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TV’s where it’s at: Connelly

POSTED ON November 4th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly’s novels have sold 59 million copies worldwide.  “The Burning Room” is the 17th Harry Bosch book, the latest in the “finest crime series written by an American,” according to the Washington Post. [Click on picture for larger image.]

By Peter McDermott

Best-selling crime writer Michael Connelly has been treated well by Hollywood over the years, and he’s been treated badly.

In the latter category is the fact that his Harry Bosch books, which have sold tens of millions of copies, were tied up for 12 years in a movie project that went nowhere.

But the good news is that the fictional LAPD detective is destined to be a television regular soon, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

“It was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Connelly, whose most recent novel, “The Burning Room,” is published this week. “When Amazon wanted to do this, they only wanted to do it if I was involved and involved in a big way.

“I’m not the boss or running the show [‘Bosch’], but I have a say, a creative say, and it’s been fun and fulfilling.

“When I finally got them [the rights] back two years ago, I didn’t even think of selling them to the movies,” Connelly said. “I had a few offers, but I dismissed them right away.

“TV is where it’s at – TV is where you can really delve into character and have hours to do it,” the novelist said.

Both Clint Eastwood (“Blood Work,” which the actor directed in 2002) and Matthew McConaughey (“The Lincoln Lawyer” in 2011) have played established Connelly characters, neither of them, though, Harry Bosch. The writer is particularly protective of the LAPD detective, the central figure in 17 of his books. And the screen, big or small, is where things can stray radically from the writer’s vision.

“Any creative person is going to have that concern. You go into a room by yourself and create. It means a lot to you,” Connelly said. “To hand it over to other people who are going to tell that story again, but in quite a different way, is a scary process.

“In the contract, I can veto anything, but I surrounded myself with people who knew the books and liked the books and cherished the books and are predisposed to be protective and then on top of that I can say ‘Harry would never do this.’

“I’ve probably only said that twice,” said Connelly, who at the time of the interview with the Echo was at work on the 6th of the 10 episodes of “Bosch.”

“It’s more a negotiated way of trying to get the Harry Bosch point of view across. I’m lucky. I don’t need to have it in the contract with the group of people I’m involved with. They take me at my word,” he said.

Huge transition

Connelly’s new role as screenwriter is, he said, “under the category of teaching an old dog new tricks,” involving as it does telling a story in a different way.

“I’ve always been able to go inside his head and to write about what he thinks, how he sees the world,” the novelist said, “and I think these are key aspects of his personality and the key things that made him connect with readers and be successful around the world. And those things go out the window when writing a screenplay – you can’t talk about what somebody is thinking or how they view the world.

“That’s a huge transition for me,” he said. “Luckily, I’m not by myself in any of this writing.”

Connelly began his writing career as a journalist in Florida, after he graduated college. The family, though, started out in Philadelphia, where he was born on July 21, 1956. The novelist, whose eight great-grandparents were Irish immigrants, told the Echo in 2011 that he still had 25 cousins in the city.

His mother, a homemaker, and father, a builder, left with their six children in the late 1960s in search of opportunity in South Florida. Connelly, the second-born, inherited his mother’s interest in crime fiction and as a young journalist he was inevitably drawn to crime stories.

One assignment proved to be a turning point of sorts. It involved tagging along with a homicide detective named Sgt. Hurt for seven days. He recalled about Hurt in the previous interview in the Echo: “I knew there was a lot of internal world there, a lot of internal things going on.” He quoted the former LAPD officer and fellow novelist Joseph Wambaugh saying that “stories are not about how cops work on cases, but on how cases work on cops.”

Connelly said of Harry Bosch: “He’s a kind of a court of last resort for victims, and I think in a way he revels in that. He has this ability to make cases personal, if they’re not. The key for him as a detective is to get angry about cases and that gives him the juice he needs to be relentless to carry out the mission.”

Working later for the Los Angeles Times, Connelly developed contacts with homicide detectives and today he has a “small cadre” of LAPD officers from the cold-case squad that help keep his work authentic.

The cops have all visited Connelly on the “Bosch” set.

“I’ve been on set two or three, sometimes five days a week. Yesterday, I was on the set from 10 to 10,” he said in a phone interview.

Asked if he enjoyed it, he responded: “Yeah, I do. The hours are long but it’s such a counterpoint to what I’ve been doing as a writer for 25 years. I work in a room by myself; when I’m on a set it’s like a little city — there’s 150 people, all working there because of what I did back in that room by myself. That’s not lost on me. It’s a pretty cool thing to see happen.”

There is a writing staff of eight people on the show, “all of them experienced, all great writers,” he said.

Connelly added: “We always want at least one writer on set to watch everything being set up, make sure it’s as written, make sure the subtleties of each scene are understood. So, many times that’s me. Most of the time, we have more than one writer on set.

“They have a thing called a video village where everything shot is shown on the screen, so you can see exactly how it’s going to be,” he said.

“If it’s good it’s good, if needs a tweak or something is missed, you are there to watch over that,” said the novelist, who is married and has a teenage daughter.

Visual influences

Connelly feels his life has come full circle in a way. He grew in the 1960s and early ‘70s loving film adaptations like “Bullitt,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “The French Connection,” and “The Godfather.”

“There are tons of transitions, adaptations from books that are pretty inspiring,” he said, citing also an example from a later era, “Silence of the Lambs.”

Now, he said, “very few, subtle films, whether they’re crime films or not, are getting made.

“It’s transitioning into TV where you can do great serialized stuff.”

Connelly referenced an article in the previous day’s Hollywood Reporter about the TV renaissance: “There are over 200 shows on right now, which is amazing. No wonder it’s drawing a lot of talent.”

A two-hour movie, if successful, might lead to another two-hour movie. But on TV, success could lead to 60 hours or 75 hours of screen time.

“It’s really unlimited if we start out by making something good,” Connelly said.

He’s happy about that prospect, not least because it’s another full circle traveled.

“I loved shows like ‘Kojak’ and ‘Mannix,’” he said.

They helped make him the writer he became, he believes, influenced as he was by the visual as much as by reading giants like Raymond Chandler.

And for good measure, the novelist pointed out that Amazon Studios’ boss is Roy Price, the grandson of Roy Huggins, who was responsible for “The Rockford Files,” “Maverick” and “The Fugitive” and was of one of most influential TV writer/creators and producers ever.

“I feel a kinship to that, [because] those are the shows that got me interested in crime stories,” Connelly said.

“Bosch,” starring Titus Welliver, will be broadcast on Amazon Prime in early 2015.

Lisa O’Neill: same cloth or not

POSTED ON October 31st  - POSTED IN News & Views

11/01/14 – New York, NY – Irish Arts Center
11/03/14 – New York, NY – Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3
11/05/14 – Philadelphia, PA – The Tin Angel
11/07/14 – Chicago, IL – Hideout

“The firefighter – from Boyle to Brooklyn and beyond”

POSTED ON October 15th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

by Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Growing up in a small town of less than 2000 in the West of Ireland, my exposure to emergency services was limited.  However, the house I grew up in was located directly across from the local firehouse, or as we called it in Ireland, the fire station.  A few times a week, an unearthly siren howled through my house scaring the daylights out of me, especially during the dead of night.  It was in the days before cell phones so the siren would signal the firemen of the town to come to the fire station. Most fires were relatively un-serious: chimney fires or overheated car engines. One fire however stays embedded in my memory, early on Christmas Eve morning, a fire accelerated by Christmas tree lights destroyed the house two doors up from me, our local firemen tried desperately to save the family but the mother and her two young sons tragically lost their lives. 

Always a book lover, one of my first books was a flat hard backed book about a fire station; one colorful picture depicted the daily routine of the firemen sliding down the pole from their living quarters overhead.   For years I tried in vain to peek into the darkness of the Boyle fire station to see the pole but was never rewarded with as much as a glimpse. In later years I sadly realized there never was a pole as the fire station was a single storey building and my beloved book was probably based on a firehouse in Brooklyn, New York rather than in Boyle, Co Roscommon.

Ireland was the only foreign country to declare a national day of mourning, following 9/11. I spent much of that day with my class, we organized a local prayer service and I saw another side of my 35 boisterous boys. In the days, weeks and months following the tragedy and horror of 9/11, all of the paintings and drawings hanging on the walls of my classroom in Athlone, Co Westmeath depicted the bravery of the firemen and policemen of NYC.  These FDNY and NYPD officers had very quickly replaced the Superman, Spiderman, and Hollywood heroes of my 5th and 6th grade schoolboys.

In the freezing first days of January 2005, I moved to NYC where the Irish are intricately woven into the very fibers of the place and I quickly realized the extent of the Irish and Irish American extraordinary tradition of rushing to the aid of others in times of distress.  On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I found myself again in close proximity to a fire house, where I often stopped on the way home to silently offer a prayer for their lost members whose fading photographs adorned the windows. I hoped the glimmer from the melted novena candles symbolized some hope in this life for their loved ones left behind and in the next for the ones who were cruelly taken away.    

On the fateful day of 9/11, the FDNY lost 341 firefighters and 2 paramedics, there were 75 firehouses in which at least one member was killed. The FDNY also lost its department chief, first deputy commissioner, one of its marshals, one of its chaplains, the beyond saintly Mychal Judge whose parents came from Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim, as well as other administrative or specialty personnel. Shortly after the battalion chief of Battalion 1 witnessed American Airlines flight 11 crash into the North Tower, a multiple alarm incident was radioed. For the first time in over 30 years, all off duty firefighters were recalled. One off duty fire officer that day had swapped two twelve hour shifts with two colleagues so he could drop his mother to the airport for her return flight to Ireland. However on seeing the first tower burning from his rooftop, he immediately headed into Manhattan where he and his colleagues entered burning debris to pull out the trapped and injured. On that fateful day, Sean Cummins lost 87 colleagues, including the two men he swapped shifts with. I was honored to meet Sean recently at the Manhattan Club at the inaugural Irish Echo’s First Responder’s Awards where along with Niall O’Shaughnessy, he received the ‘Teamwork Award’.  

The daily sacrifice of  FDNY officers, more appropriately known as ‘The Bravest’ is staggering, never more so than on 9/11 when the waste of lives is still too much to bear. Thirteen years later, the sense of devastation is still palpable amongst the brothers of the FDNY. They along with the survivors of all the people who were lost on that fateful day are forever wounded. On a fateful fall day in 2001, ordinary men were asked to do extraordinary deeds. Some are still with us, some are not and we will never forget those who are not. Ar dheis Dhe go mbeidh a anam dhilis. 

Ag fás suas i mbaile beag le níos lú ná 2000 daoine in Iarthar na hÉireann, bhí mo tacaiocht den sheirbhísí éigeandála go leor teoranta. Mar sin féin,  bhi an teach a d’fhás mé suas I, lonnaithe go díreach trasna ón teach dóiteáin, nó mar a iarr muid é in Éirinn, on stáisiún dóiteáin. Cúpla uair sa tseachtain, chulathas siren minadurtha ag sileadh trí mo theach ag baineadh geit mor asam, is cuma cé chomh minic a chuala mé é, go háirithe le linn marbh na hoíche. Bhí sé sna laethanta roimh teileafóin phóca, ba comhartha e an siren, fir dóiteáin an bhaile chun teacht go dti an stáisiún dóiteáin. Bhí formhór na tinte sách unserious: tinte simléir nó innill gluaisteán ro the. Tine amháin, áfach, ata saite i m’aigne fos, go luath ar maidin Oíche Nollag, tine luathaithe ag soilse crann Nollag scriosta an teach dhá doirse suas uaim, rinne ár fir dóiteáin áitiúla gach iarracht an chlann a shábháil ach chaill an mháthair agus a bheirt mhac óg a saol.

I gcónaí i ngra le leabhar, bhí ar cheann de mo chéad leabhar leabhar árasán tacaíocht crua faoi stáisiún dóiteáin; pictiúr amháin ildaite a léirítear an ghnáthamh laethúil de na firemen sleamhnú síos an cuaille as a n-áitribh chónaithe lastuas. Ar feadh na mblianta, bhiodh mé ag peipeail isteach tri dorchadas an stáisiúin dóiteáin iMainistir na Buille chun an cuaille a fheiceáil  ach bhí riamh bronntar leis an oiread agus is le léargas. Sna blianta ina dhiaidh sin thuig mé brónach nach raibh cuaille ann riabh mar a bhí an stáisiún dóiteáin foirgneamh aon stór agus is dócha go raibh mo leabhar bunaithe ar teach dóiteáin i Brooklyn, Nua-Eabhrac seachas i Mainistir na Búille, Co Roscomáin.


Sa bhliain 2001, sna laethanta, seachtainí agus míonna tar éis an tragóid de 9/11, gach ceann de na pictiúir agus líníochtaí a bhi ag crochadh ar na ballaí de mo sheomra ranga i mBaile Átha Luain, Co na hIarmhí,  léirítear fir dóiteáin agus póilíní. Bhí na hoifigigh FDNY agus an NYPD ionad go han-tapa na laochra Superman, Spiderman, agus Hollywood mo buachilli scoile o ghrád  5 agus 6 ghrád.

Sa chéad lá ceomhar Eanáir 2005, d’astraigh mé go dtí Nua Eabhraic agus go tapa thuig méid an traidisiún urghnách Meiriceánach hÉireann ag brostaigh chun cabhair a thabhairt do dhaoine eile in am an anacair. Ar an Taobh Thoir Uachtarach de Manhattan, fuair mé mé féin arís i gheall ar chomh gar do theach dóiteáin, nuair a stop mé go minic ar an mbealach abhaile a chur ar fáil go ciúin paidir dá mbaill caillte agus a ngaolta a bhfuil a grianghraif cuireadh bród ar thaobh tosaigh an firehouse le mall coinneal Novena dhó.

Ar an fateful lá de 9/11, chaill an FDNY 341 comhraiceoirí dóiteáin agus 2 paraimhíochaineoirí, bhí 75 firehouses inar maraíodh comhalta amháin ar a laghad. An FDNY caillte chomh maith go bhfuil sé príomhfheidhmeannach roinn, coimisinéir leas-chéad, ar cheann de na sé ar marascail, ar cheann de na sé ar séiplíneach, an níos faide saintly Mychal Breitheamh a tháinig ó Ceis Charraigín, Co Liatroma do thuismitheoirí, chomh maith le pearsanra riaracháin nó speisialtachta eile. Go gairid i ndiaidh an príomhfheidhmeannach cathlán de Cathlán 1 chonaic American Airlines eitilt 11 tuairteála isteach sa Túr Thuaidh, bhí radioed teagmhas aláraim il, laistigh de na uair an chloig romhainn bhí 121 cuideachtaí inneall, 62 cuideachtaí dréimire agus 27 oifigigh dóiteáin imscaradh chun an ardán. Don chéad uair i níos mó ná 30 bliain, rinneadh athghairm ar gach comhraiceoirí dóiteáin ar dualgas.

Oifigeach dóiteáin amháin ar dualgas a bhí Mhalartaigh an lá sin dá déag shifts uair an chloig le dhá chomhghleacaithe sin d’fhéadfadh sé titim a mháthair leis an aerfort as a eitilt ar ais go hÉirinn. Ach ar féachaint ar an túr chéad dó as a rooftop, i gceannas sé láithreach i Manhattan áit curtha isteach sé féin agus a chomhghleacaithe a dhó smionagar a tharraingt amach na gafa agus gortaithe. Ar an lá sin fateful, chaill Sean Cummins 87 chomhghleacaithe, lena n-áirítear an bheirt fhear bhabhtáil sé shifts leis. Ba mhór an onóir dom bualadh Sean déanaí ag an Club Manhattan ag Gradaim Echo hÉireann Chéad Fhreagróir ar tionscnaimh nuair a fuair sé an? Gradam do?. Ar lá Titim chinniúnach i 2001, iarradh ngnáthnós fir a dhéanamh gníomhais neamhghnách. Tá cuid acu fós le linn, nach bhfuil roinnt, agus ní bheidh muid dearmad iad siúd nach bhfuil. Ar dheis Leitir dul mbeidh ar dhilis trá.

Forgotten hero

POSTED ON October 14th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Peter Duffy author photo by Ran Graff

“Double Agent” author Peter Duffy. PHOTO BY RAN GRAFF

Article published in the Oct. 8, 2014, issue of the Irish Echo [Click on images for larger view].

By Peter McDermott

When the “SS Washington” docked at Pier 59 in New York on Feb. 8, 1940, the representatives of the press were waiting, as was the custom, to interview the rich and famous. The main attraction on that day was the Irish writer Liam O’Flaherty, who was best known for “The Informer.”

O’Flaherty’s celebrity, though, was derived not so much from his novel, which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1925, as the multiple-Oscar-winning adaptation directed in 1935 by his distant cousin John Ford.

Unbelievably, another paying passenger was a real-life informer, indeed one of the most successful and important in American history. And there also were quite possibly Nazi agents on the liner’s kitchen and wait staff.

On his trip home to Mülheim to visit his mother, Wilhelm “William” Gottlieb Sebold was strong-armed into agreeing to spy for Germany when he returned to the U.S. Soon afterwards, he told officials at the American consulate in Cologne what had happened and offered his services to his adopted country.

Back in New York, he was formally recruited as the first counterspy in the FBI’s history (the term “double agent” wasn’t widely in use at that time).

Author Peter Duffy’s “Double Agent,” which has won praise from both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, tells the story of a case that led to 33 convictions in New York, just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and within hours of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States. A 34th arrest warrant had been issued for a mysterious Irishman named Sean Connolly who disappeared into history, never to be seen again.

Duffy came across the largely forgotten case when researching an article for the New Republic about Fr. Charles Coughlin, the 1930s radio priest.

He was intrigued by the fact that the most successful FBI counterespionage operation in its history depended upon one man, Sebold, who had taken all of the risk upon his shoulders.

“The reporting at the time was fuzzy,” Duffy added about his reasons for pursuing the story. “And nobody knew what had happened to him [Sebold].”

The new book, his third, is a return to the era of his first: “The Bielski Brothers,” an account of one Jewish family’s resistance to the Nazis in Belarus.

His second book is set in Roscommon, the ancestral county of one of his grandparents (two others were Italian American, while the fourth’s roots were in Tipperary).

“The Killing of Major Denis Mahon: A Mystery of Old Ireland” is a reexamination of a well-known 1847 murder. Like his latest, it concludes with a trial and convictions.

It also involved the author immersing himself in the documents and publications from a world that’s gone. Indeed, the German Upper East Side or Yorkville, the capital of the community in America, is as much of the past as Famine-era Roscommon, even if it might be easier to reconstruct in the mind.

Duffy made maps with the help, for instance, of advertisements in German-language newspapers of the time.

The neighborhood’s heart was Manhattan’s 86th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Only one or two buildings remained unchanged from that time, while the 2nd Avenue elevated was taken down in 1940 and the 3rd Avenue elevated in the 1950s.

Analyses of the 1930 Census reveal that there were 350,000 non-Jewish German- and Austrian-born immigrants in New York City; the equivalent today is the combined number of immigrants from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Many of the Germans had left at the time of the near chaos and instability of the Weimer Republic and some of them believed that Hitler’s Nazi government had restored a sense of pride.

“They felt that Germany was again a player in the world,” Duffy said.

A small, if significant minority showed its support for the Nazis by organizing and parading under the banner of the German American Bund. It claimed 17,000 New York (almost all foreign-born) members at its height in 1936 and 1937.


Spies everywhere

“I read the daily newspapers pretty closely,” Duffy said. “That was a fascinating experience.”

For one thing, he was surprised at the extent to which the German spy was a “stock figure in American popular culture in the 1930s, [and] part of the folklore of New York.”

Hollywood also played a big role, with efforts like “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” starring Edward G. Robinson in 1939. That was inspired by the recent case of Guenther Rumrich, a dishwasher who had been recruited to spy by the Nazis. FBI Special Agent Leon Turrou – who had botched the investigation into Rumrich following his 1938 arrest in Manhattan – wrote the book that provided the source material for the Robinson movie. Turrou, Hollywood and the press seem agreed that German spies were everywhere.

The 1914-18 war was still fresh in the mind, too. The authorities remembered the campaign of sabotage directed by German officials against targets in America and the, sometimes fatal, public vigilantism in reaction.

Overt Nazi sympathizers could provide good copy, too. The talented top organizer of the Bund, Fritz Kuhn, was brought down by his embezzlement of the membership dues, which he used to fund his complicated love life. The papers variously referred to him as the “flirtatious Fuhrer,” the “Teutonic two-timer” and the “hotsy-totsy Nazi.”


Nikolaus Ritter, a Luftwaffe officer assigned to the Abwehr, who on a trip to the

U.S. in 1937, recruited the first members of the “Duquesne Spy Ring.”


Sebold was dropped into this community that contained, on one end of the spectrum, a spy ring operating out of the Casino Tavern on East 85th Street and, on the other, socialists who had been interned by the Nazis in concentration camps.

The counterspy was highly-strung and prone to mysterious ailments. The FBI wondered if he really had what it took for such a dangerous mission. One handler wrote: “Sebold has an honesty complex. In fact, he is so honest that I am afraid some day he will give himself away because of his inability to act his part.”

But his main handler, Jim Ellsworth, a devout Mormon from Utah who became a close friend of Sebold’s and his wife, had confidence in him.

It was justified, for he grew into his role and indeed flourished in it. And aside from raised eyebrows about a brief stint upstate working with a Yiddish-speaking socialist camp (which the defendants’ lawyers made hay of during the trial, by suggesting he was a communist), he was accepted by the Nazis. It helped that he was a regular guy who had served in the trenches in the 1914-18 war.

“He was guileless and headstrong,” Duffy said. He pointed to his trip back home in 1939 as the act of someone who was determined, but also naïve.

“The Germans called him Tramp,” Duffy said. “He had a wandering gene.” Indeed, it was the lack of harassment, going from town to town in his early years in America, that contrasted starkly for him with Germany.

Ellsworth wrote later in life: “He told me that he found everything in this country wonderful. He could go from city to city without registering with the police as he had to in Germany. He could follow any occupation he pleased.”

Sebold, with the Feds’ help, set up a radio station in a cottage on the north shore of Long Island to transmit to and receive messages from Hamburg. Intelligence agents were most concerned about gathering engineering secrets that would be crucial in the coming air war.

The political backdrop was the reluctance of broad swathes of American opinion, from sections of the left and of the right, opposed to involvement in another European war.

Some public figures were overtly sympathetic to the Nazis, such as aviator Charles Lindberg, who was a national hero, and the anti-Semitic Coughlin.

Duffy’s essay for the New Republic took issue with the linking of modern-day media figures like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, whom he sees as rather benign, with the Canadian-born cleric, who he believes is “one of the top-10 worst Americans in history.”


Irish pushback

The church’s liberal press, notably Commonweal magazine and the Jesuits’ America, had been expressing their concerns about the anti-Semitic priest, but eventually the continuing rise of the militant Coughlinite-inspired Christian Front, which had a strong Irish-American following in the big Eastern cities, would come to worry the mainstream Catholic leadership.

Some Christian Front members in New York became involved with a paramilitary conspiracy, which it hoped would inspire a fascist-type revolution. An Irish-American Front leader, Joe McWilliams ran for Congress in New York in 1940. “[Journalist] Walter Winchell called him Joe McNazi,” Duffy said.

Some prominent Irish leaders pushed back against the Christian Front. “[The Transport Workers’ Union’s] Mike Quill was very courageous against Coughlinism,” Duffy said.

But the fascist threat was fading as the FBI’s 16-month operation was closing in on the New York-area Nazis.

In last weeks of the investigation, the FBI set up three rooms in the Newsweek building at Times Square, where Sebold chatted with the Nazi agents.

The subsequent court case was the first time that Americans became aware of the concept of secret filming, which later became famous with the TV show “Candid Camera.”

Publicly, the 33 when arrested were referred to as members of the “Duquesne Spy Ring,” though there were four separate rings and a few freelancers involved. The Boer War and World War I veteran Fritz Duquesne, who gave his name to the group, was among those that Sebold interviewed on camera.

The court heard from the colorful and eccentric South African, but also from the case’s femme fatale, Lilly Stein, who was born in Vienna to Jewish parents, and fellow Nazi spies such as Erwin W. Siegler, the chief butcher on the “SS Manhattan” and later the “SS America.”

“The Irishman Connolly told Sebold [in the Times Square office] that he wanted to strike back at the English, who had hanged his father,” Duffy said.

When the FBI came to arrest Connolly, however, he had fled.

“He was the one who sensed that something wasn’t right. He’s laughing somewhere,” Duffy said. “Or his descendants are.”

sebolds post war

Bill and Helen Sebold after the war.


Meanwhile, the other 33 were sent off to prison and the FBI was congratulating itself on a job well done.

The agency had no counterespionage plan in place when visiting Nazi official Nikolaus Ritter set up the Duquesne ring in the late 1930s. Director J. Edgar Hoover, however, used all of his political skill to transform the failures into more powers for his agency.

“When a public is full of fear and there’s a public sense that foreign intrigue is running amok in the country then an agency like the FBI will do all it can to grab all the power it can to meet that fear,” Duffy said.

It wasn’t assumed, as it was during World War I, that every German was a potential spy, but many immigrants were taken into custody and “any German with a shortwave radio was going to be spoken to at some point,” Duffy said. “There were raids in Yorkville and in Ridgewood in Queens.

“The FBI learnt how to become a counterespionage agency on the Germans,” he added.

President Roosevelt said he didn’t want to fund a secret police force that would spy on Americans but rather one that would allow “our own people to watch the secret police of certain other nations, which is a very excellent distinction to make.”

It wasn’t a distinction that Hoover would adhere to. For he used the very powers he was given during this period to monitor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and also to infiltrate and disrupt groups opposed to the Vietnam War.

“I don’t think any shade of public opinion would defend Hoover’s actions in the Sixties,” Duffy said.

Meanwhile, Sebold was still living, although in poor health and sometimes in near poverty.

Family members were amazed when they found out about his life as a counterspy. One niece recalled that he was a largely silent man who acknowledged people with a grunt, but that his “warm eyes” showed he was teasing.

Duffy, who lives in Manhattan with his wife, the New York Post journalist Laura Italiano, and their daughter, writes in his book: “The young relatives would’ve never imagined that their Uncle Bill was a man of formidable moral and physical courage who led one of the great spy missions of American history, a landmark figure deserving of a place among the nation’s most deserving war heroes.”

William G. Sebold died of a heart attack on Feb. 16, 1970 at Napa State Hospital in California.

“Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and how the FBI Outwitted a Nazi Spy Ring” is published in hardback by Scribner and is priced at $28. For more on the author, go to


O’Shea is hero as Irish snatch draw

POSTED ON October 14th  - POSTED IN News & Views

John O'Shea celebrates scoring 14/10/2014

John O’Shea celebrates equalizing for Ireland against Germany.


By Irish Echo Staff

The Republic of Ireland pulled out a remarkable 1-1 draw against Germany Tuesday night to take away a point from their European Championship Group D qualifying game in Gelsenkirchen.

Defender John O’Shea, playing in his 100th cap, got his foot to a 94th-minute cross from Jeff Hendrick. It turned out to be the last kick of the game.

World Cup champions Germany had dominated possession for the entire game, though producing few real chances until Toni Kroos scored from the edge of the box on 71 minutes. World Cup final hero Mario Götze almost made it 2-0 in the 80th minute, but goalkeeper David Forde deflected the effort over the bar. Five minutes later, Ireland’s Wes Hoolihan seemed certain to score from close range, but was denied by defender Erik Durn.

With Poland managing only a 2-2 draw at home to Scotland, Ireland maintain their position in 2nd position in Group D. Both the Poles and the Irish have seven points after three games played, but the former have a marginally better goal difference.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland have maintained their 100 percent record with a 2-0 away win over Greece. Kyle Lafferty and Jamie Ward scored for Michael O’Neill’s team, which leads the way in Group F.

“What a special night, and thankfully I was able to play a part in the end,” Republic hero O’Shea. “My shirt? I’m not one for framing things or hanging things up but I think this one could be heading for the mantelpiece at my parents’ house.”

“The manager [Martin O’Neill] put me forward with a couple of minutes to go and thankfully I was able to stick it away,” said the long-time Manchester United star now playing with Sunderland. “Big credit to the lads in front of me, the way we played especially the first half was very dogged. It was a big, big performance, with little bits of quality when we had to come out and play. Once they get that goal it’s a big blow for us, because we’re looking to catch them on the counter-attack towards the end of the game. We had to come out a bit more, but I think throughout the night James [McClean] and Aiden [McGeady] were making lots of problems for them.”

“It was a very special moment,” O’Shea said. “The group has a fantastic spirit and we didn’t want to come off the pitch with a 1-0 defeat and people saying we’d done OK.”



Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston rolls out red carpet for Golden Bridges

POSTED ON October 9th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

Marty Walsh in Belfast (1024x682)



As the Golden Bridges conference gets underway in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh has extended a hearty céad míle fáilte to delegates arriving from northwest Ireland and Belfast to forge new  partnerships with leaders of Irish America.

In a statement welcoming the sixth annual conference to Boston, he said:

“I am thrilled to welcome the Golden Bridges conference to Boston, having just experienced the power of our city’s connection to Ireland as I never have before. My visit to Ireland in September was transformative on both a personal and a public level.

“As the son of Irish emigrants, it was meaningful for me to make Ireland my first international destination as Mayor of Boston. I came to a deeper understanding of my bond, and Boston’s relationship, with Ireland. And I gained a new appreciation for the strength we can draw from a transatlantic partnership as we move forward together in the global economy.

“Boston’s character owes much to the Northwest of Ireland. A rich tradition of cultural, political, and economic exchange between our two cities reaches down to the present day. Ulster has supplied Boston with leaders in business, in the arts, and in scholarship. And Boston’s thriving network of Irish organizations have hosted Ireland’s leaders, supported its economic development, and funded schools of all traditions. We share a deep bond.

“For a city like Boston, built by immigrants, an international relationship can have the strength of a family bond—because that’s what it really is. That’s why in Boston we are so deeply invested in our heritage. We never forget what immigration provided us, by way of our values, our resilience, and our love of family.

“In a time of great change, these relationships and these values have never been more important. That’s why our relationship to Ireland must be about more than nostalgic memories. It must be an active relationship, deeply understood and continuously renewed. Above all, this conference is an opportunity to strengthen this bond that means so much to all of our communities.”

Sisters speaking truth to power

POSTED ON October 2nd  - POSTED IN News & Views

Documentary Review / By Peter McDermott


 Filmmaker Mary Fishman with JoAnn Persch RSM, center, and Pat Murphy RSM.

[Click on photos for larger image.]


Margaret Brennan remembers back in the 1950s that her mother and father drove her down on her first day as a novice with the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters.

“They had both written me letters and they pinned them to my robe,” she recalled. “I thought if I opened them I know what I’d read, and if I read them maybe I couldn’t bring myself to stay.”

She gave them to a professed sister, who was a close friend, to keep them for her. When, every so often, the friend would ask if she wanted to read them, she’d decline. She eventually did open them, after about 25 years had passed.

Brennan, who became a theologian and general superior of her order, tells the story in the film “Band of Sisters” to illustrate how wrenching the separation from family could be for a young woman.

Irish-American filmmaker Mary Fishman displays considerable skill in telling the stories of a score or more women religious in an economical and informative 83 minutes.

It’s left to Brennan to introduce the overarching story of “Band of Sisters,” by recalling the elevation to the papacy of a man with a “great, big face.” He was already “up there in his 70s” and so she wondered what the future held. It turned out that Pope John XXIII would open the windows and let in the winds of change, with the Second Vatican Council.

Already, of course, women were being called to service as teachers, nurses and missionaries. But the journey over decades taken, for instance, by Pat Murphy, of the Sisters of Mercy, shows the expanded role of women religious. She went to Peru in the early 1960s to work 12,000 feet above sea level in the Andes. She remembers the powerful mix of the indigenous and the Spanish cultures and still marvels at the endurance and faith of the people in the face of suffering.



Sisters bound for Peru, on Jan. 13, 1961.


More recently, Murphy has taken on the role of a lobbyist for society’s most marginalized, and with her friend Sister JoAnn Persch is building ecumenical coalitions for social justice.

The pair get more screen time than anyone else as Fishman follows their work on behalf of undocumented immigrants and for prisoners from 2008 through 2012. Elected officials, it seems, don’t know quite how to cope with their mix of charm and steely determination. And when a loudmouthed uniformed official at Illinois’ Broadview Detention Center is not charmed, then Persch makes sure she gets in the last word, as a signal that she will not be bullied.

In the 1970s, a woman named Marjorie Tuite was one of the first to outline the need for a more political role for sisters if they were to achieve social justice in their areas of interest.

But then simply working for low-income people can be seen as political in today’s America. Still, Sr. Lillian Murphy, the CEO of Mercy Housing (which provides accommodation for 138,000 people at any given time), says that they are merely continuing the work of Dublin-born founder Sr. Catherine McAuley, who built affordable housing for women.

What some call the “option for the poor” is occasionally exercised in innovative ways, as with Sr. Madeline Gianforte’s holistic wellness center in Milwaukee.

Women and men religious are rather better known for their advocacy for Latin America’s oppressed. We learn that the horrific ordeal and deaths of Sisters Maura Clarke, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary Jean Donovan in El Salvador on Dec. 2, 1980, had a hugely galvanizing effect on American nuns.

Sr. Kathleen Desautels, of the Sisters of Providence, says she had to channel the anger she felt at Reagan’s UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick denouncing these four Catholic martyrs as “communists” who “shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

An increasingly important aspect of the story is the sisters’ embrace of the environmentalist cause. Fishman visits two organic farms owned and managed by nuns: Santuario Sisterfarm in Boerne, in the Hill Country of Texas, and Genesis Farm, Blairstown, N.J. Sr. Carol Coston — who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom by President Clinton in 2000, for her advocacy in a number of areas – is a founder of the Boerne operation. Her cofounder Sr. Elise Garcia says they’ve grounded themselves on the “universe story,” which begins with that explosion 13.7 billion years ago.

In contrast to the stultifying fundamentalism that rejects science, American nuns are embracing the new, breathtaking cosmological knowledge. Sr. Margaret Galiardi, a Dominican, says it means interpreting Christian faith “with a wider lens.”

A film clip of the late Passionist Order priest, Fr. Thomas Berry (who became a convinced environmentalist at age 8), summarizes the eco-theological position.

“Why do we have such a wonderful vision of God? Because we live in such a gorgeous world. We live in such a brilliant world. And so we wonder at the magnificence of whatever it was that brought the world into being,” Berry said. “We have a sense of adoration. We have that sense of gratitude. We have that sense of participation in such a beautiful world. We call that religion.

“If our outer world is diminished, our inner world is dried up,” he continued. “If our outer world is severely damaged, our sense of the divine will be severely damaged.”

Inevitably, the sisters’ battle against sexism in the church, and specifically their being excluded from the decision-making processes at the highest levels, is an important theme in “Band of Sisters.” Sr. Theresa Kane, we learn, is something of a folk hero among fellow nuns for raising the issue from the altar at a Mass during the first visit of Pope John Paul II to America.

The investigation of American women religious under Pope Benedict is also rigorously critiqued. Lillian Murphy says that they didn’t want it and didn’t feel it necessary, but had to pay for it and would not even be allowed to see the final report. She says that the process was “not respecting the dignity and history of women religious in this country.”

The decline in the number of young women joining religious life might account for the anxiety of traditionalists, but the sisters here are unfazed. Sr. Nancy Sylvester, of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, says that “huge numbers” that joined from the 1940s through the early 1960s were an anomaly in the history of religious life.

Brennan, as general superior over 10 years, interviewed 300 women who left the order. She felt that their vocation had evolved in a different direction and that this was in accordance with Vatican II, which said that everyone was called to holiness and that no way was higher or better.

There would always be a role for women religious, in these smaller numbers in the midst of the general population, Brennan argues, as a “reminder – not that we’re holier or better – [but] that there’s something else that we’re here for.”

For more information go to:

Music that’s Irish, live and free

POSTED ON October 2nd  - POSTED IN News & Views

Music Notes / By Colleen Taylor


The Screaming Orphans

Interested in free Irish music? If so, you’re in luck this autumn. Throughout September and October, Smithwick’s Ale sponsors a number of free Irish music performances throughout North America featuring some of Ireland and Irish-America’s best acts. New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia will be lively with the sounds of fiddles and guitars these next weeks—an authentic taste of Ireland at home in America.

I took part in the Smithwick Sessions Pub Rock Tour last week at Boston’s The Green Briar, where I caught a show by Erin’s Guild, an Irish-American band out of New England. Founding members Sean Fell and Geoff Roman bring something interesting to their interpretation of Irish music: a background in classical music training. Tralee man Fell received a bachelor’s degree in classical voice, which he displayed during his Frank Petterson-like rendition of “The Fields of Athenry.” Roman’s training in classical violin was not as easy to detect amidst his rapid fiddling, but he maintains it has been an influence for his playing and tune composition for Erin’s Guild. To give a unique spin on their interpretation of traditional Irish hits, Erin’s Guild works to blend their distinct backgrounds, all the while focusing on harmonies and the stories behind the ballads’ lyrics.

erin's guild

Erin’s Guild

The band are true to their American roots as well—something not only relevant in their geographical makeup with American members Roman and bodhrán player Susan Young, but in their set lists as well. Erin’s Guild melds their traditional Irish tracks with American classics like those of Johnny Cash. Their influences are various, as well as original: Sean and Geoff write their own songs and tunes for the band, like their ballad “Broken Man,” featured on their website This trio is still establishing their beginnings, but they have a strong notion of their roots: as an Irish-American New England band, they make the Irish tradition visible and lively throughout the Northeast.

Other acts involved in the Smithwick Sessions include big names like Mundy, The Mahones, Screaming Orphans, Black 47, along with a number of local bands. Screaming Orphans, the excellent Celtic Pop group from Donegal, will take the stage at Boston’s famous Irish pub the Burren on Oct. 2, and Black 47 will close off the Smithick’s Run with a show at Tommy Fox’s in New Jersey on Oct. 30. It’s an exciting and nostalgic year for Black 37, as they perform and promote the release of their latest—and last—album, “Rise Up,” which is available on their website In total, this two-month pub tour involves over 60 shows across the continent, and the best part is they’re all free of charge. Now there’s no excuse to catch the best of live Irish music.

Find out more about the Smithwick Sessions happening near you on their calendar of events at:

Irish Center is jewel in Maine crown

POSTED ON September 15th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views

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By Matthew Jude Barker

If you meander your way down historic State Street approaching Portland’s working waterfront, you will come across a beautiful old, redbrick church building, now the Maine Irish Heritage Center. On Monday nights you can hear the haunting wails of a practicing Irish bagpiper. It would be easy to think, for a moment, you were back in time, but the center is on the peninsula of Maine’s largest, busiest, and most modern city.

   The MIHC is housed in the former St. Dominic Catholic Church in Portland, the focal point of the Irish and Catholic community for almost 175 years. Opened in 2002, the non-profit center has made tremendous progress, especially in the last five years. It is home to a first-rate genealogical research library, as well as a library open to the public that contains over two-thousand items and which will soon be a part of Maine Interlibrary Loan. The center is also home to the John Ford Center; the Irish American Club of Maine, its founding member; the Governor Joseph E. Brennan Press Collection; A Company of Girls; the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band; and the local Ancient Order of Hibernians. The MIHC is affiliated with the American Irish Repertory Ensemble; the Stillson School of Irish Dance; the Maine Police Emerald Society; and the Portland Hurling Club. All of these groups march together in a large St. Patrick’s Day parade on Commercial Street that grows with each passing year.

   Throughout the year the MIHC sponsors or hosts many varied events and programs, including Irish ceili (dance), Irish language, and tin whistle classes; St. Patrick’s Day parades and open houses; genealogy classes and the Maine Gaeltacht DNA Project; the Duchas Lecture Series; the Celtic Christmas Fair; Bloomsday (James Joyce) events; weddings and receptions; book launchings and talks; Labor Day breakfasts; the annual “Not-So-Silent” auction; St. Dominic’s Parish/School reunions; Civil War and other historical lectures; and the Claddagh Award Celebration. This last event is held annually to honor “an individual of Irish heritage from Maine who has generously served our community and made us all proud of our Irish roots.”  Past recipients have included Senator George J. Mitchell, a native of Waterville, Maine, and US Congressman and Maine Governor Joseph E. Brennan, a native of Portland.  As Board Chair Mary McAleney stated, “The success of these events allows the MIHC to fulfill its mission to protect, preserve and restore the historic landmark that was St. Dominic’s,” as well as “provide a center for Maine’s diverse communities to share their cultural experiences through education programs and community events.”

   The John Ford Center at the MIHC houses memorabilia related to the celebrated Hollywood director who was baptized as John Martin Feeney at St. Dominic’s in 1894 and who was an altar boy at the church. Ford lectures and film festivals are held periodically.

   The genealogical and historical research library houses a large obituary collection; yearbooks and directories; St. Dominic’s School registers; a Knights of Columbus collection; old photographs of local Irish families and school classes; family history files; transcription endeavors; old newspapers; artifacts; and manuscripts. Everything in the library has been generously donated over the years.  Volunteer genealogists at the center are available, for a fee, to consult on family history and DNA test results. They have access to an Irish DNA project that has over two-hundred participants, genealogy websites, and a genealogical database of 125, 000 Maine and New England Irish.

   The former St. Dominic Church, home of the MIHC, was built in the Greek Revival tradition and finished in 1892. It was designated in 1970 as part of the National Register of Historic Places in the State of Maine. It is on the location of the first Catholic church built in southern Maine, the original St. Dominic’s, where Mass was first celebrated in 1828.

   The story of the Irish in Maine is a rich and varied one that continues to be studied and written about. Irish emigrants have settled in the Pine Tree State since the early 1700s and sizable Irish communities were to be found throughout the state, including in Bangor, Boothbay, Benedicta, Brewer, Calais, Houlton, Brunswick, Bath, Eastport, Ellsworth, Newcastle, North Whitefield, Pembroke, Lewiston, Auburn, Westbrook, Biddeford, South Portland, and, of course, Portland. According to many accounts, there are 250, 000 people who claim Irish ancestry in Maine.

    Visitors from all over New England and North America annually visit the MIHC; many are natives and former residents. A lot seek some knowledge of their ancestry; others are attracted to the beautiful setting or come to attend the plethora of events that are held throughout the year. But all agree that the Maine Irish Heritage Center is one of the most attractive and premier Irish heritage centers in the country.

    The center is staffed almost entirely by volunteers. As Board member Patricia J. McBride said, “We simply could not offer all of the wonderful events, programs, and educational opportunities that we do without the help of our wonderful volunteers; they are the heart and soul of this place.” And as James Walsh, a co-founder, said, “MIHC’s success comes from the warm, welcoming atmosphere—it’s always, ‘Come in and let’s talk!’”


Phone:  207-780-0118




Matthew Jude Barker

Portland, Maine


Answering the WWI call of battle

POSTED ON September 12th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott

Published in the Irish Echo, Sept. 3, 2014

A granduncle of mine, a Reynolds from Strokestown, Co. Roscommon, volunteered to fight in the Great War. He subsequently spent much of his life institutionalized, in what might have been referred as a lunatic asylum. My great-grandmother from West Clare had two brothers who joined up. The Considine boys survived the trenches in better shape than did Reynolds, but one of them collapsed and died on a troop ship, a short time after he’d participated in an on-deck tug-of-war contest.

I was thinking of this recently when I read that Labour TD for Dublin South-West Eamonn Maloney called on the Irish postal service, An Post, to immediately withdraw their plans for a stamp commemorating John Redmond (1856-1918).

Redmond, a Member of Parliament for Wexford, was the leader of Irish nationalism from 1900, when the Parnellite faction (to which he himself belonged) and the two anti-Parnellite factions reunited, and he remained so up until at least 1916.  He believed that it was in Ireland’s interest to fight for Catholic Belgium being overrun by Germany, not least because it would help the cause of his own country’s self-government.

Deputy Maloney said it’s wrong to honor a “politician who promoted, recruited and shamed Irishmen into killing for Great Britain.”

But this seems to be a bit of headline-grabbing that ignores the complexity of the situation.

Prof. Joseph Lee has argued that Redmond was doing what any politician might have done at the time, especially one passionately committed to a united Ireland, which he was.

I cited in a column a few weeks ago Patrick Pearse’s words in December 1915: “The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields. Such august homage was never before offered to God as this, the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country.”

Other Irish opponents of British war aims, like Sir Roger Casement, were not unhappy with bloodshed as long it was done for the right cause, in the right uniform. Singling out poor Redmond, whose own brother and follow MP Willie died at age 51 in the trenches, is ahistorical nonsense.

Deputy Maloney said that while some called it the Great War, “there was nothing great for the 200,000 Irish recruits who fought in it. There was nothing great for the almost 50,000 young Irishmen who were slaughtered.”

The “Great,” of course, referred to the sheer scale of the war, involving as it did 10s of millions in the entire Western world and much territory beyond it.

My Roscommon kinsman, Stephen, joined the United States army in Chicago (and was later institutionalized there), while the brothers from Clare, Tom and Willie, signed up with the armed forces in self-governing Australia.

In the 1913-set film “The Shooting Party” (1985), a young woman suggests to a friend that he longs for war. He denies it, but adds: “I suppose there’s something in every man that answers the call of battle.”

Wherever or for whatever reasons their loved ones had joined up, hundreds of thousands of families in independent Ireland had a direct connection to the traumas of the Great War trenches. Uniquely in the Western world, though, this was not acknowledged officially in any way.

This reminds one a bit of primogeniture, widely adapted in Ireland after the Famine. The eldest son got the farm. He was king, and the others were pretenders. Likewise with regard to war: one experience was privileged and elevated above the others.

That was perhaps understandable when the wounds were raw following the 1916-23 period. But after a couple of decades, by which time even veterans who had fought for independence were joining the British and other armed forces during World War II, it really didn’t make much sense. (My grandfather was an anti-Treaty republican interned for over a year in 1922/23, before he was even eligible to vote, and served in the RAF police during World War II). Looking back, it seems to epitomize the state’s insularity and immaturity.  One might detect in it the self-perpetuating ideology of the political elite, the first-born as it were, which was disproportionately made up of leaders from the 1916-23 era.

The novelist Tom Phelan is someone who has been vocal on this issue in pieces in these pages and elsewhere and it’s the backdrop to his acclaimed novel “The Canal Bridge,” which was published in the U.S. for the first time this year.

I know from interviewing Phelan a few times that inclusion is a value that he puts above most others. He has bad personal memories working as a young curate in England in the late 1960s with a parish priest who didn’t make him feel at home.  He faults too the Irish bishop who didn’t once visit his brother, who was also a priest, during the two years of his terminal illness. He has clashed about the church’s treatment of younger clergy with New York’s Cardinal Dolan in the letters page of the Irish Echo.

The survivors of the 1914-18 war from his native Mountmellick, Co. Laois, found no honor at home or real sense of inclusion, he believes.  Among those he remembered from his 1940s and ’50 childhood – the inspirations for “The Canal Bridge” – was farm laborer Jack Staunton, who Phelan’s father said had rescued his commanding officer from no-man’s-land.

“I won’t say they were ostracized,” Phelan recalled. “But nothing was made of them.”

We can, perhaps, make something of them now, the men who set out from towns like Mountmellick, from the tenements of Dublin, from the hamlets of Protestant Ulster, from Chicago and from Australia – men who mostly felt that they were doing the right thing by their family and their community.

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