Ireland House Oral History Collection

Donald A. Kelly

Donald A. Kelly, 30 March 2007. Photo by Marion R. Casey.


15 November 2006

128 Minutes

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

Donald A. Kelly (b. 1935, New York, New York) is the grandson of Irish immigrants from counties Roscommon, Cavan and Longford. He is the fourth of five children and the third of four sons, born to James Francis (d. 1980) and Elizabeth Kelly (d. 1974). He is the older brother of Raymond W. Kelly (b. 1941) who, at the time of this interview, was Commissioner of the New York City Police Department.

Kelly’s formative years were spent in St. Gregory the Great parish, in the neighborhood around Columbus Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets on Manhattan’s upper west side. He began his education in the parish grammar school, later attended Power Memorial High School (West 61st Street, Manhattan), and graduated from Straubenmuller Textile High School (West 18th Street, Manhattan) in 1953. Later that year, Kelly enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served for three years, during which time he was sent to Puerto Rico twice.

After returning from military service, Kelly began working as a bank teller for Emigrant Savings Bank at their main branch office on Chambers Street in Manhattan and attended Pace University at night. He retired in 2006 after forty-eight years with Emigrant; during the last twenty of those years, Kelly was senior vice-president of retail banking, community relations, and corporate security. At the time of this interview, Emigrant Savings Bank was the last of the great nineteenth century thrift institutions to survive under its original name; it was established in New York City in 1850 to promote and enable the careful management of money by primarily Irish and Catholic immigrants.(1) A century later, Donald Kelly’s time with Emigrant Savings Bank coincided with major changes in the industry including the introduction of checking accounts, computers, and automatic teller machines as well as the acquisition by merger of many new branch offices in the metropolitan area.(2)

In the tradition of Emigrant Savings Bank’s founders, Kelly was able to help undocumented Irish immigrants living in New York City in the mid-1980s obtain bank accounts to protect their wages from theft. He also became involved with the Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC), a Queens-based organization that provides assistance to newly-arrived Irish immigrants. At the time of this interview, Kelly was serving as President of the Executive Committee of the EIIC.

Married to Maureen Levinson since 1961, Don Kelly raised two daughters and two sons in Resurrection-Ascension parish in Rego Park, Queens, New York.

Click on image to enlarge.

  1. Emigrant Savings Bank, 51 Chambers Street in Manhattan, 1912. Courtesy of Donald A. Kelly.


Photo Credit:

  1. Donald A. Kelly, 30 March 2007. Photo by Marion R. Casey.
  2. Emigrant Savings Bank, 51 Chambers Street in Manhattan, 1912. Courtesy of Donald A. Kelly.


  1. Marion R. Casey, “Refractive History: Memory and the Founders of the Emigrant Savings Bank,” in Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in theUnited States, eds. J.J. Lee and M.R. Casey (New York University Press, 2006), 302–331.
  2. Marion R. Casey and Patrick J. Mullins, Emigrant Savings Bank, since 1850: The Spirit of Thrift (VHS, 28 mins., Time Lapse Media, 2000)
  3. James Francis Kelly worked as a delivery man for Sheffield Farms Milk Company.
  4. The Interboro Rapid Transit Company (IRT) ran New York City’s first subway line, which opened in 1904,between City Hall and 145th Street at Broadway.
  5. This is one of the eleven indulgenced novenas permitted by the Catholic Church to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary.
  6. Pace University; its New York City campus is opposite City Hall.
  7. Brian O’Dwyer is senior partner in the law firm of O’Dwyer & Bernstien, and Chair of the Executive Committee of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center.