Looking Out for Each Other
Dedicated members have insured both the survival and success of Irish county societies over many generations. The guiding principles of Christian charity and the old Irish rural tradition of the meitheal (helping one’s neighbors) made benevolence, fraternalism, and mutualism the bedrock of these American organizations. Today benefits for worthy causes remain one of the core pursuits of county societies, typically combined with social events.
In an impersonal metropolis the men and women who made up county society membership provided invaluable hands-on assistance to thousands of immigrants, especially in the days before medical insurance, pensions, and social security. For many others there was great comfort in knowing that, in times of crisis, people from home were never more than a letter, telephone call, or society meeting away. Particularly in the early years, New York’s Irish county societies helped spare many the indignity of a pauper’s burial. Modest dues also covered benefit payments when a member became sick or when death left a member’s family in need. But equally as important were the visits made to the old and infirm, the wakes and funerals attended, and the assistance provided with employment and housing prospects.
The constitution of the United Irish Counties Association, the central coordinating body in New York since 1904, extended these purposes even further, vowing to furnish information and advice about the variety of educational, civil service, and business opportunities available so that Irish immigrants could take full advantage of all the United States had to offer.