Lives Remembered

Mike McGinley: Emigrant who gave helping hand to countless others

Mike McGinley's Breffni Inn was a hub for Irish emigrants

COUNTLESS young Irish men and women had cause to thank Mike McGinley as they made their first faltering steps in America.

The journey to the Breffni Inn in Queens, New York was a well-worn trail for those finding themselves in desperate need of work or accommodation.

"It didn't make a difference where you were from - if you needed a helping hand, you got it," said his daughter Kate.

"He would give you money, buy you work clothes, get you a job, some people even came to live with us in our house.

"He was a father to a lot of people who didn't have anyone."

Mike could remember well his own difficult experiences as a young immigrant, when a Scotsman took him in for a few days until he got on his feet.

Born into modest surroundings on a farm in Beltany outside Eskra, Co Tyrone, he was the oldest of five children and had left school by the age of 10 to work on local farms.

When his father took ill in his teens he helped provide for the family, and it was a lack of work that made him take the boat to Canada aged 21.

He headed to Toronto where life as a young Irish Catholic was not easy, but he eventually got a good job as a bus driver.

When the threat of conscription ended in America after the Korean War, he then found the same job in New York.

He worked alongside Liam Kelly, the former leader of Saor Uladh jailed for an incendiary speech in Carrickmore in 1953, and the families became close friends.

Mike's own nationalist fervour had been lit by a teacher in Eskra as a child and he remained a staunch republican throughout his life.

He supported IRA activities in the border campaign and the Troubles and became a prominent member of Clan na Gael and set up the Tyrone Prisoners' Dependency Fund.

Kate recalls being picked up from school each day during the Hunger Strikes and doing her homework in the car on the way to join the picket line outside the British consulate.

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said in this period of the 1980s Mike’s "organisational skills and strength of character came to the fore".

"He was also involved in the MacBride Principles campaign for fair employment.

"Mike was passionate about achieving a united Ireland. He never sought recognition for his work. He gave freely of his time and energy whether it was in support of the political prisoners, helping recent immigrants or working to advance the peace process."

Mike's beliefs were shared by his wife Kathleen, from Glaslough in Co Monaghan.

They took over the Breffni in 1970 and under their ownership established it as a centre for Irish music and dancing, as well as a venue for republican events.

He was also a supporter of the GAA in New York, as well as closely following the fortunes of the Tyrone team back home.

Kate said he loved to see people doing well for themselves and was passionate about young people.

"He always put them forward - he thought the next generation had to be educated and carry things on, and nothing made him prouder than seeing his grandchildren carrying the Clan na Gael banner in the St Patrick's Day parade."

Mike McGinley died aged 85 on October 23. Predeceased by his wife Kathleen and brothers Terence and Arthur, he is survived by his children Patrick, John, Maureen and Kate, brother George and sister Mary.

A memorial Mass was celebrated in Eskra last Sunday, and a gathering afterwards was addressed by Monaghan Sinn Féin councillor Sean Conlon, who knew the McGinleys during years spent living in America.

He said: "Many of us have young people who have recently emigrated or are in the process of emigrating and it would be our wish that they would meet someone of the calibre and generosity of Mike, just as we benefited from his generosity as young emigrants."


Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 to get full access

Lives Remembered