John Donnelly was born on a small farm at Woodlands, Glen of the Downs in 1904. He went to school in the Downs National School in the Downs village close to Delgany. When he finished school he was at home on the farm for a few years and then decided to join the newly formed Garda Siochana in March 1923 and was posted to Maynooth Garda Station. He decided in 1926 to leave the Garda Siochana and head for a new life in the USA. He boarded the SS Cedric at Cobh on the 11th April 1926 and sailed into a new world far removed from his humble homestead. During his early years he spent his time working and adjusting to the American way of life. It wasn’t long before he embraced himself with his fellow Irishmen in New York and was involved in organising the Wicklow Mens Association from a low base. He then participated with The Irish Counties Association, the umbrella organisation for all the Counties Association in New York and went on to become its secretary. In 1933 he began work on building up the Feis competitions with the help of a few more members. His work as secretary also included the Annual Irish Ball held at the Hotel Commodore which attracted numbers in the region of 3000 people. He also worked in the Irish Bureau helping some of the less fortunate in New York. He wrote a column (with the Irish in New York) on a regular basis for the Wicklow People. He wrote under the pen name “The Wicklow Rambler”. He worked for the IRT in New York building subways during a time of deep recession in America but as he said in a letter home, which I still have ” I have been able to hold my own, I did not become a millionaire, I have always been able to hold my head above water and been independent, made many friends and have always kept my name clean, and after all, these are the main points of life”.
In January 1937 while working on a subway in Astoria in Queens, he fell 40 foot and died of his injuries on 15th January in St Johns hospital, Long Island City. This was 7 days after the 33rd annual Irish ball of the United Irish Counties Association of which he played a large part of organising. At the time of his death he was President of the Wicklow mens Association. As travel facilities in the 1930s were far different from what they are today, no relatives were able to attend his funeral. The funeral was handled by the United Counties Association and was attended by huge numbers of Irish in New York. One of the Pall Bearers at the funeral was Paul O’Dwyer of Bohola in Mayo, who in later years became a prominent American politician and lawyer. John was laid to rest in Calvary cemetery and lies in an unmarked grave.