Sean and Moira O’Scannlain welcomed six sons into the world, but two were lost at childbirth. The boys’ childhood in Queens was immersed in Irish culture. Their father owned and operated a travel agency specializing in tours of Ireland (though it was interrupted by his service in World War II), and both of their parents were very involved in New York’s Irish Arts and Literary Society. Moira was also a “very hardcore Irish Catholic,” and the family attended Sunday Mass without fail.
The Irish Catholic influence extended into Diarmuid’s early education. He was tutored by a neighbor until he was ready for the sixth grade, about two years earlier than his peers. He then enrolled at an Irish Christian Brothers school: All Hallows Grade School near Yankee Stadium. For high school, he attended St. John’s Prep in Brooklyn, where he was active in speech and debate. Despite his relative youth, he graduated at or near the top of his high school class and received a full scholarship to St. John’s University, the venerable Catholic institution in Queens.
The Emergence of a Young Republican: College and Law School
In college, O’Scannlain began to exhibit the flair for organization and leadership that would be among the hallmarks of his career. He ran track, served on the yearbook staff, and was elected second-in-command of Skull and Circle, St. John’s honor society. He also became deeply involved in the National Federation of Catholic College Students and ultimately served as president of that sizeable organization. He recalls he was a “Big Man on Campus.” (That was a thing in the 1950s.)
Perhaps most pertinent to his future career, however, was how O’Scannlain spent his time off campus. As a sophomore, he signed up for the New York Army National Guard as a reservist. This draft-era commitment was for eight years, but he ended up staying on for 23. His service evolved from weekly drills in New York City to attending Officer Candidate School over two summers in upstate New York to intermittent service as a lawyer with the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. He retired in 1978 as a major in the JAG Corps.
Even more portentously, O’Scannlain volunteered for President Dwight Eisenhower’s reelection campaign in 1956. His father was a lifelong Democrat, but O’Scannlain always thought of himself as a Republican. (No one talks about the Irish Democratic Army, after all.)This was the point of embarkation for three decades of activism and leadership in GOP politics.