Ireland House Oral History Collection

Mae O’Driscoll

Mae O’Driscoll, circa 2005. Photo by James Higgins, courtesy of Mae O’Driscoll.

Created/Published:

18 November 2005

1 hour, 38 minutes, 27 seconds

Preferred Citation:

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

Biographical Note:

Mae O’Driscoll (b. Skibbereen, County Cork, Ireland, 1939), retired Assistant Vice President of JPMorgan Chase and co-founder of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement, was raised on a dairy farm with five brothers and one sister. After finishing secondary school at the Convent of Mercy in Skibbereen, O’Driscoll emigrated to the United States on in 1958 with the intention of furthering her education. In New York, O’Driscoll joined three of her brothers in Holy Cross parish in Flatbush, an Irish neighborhood in Brooklyn. Within a month of arriving, she accepted a clerical position with Citibank where she remained until 1964.

Following various accounting jobs, O’Driscoll began working for JP Morgan & Co. in 1974. That same year she returned to Brooklyn College to finish her degree, graduating in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science in Accounting. As a woman and an immigrant on Wall Street, O’Driscoll felt discriminated against, particularly on those occasions when she was by-passed for promotion by colleagues at the same level. In 2002, just two years after JPMorgan’s merger with Chase, she retired as an Assistant Vice President of the Facilities Management Department, which she had been working in since 1979.

Along with beginning her professional career, O’Driscoll was involved in the New York Irish community immediately after her arrival. With her brother Bill, she began raising money for various Irish causes in the early 1960s. She worked with the National Association for Irish Justice in 1969, particularly for Bernadette Devlin’s visit to New York City,(1) and became a member of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in 1971. She joined the County Cork Association in 1983 and six years later, in 1989, she was elected its first woman president.

Through her work with the Cork Association, she became a founding organizer of the Irish Immigration Reform Movement (IIRM) in 1987. The IIRM was created in response to the plight of 40,000 plus undocumented Irish immigrants who arrived in the United States in the mid-1980s. The organization was proactive in alerting the media, the American people, and legislators about the situation of the Irish, their illegal status and the obstacles they were facing in America. It lobbied Congress to enact legislation that would benefit immigrants from thirty-five other countries who had been disadvantaged by the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. In 1990, with the support received from multiple congressmen and the devotion of IIRM members, an immigration law (HR-4300) was passed that provided specific visa relief for the Irish and others. The legislation was an enormous victory for the IIRM.

In addition to the IIRM, Mae O’Driscoll was active in the establishment of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center (EIIC) in Woodside, Queens. The EIIC provides counseling services for housing, employment, and citizenship as well as other social services for immigrants from all over the world.

At the time of this interview, O’Driscoll resided in Brooklyn, New York and was still an active member of the Cork Association as well as a trustee and secretary of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center’s Executive Committee.

Interviewers:

Photo Credit:

  1. Mae O’Driscoll, circa 2005. Photo by James Higgins, courtesy of Mae O’Driscoll.

Notes:

  1. In 1969 Bernadette Devlin (b. 1947) was an elected member of the British Parliament, representing Mid-Ulster.
  2. Patrick Conway’s Restaurant on East 43rd Street, New York City.
  3. Mike Devlin (d. February 1990).
  4. Marvine Howe, “Invisible Aliens: Irish Fear Effect of New Immigration Law,” New York Times, April 17, 1987, p. B1.