Philip Fitzpatrick was born in Aughavas, Co. Leitrim in 1892. Like so many of his generation, he emigrated to the United States and settled in New York City. He joined the NYPD in 1926 and was assigned to Mounted Squad 1 in Manhattan. He would serve with distinction for over 21 years as one of ‘New York’s Finest’ and would prove more than worthy of the title.
However, in addition to protecting the streets of New York, Patrolman Fitzpatrick had another talent that few realized until many years after his death; he was a talented poet. Fitzpatrick came from a family having a long musical tradition going back through the generations. His best-known poem was a tribute to the County of his birth, “Lovely Leitrim,”; the story of an immigrant dreaming of returning to his homeland and seeing once again the sights he once knew and now cherishes in his heart. In another moving poem he wrote about his experience as a father saying goodbye to his son Charles as he leaves to join the Marines in WW II.
Fitzpatrick also wrote a poem to honor his fellow police officers, whom he described as “Soldiers of Peace.” In the poem, he describes the fear well known to all police families that when he “kisses his wife and children goodbye, there’s a chance he will see them no more.” Sadly, for Officer Phillip Fitzpatrick, the line was prophetic.
On Tuesday, May 20, 1947, Patrolman Fitzpatrick was off duty and having lunch with his friend Patrolman George H. Dammeyer at a tavern located at 1703 Third Avenue and East 96th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. While they were dining, two career criminals armed with pistols entered the tavern after having just robbed another location nearby, where they pistol-whipped their victims. The criminals proceeded to demand money and valuables from everyone in the tavern, pointing their pistols at both the customers and staff.
Despite the great risk to their own safety, Patrolman Fitzpatrick and Patrolman Dammeyer bravely attempted to apprehend the criminals. During the altercation, Fitzpatrick was shot twice in the stomach and suffered grievous wounds while struggling with one of the perpetrators. However, Patrolman Dammeyer managed to shoot and kill both of the criminals.
Phillip Fitzpatrick succumbed to his wounds and passed away on May 26, 1947, leaving behind his wife Mary and five sons. In recognition of his bravery and sacrifice, Patrolman Fitzpatrick was given an Inspector’s funeral and was posthumously awarded the NYPD Medal of Honor. His son Charles, whose leaving for the Marines he had memorialized, was now himself a police officer and was given his father’s Shield, No. 15348. Phillip Fitzpatrick had never made it back to his home County of Leitrim except in his dreams and poetry. He was remembered as a proud Irishman and a devout Catholic who was a member of the Holy Name Society and a committed member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
It would not be until twenty years after his death that Phillip Fitzpatrick’s poem “Lovely Leitrim” gained notoriety by singer Larry Cunningham. Despite admiring the song, Cunningham released it as a ‘B-Side’ because he knew that RTÉ (Ireland’s dominant radio station) would never play it. While Cunningham was correct, the hand of radio producers was forced when the song was frequently requested. “Lovely Leitrim” would go on to be a number-one record, displacing the Beatles’ “Day Tripper,” selling over a million copies. The song has become an unofficial anthem for County Leitrim.
Sadly, many do not know that behind the ballad “Lovely Leitrim” stands a heroic son of Leitrim who is memorialized on the walls of NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza.
To his County and the People of New York, he was ‘faithful unto death”, the motto of the NYPD.