernians and Irish Northern Aid Committee – of which he served as national chairman from 1980-86 – Paddy moved to Connecticut in 1997 and set about influencing the ex-pat community there.
‘I told the local AOH members that I always attend the Easter Sunday commemorative mass and celebration in New York,’ he said.
‘Some of them went to New York with me the following Easter Sunday and were impressed. We decided to have our own mass and celebration in Fairfield, Connecticut. We had our first Mass and celebration in 2007 and have held one each year since then.’
Bigger projects awaited, and four years ago Paddy began to lay the groundwork for the most recent development.
‘In 2012 I came up with the idea of doing something special for the 100 anniversary of the Easter Rising,’ he explained.
‘A few of us formed a committee and we got a very well-known sculptress, Susan Clanard, to work with us. She doesn’t have an Irish background but after reading up on the Easter rising she came up with an idea – a bronze relief mounted on a granite stone depicting the seven signaturies of the Proclamation. The monument stands four feet wide, five-and-a-half feet high, and a foot-and-a-half thick.
‘Our next mission was to raise the funds to make it a reality. The cost of the monument was ,500, plus another ,000 for foundation, shipping, erection and so on, and we raised over ,000.
‘We decided to put the monument in front of the club between the American and Irish flagpoles,’ he pointed out. ‘And on April 24th, the anniversary of the Rising, the Most Reverend Frank J Coggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport, celebrated the memorial mass and gave a very inspiring sermon.
He was assisted by several priests including Fr Victor Martin, pastor of St Thomas Aquinas Church in Fairfield, with the unveiling at 4pm. It was was done by Bob O’Keefe, who contributed generously to the project,’ Paddy said.
‘Martin Galvin, a well-known activist and historian, gave a speech well in tune with the occasion and a huge crowd was present, including O’Donovan Rossa’s grand-daughters and a great-grandson. To my knowledge, this monument is the only one erected in the US for the 100th anniversary.’