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Irish Voice News
All Is Rosie for 88 Year Old Waitress
October 30, 2008
By April Drew
AN 88-year-old Co. Tyrone woman who still works as a waitress in an Irish bar and restaurant in the Bronx proves that retirement is not for everyone.
Rose Donaghey (or Rosie to her friends), a petite, white haired lass from Northern Ireland, has been a waitress for over 60 years. She is now 88 and keeping the show on the road at the newly opened Wicked Wolf bar and restaurant in the East Tremont section in the Bronx. The bar is co-owned by Donegal native Seamus Carey and Cork native Mike Sullivan.
Donaghey immigrated to the U.S. with her Scottish husband, James Donaghey, in 1948. She fondly recalls the long trip over by boat.
“We came on a conversion battle ship from England,” she explains while placing knifes and forks on tables and setting up for the lunchtime trade at the Wicked Wolf.
“We had guaranteed passage because James was in the British Army, but do you know where I had to sleep?” she asks.
“It was down below with my baby girl Bernadette, while James was up with the captain. It was a long long journey,” she recalls.
Like many before her, Donaghey, one of 12 children, came to New York to work. And work she did.
Donaghey, who now lives in Pelham Parkway, first started waitressing a day after arriving in New York in 1948.
“My brother-in-law Sean Sullivan had a restaurant in the Rockaways so I started there straight away, and let me tell you a story,” she says smiling as she takes a seat at a nearby table during her chat with the Irish Voice last week.
“I remember this so clearly,” said the Tyrone woman, going back 60 years ago.
“It was a roasting hot day. You see we came here in the summer, and I think it was in the 90s. This woman arrived in with a baby in an old baby carriage and another little one by her side.”
Donaghey continues to describe the battered old carriage and felt sorry for the woman, who she recalls was Irish.
“So I asked her could I get her anything, and she said she just wanted a screwdriver.”
Assuming that she wanted to do some quick fix maintenance to the baby carriage, Donaghey came back to the woman, screwdriver in hand.
“She looked at me funny and then said, ‘No, I meant I wanted the drink called a screwdriver!’”
Her husband James, who had finished his stint in the British Army, took up bartending, which he worked at for the remainder of his life. He passed away 13 years ago.
Donaghey met James, who she described as “handsome,” in England where she had been training as a dietician in an English hospital.
“My aunt was the head of a hospital in England so I had a choice to go to the nursing school or the domestic science one, so I picked the domestic science school,” she said.
Deciding it was easier to get a job as a waitress rather than a dietician, Donaghey stuck to the waitressing and never looked back.
Her last job was at Charlie’s Inn, a German-Irish hangout also in the East Tremont section of the Bronx. The place closed down and, as Rosie puts it, “I was forced to retire after 14 years working there.”
Remembering back to when she went for the job at Charlie’s, Donaghey dusts down her perfectly kept uniform, places the remaining side plates on the tables and takes a seat again, this time at a different table. She takes five minutes to relive her interview nearly 16 years ago at Charlie’s. She was 72.
“I went for the interview and at the end of it Kathy (Kathy Gallagher, now manager at the Wicked Wolf) asked me who was I looking for the job for, my daughter?”
After setting them straight, Gallagher’s mother-in-law and owner of the bar could see Rosie’s potential and hired her on the spot.
“And they never looked back!” she said proudly.
“I built up their trade over the years and now a lot of my Charlie’s customers are coming to see me here at the Wicked Wolf.”
Charlie’s closed its doors a year and a half ago, and Donaghey was sad to see her job go. Unhappy with a lot of spare time on her hands, Donaghey tried to keep herself as busy as she could.
“I used to go on the computer all the time and send emails to my friends all over the world as far as New Zealand,” she said.
She would also spend time with her three children, (her eldest, Bernadette died at the age of 52 from diabetes) and her five grandchildren who are scattered throughout the U.S.
After a year and a half of lying idle Donaghey was looking for something to keep her occupied, so when her long time friend and old manager at Charlie’s, Kathy Gallagher, offered her a job at the Wicked Wolf she accepted — on her terms, though.
“I told Kathy if I was to come back it would only be for two days a week,” she says.
Gallagher agreed, knowing that having Donaghey as part of her team at the Wicked Wolf would be invaluable. And invaluable Rosie certainly is.
Donaghey takes off again, this time giving the tables a final wipe down before customers come flowing through the doors at the Wicked Wolf for lunch. One of her favorite customers, Garry, arrives with his friend Jerry and tells the Irish Voice he wanted “to run away with Rosie for years.”
“She is just an amazing woman,” he adds.
Donaghey gives him a slap of her dishcloth and keeps moving through the restaurant with a big smile. “Don’t mind him,” said Donaghey in her Northern Ireland brogue. “He was always a ladies man.”
The other waitresses at the Wicked Wolf — most are 65 years Donaghey’s junior — are learning every day from the proud Tyrone woman. She kindly and gently teaches them the tricks of the trade, and her interaction with the customers is like that of a best friend, a mother and, most of all, a top class waitress.
Donaghey has been on every news channel and appeared on every newspaper across New York over the past few weeks, and she is thoroughly enjoying her fame. However, she does have one request.
“I would love now to be on that show Out of Ireland,” she said, saying she watches the PBS broadcast every week without fail.
Donaghey said the day she will stop working will be the day she will be laid to rest beside her husband James and her daughter Bernadette in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.
To meet Rosie Donaghey in person, a true legend if ever there was one, visit the Wicked Wolf any Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon located at 4029 East Tremont Avenue in the Bronx. The kitchen is open from 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Call 718-829-4400.
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