During the final quarter of the 19th century, the population of New York was approximately 1,250,000 and of this number, about 200,000 were Irish immigrants. Therefore at this time, roughly one in every six people in New York City were Irish born.
The conditions under which the majority of immigrants lived in were, to say the least, not good and it was an effort to improve these conditions that the Corkmen’s Association was formed. At this stage, the club was confined to men born in Cork City only, its purpose being to take care of any members in need of assistance. However, as the Association expanded, its committee decided to accept as members men born anywhere in County Cork.
The County Corkmen’s Benevolent, Patriotic and Protective Association was founded in 1884. The purpose of forming the Association was to promote unity, good will and protection amongst its members and to foster their culture and traditions. A fund was established to aid the sick and disabled members and to assist in payment of funeral benefits.
In the year 1884 unemployment in the New York area was high and the few jobs available were advertised with the all too familiar words, “No Irish Need Apply”. Remember, in 1884, Ireland was still a generation removed from achieving its independence from Great Britain. The newly formed Association provided its members with a sense of security and the opportunity to meet and to socialize at their dances and to take part in their traditional Gaelic games, including football and hurling.
In the meantime a group of Cork women were closely watching the progress of the men’s organization and in 1916 they decided to form their own organization to be known as the “Cork Ladies Auxiliary". Both organizations worked side by side to support each other’s functions down through the years.
As New York City grew, so did the County Cork B. P. & P. Association and many of its members went on to gain high positions in commerce, finance and city government.
As the years rolled by, the Association continued to thrive. Even the curtailment of Irish immigrants entering the United States did not limit its activities. In the mid 1960's the Association purchased a building in Woodside, Queens and this became the first permanent home of the New York Corkmen’s Association. During the years in Woodside, many milestones were marked and in 1983 the Cork Ladies Auxiliary was disbanded and the ladies were accepted as full members of the Association, changing the name from The County Corkmen’s Association to the County Cork B.P.&P. Association.
In 1984, as a fitting mark for its centennial year, the Association purchased a building in Long Island City, New York and 33-01 Greenpoint Avenue became the new headquarters of the Association. Many celebrated persons from the religious, political, sports and entertainment world have visited the Cork Association headquarters during their visits to New York. During one such visit, Jack Lynch, former Taoiseach, and famous Irish actress Maureen O’Hara took to the stage and entertained those gathered with songs and anecdotes, making for a very memorable evening.
Keeping true to the goals and ideals of the founders of the Association which simply stated is "to take care of our own", the Irish Immigrating Reform Movement (IIRM) was born at a general meeting of the Association in May 1987. From that time, the IIRM grew into one of the largest Irish lobbying organizations in the United States. As a result of its lobbying efforts the Immigration Act of 1990 was enacted into law creating 48,000 visas for e Irish Nationals through the "Morrison Visa" program. Today, the Emerald Isle Immigration Centers in Woodside and the Bronx continue to help newly arrived immigrants.
Double history was made in 1989 when the first woman and third member of the same family Mae O'Driscoll from Skibbereen was elected President of the County Cork B.P. & P. Association.
The County Cork Association sponsors yearly scholarship Awards at the college level and is involved in numerous other charitable causes. In addition to assisting sick members and the families of deceased members, the Association was able to donate towards the renovation of the North Chapel, Cork City, the erection of a Famine Monument in Skibbereen, the renovation of the Opera House and Pairc Ui Chaoimh,the New York Famine Memorial and the purchase of a sports field in Kanturk. These are just a sampling of some of the activities in which the Association is involved. The Association also runs a very successful Dinner Dance in New York during the St. Patrick's Day celebrations as well as a biannual Reunion Banquet in Cork. The Association also actively participated in the Maid of the Isles competition until it was discontinued and annually support the United Irish Counties Annual Feis.
With its dedicated and ever growing membership it is certain that the County Cork Association will continue to thrive and remain at the forefront of Irish American activity well into the next century.