Obituary of Donal Gallagher
February 25, 1944 – December 10, 2022
Our world as we knew it changed forever with the death of Donal Gallagher, age 78, on Saturday, December 10, 2022. My best friend and supporter, my amazing husband, most wonderful boss to his staff, generous to all people, kind to all animals, keeper of the truth, hardest working man, incredible promoter of all things East Durham (founder of the MJQ Irish Cultural & Sports Centre) and coach and manager for decades of the Donegal NY Gaelic Football Club/GFC (affectionately known as "The Veteran") and THE definition of gentleman, had his suffering end. We definitely were not ready and selfishly we wanted him to keep on living. His last 8 weeks were a struggle as he endured trips in and out of the hospital and rehab and he fought so hard and rarely complained, but he was tired I guess of fighting the good fight and ready to finally have a rest. We are devastated to lose him.
I am truly grateful that he died at home here in East Durham, the “town he loved so well” and that I was with him along with our "adopted son" Seamus Balfe and that immediately Lar and Emma Molloy rushed down from the Shamrock House. Lar and Emma were truly his family and they loved him and were here for him whenever needed, day or night. They and their two children Callum and Emily (Donal’s goddaughter) loved him beyond measure and he loved them equally in return. Lar rarely let a day go by without checking on Donal either in person or by phone. He brought great cheer and friendship to Donal.
We were all fighting for him to make it, but always an independent man, Donal did things on his terms and left us when he decided it was his time to go. Donal passed in peace and thankfully without pain knowing his beloved team of family caregivers were here with him. And we know for certain that his beloved cousin in-law Owen McConnell was there to help him cross over. Donal prayed so hard for Owen to make it these last 3+ years as Owen battled cancer, and Donal was devastated when I had to tell him Owen had passed only 3 weeks prior leaving behind his beautiful wife Joanne (Donal’s cousin from Ardara, Donegal) and their young, beautiful family of four. Please keep them in your prayers.
There aren’t any words to truly honor this man, Donal Gallagher, this self made man, who sacrificed so much for others and who worked selflessly and tirelessly not only to always see the good in others but who helped all to see the good in themselves as well and who never stopped fighting for all he believed in especially this little town he loved so much, East Durham. He was a leader like no other who knew how to pull people together for a cause and get them motivated (and do so without pay…he was all about volunteering!) all for the betterment of East Durham.
Donal never had a bad word to say about anyone and even when people hurt him or didn't do the right thing he would always say "say a prayer" and “let it go”. We have a lot to learn from such an amazing man. His incredible intellect was only matched by his overwhelming kindness and generosity. He did so many things for so many people but never told anyone about it and never looked for any kind of acknowledgment. He was probably the best Christian I've ever known and he lived as we all should live, doing what he could always to help other people and lift them up when they were down. He helped so many young people especially those arriving here from Ireland and gave them direction and he served as a father figure and counselor in addition to helping so many of the young Irish find accommodations and jobs upon arriving here. He was incredibly well respected by so many people and so many people felt such goodwill and love towards him, a love that extended across this country to Ireland and countries beyond. I think he knew this but I don't know if he knew the extent to which that respect and love was felt for him.
He was honored 3 times, by the Donegal Association of NY in March 2009, the Donegal GFC in January 2019 and this past spring, May 2022, by the East Durham Irish Festival and each time it was a big effort to convince him to accept the awards and honors as he was always the most incredible humble “behind the scenes” man.
“Donal was a passionate GAA man and spent decades coaching and managing the Donegal GFC NY where he led the team to six New York Senior Football Championships in a managerial career that spanned three difference decades, the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Affectionately known as “The Veteran” Donal is credited with helping countless numbers of immigrants, both inside and outside GAA circles, move to New York during his lifetime and was a father like figure for many who landed on these shores.” (Michael Dorgan of the Long Haul Podcast) His impact on the Donegal Football Club was unequalled and it will be hard for anyone to ever fill his shoes.
Donal was always available for any help needed for a fundraiser especially when it involved a family and to this end ran an amazing benefit for Joe “Banjo” Burke some 19 years ago in Yonkers and again 3 years ago in Yonkers for his beloved cousin Joanne and her husband Owen as Owen battled cancer. These events were not your typical fundraiser held at one venue. Rather, Donal had between 10 and 12 venues going at the same time with continual music at each requiring a huge number of bands (who all donated their time when Donal Gallagher would ask) and a huge number of volunteers and organizing including a mass to start the day. The other events he gave to and helped out throughout the decades are too many to mention but his continual efforts showed the best of Irish grit, determination and generosity when he gave so selflessly of his time, energy and money.
It was an honor to know him, a gift to have him in our lives and it's a devastating loss for all of us whose lives he touched knowing that we now have to go on without him. He fought a tough battle with Parkinson's and the last two years were especially difficult watching him decline and having to depend on others to help him do basic things when he had always lived such a vital, active and independent life, but he rarely ever complained and always said "Thank You" and "I'm sorry to be a bother" to those of us who helped him and cared for him (and loved him).
I am not sure how to go on without you Donal Gallagher. You taught me so much in these 20 plus years and I will do my best to live the way you lived but I'm not sure how to do it without your lead, your advice, your wit, your constant support and love for me over these 20 plus years in addition to your calm gentle, and ever loving presence. I am forever grateful God put us together. And I'm grateful we danced while we were able. You were a great jive and waltz partner. And it was you who started my band and encouraged me from the beginning! Without you I would have never had the wonderful experiences I had playing with such incredible musicians and meeting such wonderful people who loved our music these last 19 years. You were my biggest fan and supporter. When I knew you were at a gig, even if you were just there quietly in the corner, my heart skipped a beat. And when I’d be driving home from a gig hours away, you would call me throughout the night (and early am) to make sure I was awake and okay. All because of you my heart skipped a beat. And your smile, that smile. When you smiled it literally lit up the room. And the twinkle in your eye. You were our own New York Sean Connery.
I would like to give a sincere thank you to Lar and Emma Molloy and Seamus Balfe who helped us continually and were the boots on the ground here with us in the trenches and who were on call day and night to help in any way they could these last 2 years when we needed assistance. Donal truly, truly appreciated it and was always so touched and forever grateful. He loved you all. Thank you to his aide Betsy Simmons who helped us out during the day Monday through Friday this last year with good cheer and great skills and to all his loving friends and family who checked in constantly and/or came to visit him, called, prayed, wrote and did everything they could to show their love and support for this man especially his first “adopted son” Brendan Rains who stayed in constant contact. And a very special thank you to Brother Gregory, Donal’s friend of 50 years (even though he is a Kerry Man!) who visited and/or called Donal every week or more and who was a constant source of wit, solace and spiritual support.
A very heartfelt thank you to his wonderful staff at Guaranteed Irish, Eileen Kellegher, Donal's steady and trusted friend and lead worker for nearly 30 years (and my aunt), her sister Peggy Green, our cousin Anna Mary Kelly Rivet and friend Jeanne Meade Farrell who stepped up and helped so much this last year when I couldn't be there as much and Donal certainly couldn't be there. It meant so much to Donal to know his beloved Guaranteed Irish Shop was in such good hands And thank you to all our friends and family for all their offers of assistance and their prayers and good wishes.
Now, as Donal would say, "say a prayer" and "always do your best" and "never take anything personally" (that's a tough one)...and if you can, do something for someone without telling anyone, without looking for anything in return and do it in Donal's memory.
I'm hearing Donal now saying my name and saying "oh boy" and "you're not so bad" (it took me about 2 years of being with this man before I realized getting a "you're not so bad" from Donal Gallagher was a huge compliment. He was the king of understatement!) in his lovely, soft Donegal accent. Oh Donal, I loved you well. You are so missed. Rest in peace. You most certainly earned it.
And now for the more “traditional” obit for those who don’t know Donal’s life story, a life story punctuated by the constant theme of helping others, working hard and saying a prayer.
Donal Gallagher was born February 1944 in Killybegs, County Donegal, Ireland. He was the 4th of eleven children to Nora “Cissy” and Mick “Peter” Gallagher. Donal grew up as a young lad working with his dad as a farmer and a weaver. After graduating secondary school at age 18, Donal moved to New York and initially settled in Brooklyn with his relatives. Shortly thereafter he moved to the Bronx and landed a job at Citicorp on Park Avenue starting in the mailroom and moving his way up to Manager of the Audit Department where he managed more than 30 people. Citicorp put him through Pace University where he earned a Bachelor's degree in Accounting. Donal worked for Citicorp for nearly 15 years before leaving to start his own financial consulting business. During this time Donal also coached and managed the Donegal Football Club of New York. He also was accepted into and studied at The New School of Social Research in NYC where he completed a Master's degree in Counseling and nearly finished a doctorate in counseling before the lure of running yet another business took him away from completing his studies. And yet, although he wanted to earn a doctorate in Counseling in order to work with and help young people (and during his studies was working in a counseling program for troubled young men) he truly fulfilled that dream with his lifetime of counseling the many young people who came into his life via the GAA and beyond and his counseling extended to all ages. It was his calling to be sure. So many people have commented this past week how they wouldn’t be where they are today without the help and advice of Donal Gallagher. What a legacy.
In 1979, inspired by his first cousin Nancy Dorrian, (also from Killybegs, Donegal and who had started a hand knit Irish sweater company), Donal opened up a small Irish Imports store in the Riverdale section of the Bronx known as Guaranteed Irish where he sold not only the beautiful hand knit Donegal Irish sweaters made by Nancy and her team of knitters, but also started offering other Artisan craft work from Ireland. Donal had yet to come to East Durham but folks were encouraging him to check out the Irish town just two hours north of the city and upon arriving he quickly set up a tent on summer weekends in the parking lot of O’Neill’s on Rt. 145 (space generously given by George O'Neill, RIP) in order to sell his cousin's hand knit items. This spot was in the center of town next door to what a year later would become the permanent location of "Guaranteed Irish." Donal expanded to an additional store, his third, in the ski resort town of Windham (also in Greene County). For many years he also had a successful wholesale business selling to Irish Import stores throughout the Northeast all while building his full-time financial services company and continuing his coaching and managing of the Donegal New York Football Club. After a number of years, the other 2 locations were closed to focus on the location in East Durham and today Guaranteed Irish is one of the finest Irish Import stores in the US and is noted as the largest Irish import store in America if not the world and entering into the 43rd year in business!
In the mid 1980’s Donal helped develop and found what became the "East Durham Irish Cultural & Sports Centre" which was officially incorporated on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 1987! The Cultural Centre was later formally renamed and dedicated in honor of Kerryman, Michael J Quill, who was the founder of the Transport Workers Union of America, a union created for the Subway workers of NYC.
For nearly four decades, Donal has worked tirelessly to ensure the future of the Cultural Centre acting in many capacities as both President and Executive Director. He helped create the infrastructure that was vital to the longevity of the East Durham Irish Festival including the building of two pavilions and permanent bathrooms. He saw to fruition the creation of a football pitch (noteworthy as it is the only one in America that is the same regulation size as the one in Croke Park, Dublin), the development of the world's largest walking map of Ireland, the acquisition of a Donegal thatched cottage that was shipped over from Donegal, the dedication of a 9-11 Memorial and early on the acquisition of two neighboring buildings and property all of which have enhanced the Irish Festival grounds. Donal also managed many projects including concerts and sporting events in order to raise funds for the Centre.
All of the above doesn’t begin to describe the nature of a man who was always willing to lend a hand to anyone in need. He graciously gave his time to many including the many, many young folks who immigrated to New York from Ireland and who thank Donal to this day for helping them get housing, employment, advice and always lending a caring ear. His commitment to always doing the right thing and putting others first was a lifelong tenet that is being hailed by literally hundreds in the outpouring of heartfelt comments made this last week on social media here and in Ireland and beyond. His big smile, soft manner, generous nature, passion for all things Donegal and East Durham, steady hand, sly wit, twinkling eyes and promotion of Irish culture was unequalled. The constant theme echoed by all is that Donal was a true gentleman, an advocate for all, a helping hand to all and a kind presence known for staying out of the limelight but somehow always getting it done.
As friend and Irish fiddler Bernadette Fee so eloquently stated, “Donal was an incredible force for the good of all Irish and Irish-Americans and the culture of Ireland flourishes here because of people like him.”
And as his lifelong friend Brother Gregory stated, “Donal Gallagher was one of the best people to ever cross the Atlantic and come to this country.”
And just a few of the sentiments echoed this past week:
Donal always had a hand to offer to many.
He was an admired and respected presence in the community.
A kind man who helped so many when they arrived in NYC. Such a huge loss to Donegal GFC, NYC and the Irish community in NY. Rest in peace Veteran. (Gerry Kelly)
We all came here so young and we met a great man who gave us many great days and wins in Gaelic Park. You may have lived in East Durham but you never forgot the land you came from. A Donegal man who will always be remembered and loved. RIP Donal. (Helen McCarthy Yerger)
The man, the myth, the legend Donal Gallagher. Fondly remembered as the vet, one of the world’s true gentlemen and scholar. Donal made it easier for so many people in NYC with his caring and words of wisdom. He was the Godfather of all things Donegal and especially his beloved Donegal football team. Rest easy my good friend. (Pat McGill)
Donal was the greatest ambassador for Ireland and USA. I learned from him as did many and that is part of his great legacy that will live on. (Derek Dempsey)
An unbelievable man known to us all as the Veteran. A really generous and helpful person when I landed in America in ’82 with no idea what I wanted to do. It was Donal who introduced me into the business I am in today. I will never forget him. Rest in peace Veteran. (Liam Molloy)
A great man and a true gent who helped so many of us down through the years on and off the pitch. RIP Donal (Cathal Campbell)
Donal was unique, a truly selfless individual. He revolutionized the Irish Alps. (Norbert Hennessey)
Donal was truly a great man who helped so many people when they came to this country. He’ll be sadly missed. (“The Chief” Frank Molloy)
The twinkle in his eye and kindness in his heart. (Jeanne Meade Farrell)
Donal was in the truest sense, a gentleman who deeply loved his native Donegal and also his adopted East Durham. He put his heart and soul into reviving East Durham. His passion was contagious. He will be mourned and missed by many for a long time to come. (Martina Ni Cathmhaoil)
He was a giant of a Donegal man. Sooo good. A pure gentleman. (Margie Mulvihill)
What a true gentleman in every sense.
One of the best men I ever met in my life. (Anthony Collins)
There will never be another. (Tom Comerford)
His ability to lead and motivate others was unrivaled.
He was ALL good. He was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met but wore it modestly. I will miss the twinkle in his eyes, I will miss his smile and I will miss his soft distinctive voice. (Cousin Joanne McConnell)
And the constant…”if it weren’t for Donal Gallagher, I’d never have…”
What a gift he was to us all.
Cunningham’s Funeral Home
Rt. 81, Greenville, NY
Sunday, December 18, 2022, 2 -7 pm
Prayer Service at 4 pm.
Our Lady of Knock Shrine
Rt. 145, East Durham, NY
Monday, December 19, 2022, 1 pm
Reception immediately following at The Shamrock House, Rt. 145, East Durham, NY.
Donal was predeceased by both his parents and his brother Anthony.
Donal is survived by his soulmate and wife Kitty Kelly, siblings Anna Whitters, Vincent, Josephine Shelly (Pat), Nora Smith (Stuart), Michael (Linda), Veronica Harley (John), Margaret Gallagher, Patrick (Erica), Brigid, numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and many, many friends.
Donal will be remembered in the spring at which time we will have a graveside ceremony when we will bury his ashes at Winston Cemetery in East Durham. Ken Dudley, the President of the MJQ Centre has informed us that the board has decided to name the pitch (which Donal helped build and make sure was the same size as that in Croke Park…and is the only other regulation size pitch in the United States!) in honor of Donal. We were thrilled to receive this news and we will coordinate the graveside ceremony along with the renaming of the pitch and a Memorial after.
Donal gave generously to all throughout his lifetime. Donations may be made to the following organizations that Donal supported: The MJQ Irish Cultural and Sports Centre, the Donegal Football Club of NY, East Durham Volunteer Fire Company, Greene County Paramedics, Broome Animal Sanctuary, Community Action of Greene County.
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