Dec. 14, 2022 By Michael Dorgan
The Irish community on both sides of the Atlantic has been paying their respects to Donal Gallagher — a former Donegal Club New York manager and staunch advocate for Irish business and cultural events in the Big Apple — who passed away Saturday, age 78.
Gallagher, who hailed from Killybegs in County Donegal and lived in East Durham, led Donegal New York to six New York Senior Football championships in a managerial career that spanned three different decades, the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.
Affectionately known as “The Veteran,” Gallagher 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.
He was also a leading figure in the success of the East Durham Irish Festival. The exciting week of music, song, dance, and crafts has been running for 45 years, taking place on Memorial Day Weekend at the end of May, according to Donegal Daily.
Gallagher was heavily involved in many cultural projects too, including the establishment of the East Durham Irish Cultural & Sports Centre, which later became the MJQ Irish Cultural & Sports Centre. Gallagher was previously both the president and executive director of the centre.
Donal and his wife Kitty Kelly are synonymous with Irish products, having set up the Guaranteed Irish store in East Durham more than 40 years ago. The couple also ran a wholesale business from the premises.
Kelly announced Gallagher’s passing with a heartfelt tribute on Facebook Sunday.
“Our world as we know it has changed forever,” Kelly wrote.
“Last night at approximately 8:00 p.m., 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 Donegal NY GAA (coach and manager for decades, “The Veteran”) and definition of gentleman, had his suffering end.
“I am devastated beyond words and still can’t believe he is gone. I know his suffering is over but we definitely were not ready and selfishly I wanted him to keep on living. His last 8 weeks were terrible 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.”
Donegal Gaelic Football Club New York
The Donegal club also paid tribute to Gallagher in a Facebook post.
“Donal was Donegal through and through,” the post reads.
“We had the privilege of honoring Donal at our Dinner dance a few years ago and it was a testament to how high Donal’s players held him. We had a packed house at Dunwoodie that night.
“The amount of players that made their way from Ireland and further afield was amazing. When Donal brought you to play for Donegal he made you feel at home. There will be many’s a story told over the next few days. He will be listening to them and breaking into that great smile. May you Rest In Peace Donal. You have earned your rest. RIP.”
The post was inundated with comments from those who crossed paths with Gallagher during his lifetime.
“An unbelievable man known to us all as the Veteran,” wrote Liam Molloy.
“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.”
Gallagher was also the man who brought Cork Football legend Larry Tompkins to New York in the 1980s after he had fallen out with Kildare. The move was the cataclysm for a remarkable series of events which eventually ended up with Tompkins captaining Cork to All-Ireland glory.
In essence, there was no Larry Tompkins story without New York and Donal Gallagher.
We at The Long Hall Podcast had the privilege of meeting Gallagher around two years ago as part of an interview for Tompkins’ autobiography. Johnny and I send our condolences to Kitty, Donal’s family and the Donegal New York club.
Players Gallagher Managed
There were many other renowned Gaelic footballers to play under Gallagher.
Martin McHugh, Anthony Molloy, Declan Bonner, Niall McCready, Damian Diver, Charlie Miulgrew, Eunan McIntyre, Barry Cunningham, John Cunningham, Martin Coll, Kevin Cassidy, Noel Hegarty, Paddy Hegarty, Eunan McIntyre, Lanty Molloy, Cathal Campbell, Stephen Cassidy and Leslie McGettigan are just some of the Donegal players who have come under Gallagher’s wing, according to The Irish News.
Anthony Molloy, Donegal’s All-Ireland-winning captain of 1992, won county titles in 1986 1988 and 1992.
Apart from managing Donegal players, Gallagher also managed the likes of Kerry greats like Pat Spillane, Jack O’Shea, Tim Kennelly as well Jim Gavin of Dublin.
In a remarkable tour in 1987, Gallagher brought a star-studded Donegal team to Ireland where they beat Cork, Mayo and Laois before drawing with Donegal.
Speaking in 2019, Anthony Molloy said Gallagher was tactically well ahead of his time and was studying the opposition in great depth.
“He also was a proponent of taking off a man and then putting him on again as Tyrone did with Peter Canavan in 2003 when he was not 100 percent fit,” Molloy said.
“I think the team Donal had in 1986 was the best ever as we also had the likes of Pat Spillane, Tim Kennelly, P J Buckley, Lanty Molloy, Padraig Dunne and the truly great Larry Tompkins.
“Donegal lost a lot of people to New York in the 1980s, but they were all very well looked after by Donal.
“Donal also brought a lot of Cork lads as well. He was Mr. Donegal in those years and was a great fella as well in every way.”