Archive : Category

To know Liam Ryan, understand his times

POSTED ON December 12th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Today we stand together. Family members and close friends, each with deep personal feelings and memories of Liam Ryan, stand alongside others too young to have known him. All of us can feel anger at his murder.
Surely, it is murder when the vaunted British crown forces arrange killings by loyalist proxies and paid agents. It is murder, even when the murder victim was, like Liam Ryan a Republican, or like Michael Devlin, in the company of a Republican, or as other families here know, the parent or aunt of a Republican.
All of us can be angered by the British policy of murder cover-up.
European Law says that the families of state murder victims have a right to justice. Britain deems such rights null and void when the victims are Republicans, or justice means ending the one-sided immunity or impunity for British troopers or constabulary.
Even today, families of the victims are still denied justice, still denied truth, still stonewalled and still told lies. Even an Ombudsman or Coroner, who makes the mistake of actually trying to get truth, soon finds they will be denied the funds or documents to do it.
All of us – and I do not want to be misinterpreted as speaking about armed actions in the different conditions and circumstances of today – but we are not here for any sorry initiatives, not here to demean his legacy by apologies. All of us are here to honor the memory of a true patriot with pride.
There is today another ongoing round of talks. Last year’s Haass talks have become this year’s Hart talks.
We frequently hear words like parity of esteem and equality. We will not accept a “parody of esteem” where we are expected to hide our grief, our anger, and our pride in this brave soldier, lest we give offense to others who believe Republicans in Ireland are not entitled to such feelings.
To understand Liam Ryan, first understand the times in which he lived. He was born before the British shifted from one party Orange rule, to granting shared space tied to an immovable DUP anchor, where every legitimate demand for justice, as Gregory Campbell so crudely said, can be treated like toilet paper.
Liam was born before civil rights marches. Because he was a Ryan from Ardboe, and where his parents sent him to church and school, that was enough to mark him as suspect, second class and someone the six county state could best do without.
They did their best to send this message with a whole system to deny nationalists jobs, housing, and gerrymander votes. Just to be sure he understood, the crown forces would remind him when they met him on the road.
It is easy to understand why when people speak of the beginnings of civil rights in the Six Counties, they speak of marches in Coalisland or Dungannon or the first housing sit-in by a Tyrone family. It was easy to understand why when British troopers proved they did not come to back civil rights but to impose Internment, and to shoot down those who got in the way at Ballymurphy, or protested in Derry, that Liam came to believe you would not never get civil rights from a regime ready to answer civil right protests with Bloody Sunday. He came to see that the injustices he lived under were no accident but were allowed by the British because they served British interests.
He went to New York where I would come to know him. He found a new life where being a Ryan from Ardboe, did not count against him and indeed often counted for him. He found work with the power company, Con Edison. He had sisters and cousins nearby.
He found an apartment near Gaelic Park where he spent Sundays. He found Tyrone Societies and Clan na Gael. And who could have blamed him if he enjoyed this new life and put thoughts of Tyrone or the six counties behind him, or perhaps attended a few protests outside the British Consulate, or given some money for Republican prisoners.
That was not Liam. You could take Liam Ryan out of Tyrone but never take Tyrone out of Liam Ryan. The struggle and injustices here were never out of his thoughts. His dream was always to live and raise a family in a Tyrone where the injustices he lived under were a thing of the past. He dedicated his life to help make that so.
He worked in Clan na Gael and with Irish Northern Aid. He was one of those men and women from the Six Counties who were a constant inspiration and reminder to all of us. They were the vanguard of everything we in America did to raise money for the families of political prisoners or to build American political support for Irish issues.
He made his home a refuge and landing spot for others. There I would first come to hear of Gerry McGeough. He cannot be here because he is under threat of Internment by License. Gerry McGeough, like Ivor Bell, or Seamus Kearney and others are living reminders that the British will go back thirty or forty years and have no shortage of money to trump up charges against some republicans. They then tell us there is no money to arrest the Bloody Sunday troopers, or give the Ballymurphy Massacre families an inquiry, or take any steps which threaten the blanket immunity or impunity for British troopers and constabulary.
There I first met Lawrence McNally who would die alongside Liam‘s cousin Pete, and Tony Doris. Their car was fired upon until it burst into flames. They still cannot get an Inquest.
I remember asking why Lawrence had given instructions to be buried in Monaghan instead of Tyrone. I was told so that that so he could be buried and mourned without his grave and family being abused by crown forces. The next day I saw Pete Ryan’s family jeered and taunted about barbecues and barely let out of their homes to bury him. How right Lawrence had been.
As he was preparing to come back he was arrested in New York for sending weapons to the IRA. He faced a possible jail sentence. His lawyer, friends including myself, pressured him to apologize as is customary in American courts. He told us he had done no more than one of his relatives who had helped Erskine Childers bring arms into Dublin for the Easter Rising. Finally he agreed to make an apology in the American court.
Liam told the Judge that the only apology he wanted to make was to apologize to the IRA Volunteers who did not get the weapons. Judge Sifton, who had no Irish connections, but who presided over several Irish trials, smiled and said that the Irish accused like Liam were unlike the criminals who came before him and let him go with unsupervised probation.
He came back to Tyrone to open the Battery. I was banned from the North and the British had used my presence to attack a peaceful rally in Belfast. So we could meet in Dublin, or more likely Monaghan, but not in the Battery Bar in Ardboe, County Tyrone.
“We will have you up at the Battery for a free drink,” Liam joked when I telephoned him twenty-five years ago to say I would be traveling to Dublin for weekend meetings between the Irish Northern Aid executive and Sinn Fein leadership.
“Our friends have been about this last week,” he continued. It meant that the Royal Ulster Constabulary, backed by British troopers, had been patrolling heavily in the Ardboe area.
He added, “I may be back in the Bronx with you, but will say more when I see you.”
These words were ominous. For Liam to hint at leaving Ardboe meant that he was under serious threat which he would not talk about on a likely tapped telephone line, but would explain when we met.
I would never see him again. The following evening the crown forces which had been flooding the Ardboe area would suddenly disappear. At closing, as Liam Ryan stood by the door, a loyalist death squad would arrive at precisely the correct time and place.
Liam Ryan would be murdered as he attempted to slam the door shut and protect those patrons still inside. It was taken for granted that the British crown forces had given the intelligence, cleared and shielded the arrival and escape of the murder gang. The RUC would eventually arrive, with smug smiles, not bothering any pretense of sympathy, as they dismissed any chance that anyone might ever be caught or identified.
There was a phrase often used on newscasts about incidents which had “all the hallmarks” of the IRA. Liam’s murder had all the hallmarks of a crown directed collusion murder.
How could crown collusion in so many murders at such a high level of cooperation over so wide an area and so long a time continue without the knowledge and approval of the British at the highest levels?
There is now another round of talks that is supposed to tell us agreed formulas and legal mechanisms to deal with past events like Liam Ryan’s murder.
I cannot speak of him without remembering that he was murdered because he wanted freedom for all of Ireland so deeply. Many hoped that the Good Friday agreement had opened the door to this freedom. It seems clear that the British saw it as a way to nail the door shut.
We are less than eighteen months from the centenary of the Easter Rising, and that pledge of freedom, which Liam Ryan always said should apply as much to Thomas Clarke’s county as anywhere else.

This is an edited version of a recent speech delivered by Martin Galvin in Co. Tyrone at an event commemorating the death of Liam Ryan, Tyrone native and U.S. citizen.

Op Ed: Time to bring families out of the shadows

POSTED ON November 26th  - POSTED IN News & Views

By Joe Biden

My grandfather Ambrose Finnegan always told me, “Never forget where you came from, Joey.”
He wasn’t merely reminding me that I’m from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He was telling me not to forget the journey of my family, and the dreams that inspired them to take on the perilous voyage from Ireland to these shores in the 1840s and 1850s.
The history of the journey of this country has always been the promise that anything is possible.
That’s what attracted wave after wave of immigrants for centuries. And every generation of immigrants has infused this country with new blood, new ideas, a new determination, a new certainty that we will continue to be the land of possibilities.
But right now, our system is broken, and it needs to be fixed. It needs to continue to hold out the promise of possibilities. There are 11 million undocumented people living in the shadows. They hail from across the globe, including an estimated 50,000 from Ireland.
They want what we all want: a decent life for our children, the chance to contribute to a free society, the chance to put down roots and help build the next great American century.
It is long past time to bring these families out of the shadows, to eliminate the daily fear of separation and restore opportunity – and accountability – to millions of people living in our midst.
Over 500 days ago, the United States Senate passed legislation with bipartisan support to improve border security, streamline the immigration process, and establish a firm but fair path to citizenship.

“It is long past time to bring these families out of the shadows, to eliminate the daily fear of separation and restore opportunity – and accountability – to millions of people living in our midst.”

It would be an absolute game-changer for our economy, adding $1.4 trillion to our economy and reducing the deficit by nearly $850 billion over 20 years, and extending the solvency of Social Security by another two years.
Unfortunately, House Republican leadership has refused to allow a fair vote on this legislation, despite support on both sides of the aisle.
That left President Obama with a choice – sit by as families are torn apart and our economic horizons are diminished, or take action within the power granted his office by the United States Constitution. As the President announced on Thursday, he has chosen action.
Following in the tradition of every Republican and Democratic President over the past five decades, President Obama announced that he is using his executive authority to address the nation’s broken immigration system.
The actions President Obama announced on Thursday will crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize the deportation of felons instead of families, and streamline our legal immigration system to boost our economy and promote naturalization.
The President’s action will also provide an opportunity for millions of undocumented individuals who have been in this country for at least five years to come out of the shadows.
This opportunity is not available to everyone. It is for DREAMers who were brought to this country as children. And it is for the parents of children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.
These parents will have the opportunity to request work authorization and temporary relief from deportation if they come forward and pay their taxes, submit biometric data, pass background checks, pay fees, and show that their child was born on or before the date of the President’s announcement.
The President’s actions will help grow the economy and reduce the deficit, as more workers come out of the shadows and contribute to our economic growth and tax base, and entrepreneurs gain a greater opportunity to innovate and create jobs in the United States.
It remains my fervent hope that Congress will allow a fair vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill to permanently address our nation’s broken immigration system. That is the only long-term solution.
But the President’s actions are a strong step forward, consistent with the values that built this nation – opportunity, responsibility, family.
These actions are an affirmation that we as a people will never forget where we came from.

Joe Biden is Vice President of the United States

Distracted in Peekskill

POSTED ON November 12th  - POSTED IN News & Views

This column was published in the Oct. 22, 2014, issue of the Irish Echo.

By Maura Mulligan

Recently I was invited to read at the Hudson Valley Irish Fest in Peekskill.  One of two guest authors, I was honored to be in the line-up with Ray O’ Hanlon author of The South Lawn Plot and editor of this Newspaper. As I dragged my wheelie bag full of books up the hill from the train station to the festival grounds, I suddenly realized that a convent I once lived in stood on the other side of the train tracks.

Memories of zealous, young postulants in long black skirts, devout white-veiled novices, altar candles, celestial singing and burning incense shot through my brain as I walked past kilted pipers and popular bands like “Black 47” preparing to mount an outdoor stage.

In September 1962, I entered the convent of Mount Saint Francis, the entrance of which was now distracting me from this festival. I wanted to get into the spirit of the celebration and focus on fiddlers playing for hard-shoe step dancers and artists transforming children’s faces into butterflies, birds and cats. Most of all, I wanted to focus on my reading.

But as I waited my turn to read, my mind flew back to that chapel (just steps away) when I had knelt along with twenty-five other young women on the hard tiles facing the altar, where we bent forward in prostration as Brides of Christ. The knell of the death bell signaling death to the world had saddened members of the congregation causing sobs and moans to blend with the drone of the organ.  My mother, living in Ireland was unable to attend the ceremony. Had she been there, I pictured her turning to the “mourners” and voicing firmly, “Well, for God’s sake, will ye pipe down. They won’t have a care in the world when they’re married to the Lord.” For young Catholic girls at that time, having a vocation to become a nun was highly regarded and treasured.

The excerpt I read at the festival was about my first job as a fourteen -year –old housemaid in what my mother called “a grand house.” But although that experience was about a place in my native County Mayo, the chapter from which the excerpt was taken began in that convent on the other side of the train tracks, the place where I was told, “you have an Irish accent. The children won’t understand you. Off you go to the kitchen.”

And so I was assigned to help the priest’s housekeeper.

A passing train caused me to pause my reading. While I waited for the reverberation to fade, I was sidetracked by flashbacks to a time when that same lonesome horn penetrated the chapel walls where, in a white wedding dress and veil, I walked down the aisle as the organist played Veni Creator Spiritus, while the train horn reminded me that I, and the other young women who joined the order with me, had left the world behind.

After my reading, I watched families enjoy a picnic as they listened to bands like ‘Black 47’ and ‘The Druids’ on an outdoor stage. I looked across the train tracks and saw the entrance to where I had shared meals in silence with the other young nuns in training.

I remembered the evening I became a novice. We were allowed conversation at supper instead of listening to spiritual reading from the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his likes. But as new novices, we were anxious about what would happen when the meal was over. We didn’t want to talk much that evening.

After supper, the workroom with its sewing machines and tables became a waiting room, and the bead room, where the large rosary beads that hung at our sides were strung together, was turned into a barbershop. Sister Mariella, our novitiate equivalent of a class clown tried to joke. “Let’s call this the beauty parlor,” she giggled. No one laughed this time. We sat at the long tables in silence, reading The Lives of The Saints while waiting our turns.

The nun assigned to rendering us bald, sighed loudly when she looked at my shoulder-length, auburn curls. I could tell she did not enjoy cutting young women’s hair off. This act of replacing one’s hair with a veil was supposed to render us less vein. While Sister Eucharia chopped away, I tried to bring Christ’s life and death to mind but felt that my shiny tresses were crying to me from the floor. A part of me was dying, and I was responsible for the murder.

I came to terms with what I called a “temporary vocation” when I left and started a new life some years later.

As I signed copies of my book for people at the festival and listened to singer, Mary Courtney invite guests to come forward and share a song or story. I reminded myself that if it wasn’t for that other life at a time when I was much younger and more idealistic, I would not have this and other stories to tell now.

After the festival, I walked towards the convent gate, not sure if I wanted to open it – to revisit my past. I settled for a long look at the old buildings where the current residents are no longer young, though most are undoubtedly still zealous.

 Maura Mulligan’s memoir, “Call of the Lark” was chosen for the Irish-American book club discussion on November 5th 


A Spooktacular Holloween/Samhain Evening

POSTED ON November 12th  - POSTED IN News & Views

This column was published in the Oct. 29, 2014 issue of the Irish Echo.


By Maura Mulligan

The moment I sat at the table my chair shattered. All four legs and the stretchers connecting them flew in different directions. A little spooked, but unhurt, I took a friend’s hand, lifted myself off the floor and adjusted my goddess costume.

Friends at the table fussed. “Are you hurt? What on earth happened to that chair?” The restaurant manager commanded a staff member to find another chair. He asked if I was okay. “I think so,” I managed.

I celebrate the ancient festival of Samhain with friends every year. Guests dress as someone from our Celtic past and bring the character to life with a story, song or dance.

This was our first time meeting in The Landmark Tavern, a saloon in Hell’s Kitchen that dates back to 1868. I liked the squeaky door that leads to the second floor dining room. The brick fireplace and dark wood furniture made me want to be there on this night of ghosts.  Now, I wasn’t so sure anymore.

When my chair was replaced, the wait staff continued taking orders as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.  I too, acted as if nothing went wrong. I wasn’t physically hurt, but felt threatened in some way.

Maybe, I thought, the Confederate Civil War soldier who was stabbed in a fight and staggered up to the second floor (where we were) didn’t approve of our using the bathroom where he died in the bathtub that still sits in the middle of the floor. Or maybe George Raft, the Hollywood gangster who roams around the old mahogany bar didn’t like my costume?

While trying to calm myself with a glass of merlot, I thought about the Tavern’s third ghost, the young Irish girl who came here during An Gorta Mór – the famine. She died of cholera on the third floor when this pub was a flophouse. Maybe young ghosts don’t like it when we, the living tell stories about the dead, I mused.

But I didn’t really believe in ghosts. Did I?

As a child in County Mayo, I had asked my grandfather if ghosts were real. “Arragh,” says he, “they are and they aren’t.”

Samhain, according to old Celtic beliefs is the time when the veil between this and the other world is lifted and the dead return to the homes they once occupied. In rural Ireland where I grew up in the 40’s/50’s it was customary to greet the returning spirits with a jack-o-lantern carved out of a turnip.

So, in the company of ghosts real or imagined, yours truly in the guise of the goddess, Danú, most ancient of all Celtic deities, decided it was time to forget about the broken chair and get the festivities started.

Revolutionaries, artists, historical, and mythological figures were they’re waiting to tell their stories. As we recalled our rich heritage, and learned from each other’s research, I tried to concentrate on the presentations but couldn’t help wondering if the resident ghosts had other plans for me.

Lady Wilde, poet, nationalist, and mother of the more famous Oscar, asked how I was feeling. “A little threatened,” I admitted. I talked to Nancy, one of the wait staff, who told me about an occasion when she served two young men who were there for dinner.

“Both water glasses shattered at the same time,” she recalled. “No one was even touching them. The glass went all over the burgers and beer.” Her colleague, Louis confirmed this remembering that he had to clean up the table while Nancy replaced the food and drinks.

Well, that didn’t make me feel any better. Back at the party, I was glad when revolutionaries and warriors showed up. Sword in hand, Cousin Eileen stormed to the fore as the fierce Scottish woman warrior, Scáthach. She, who trained the great legendary hero Cuchulainn, flew in from Dún Scáith (Fort of the Shadows) to tell of her many powers. With her likes around, I felt a wee bit safer.

Some months later I ventured back to the Landmark on a Monday evening and was warmly welcomed and given the best table near the musicians gathered for their weekly seisiún. The manager, Michael was hesitant to speak of possible resident ghosts but he did say that, “people sometimes sense something on that second floor.” He was glad I wasn’t hurt but couldn’t explain why the chair exploded as it did.

October 31st is just around the corner and I am once again making plans for a Samhain party. Although some friends are hesitant about returning to the ghostly pub, it’s my opinion that since Celtic poetry is our theme this year, the ghosts, if they exist, will feel less threatened by the presence of Yeats, Heaney, Burns, Cáitlin Maud and their likes. We aim to have a spooktacular evening.


Maura Mulligan is the author of “Call of the Lark,” a memoir. (Greenpoint Press).


Remembering Cork’s Rebel general

POSTED ON November 11th  - POSTED IN News & Views

Page Turner / Edited by Peter McDermott

Damian Shiels8768 Civil CVR.indd

Damian Shiels, the keynote speaker at the 2014 Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Event, will present “Patrick Cleburne at the Battle of Franklin” at the Factory in Franklin, on Friday, Nov. 14 at 10:45 a.m.

Robert E. Lee described him as “A meteor shining from a clouded sky” and 150 years after his death following the Battle of Franklin, Cork-born Major General Patrick Cleburne remains an intriguing and popular figure.

One of the reasons, said “The Irish in the American Civil War” author Damian Shiels, is that he recommended the freeing of the slaves and thus doesn’t seem “quite so invested in the institution of slavery as some other Confederates.”

He proposed the policy “because he felt it a military necessity to do so, not because he believed in emancipation per se,” he added.

“When he brought the proposal forward in January 1864 it was suppressed and the fact that he made it at all was only discovered by chance decades later,” said Shiels, who will give a lecture on Cleburne in Franklin, Tenn., on this Friday.

Shiels is a conflict archaeologist, who runs the website, which contains 100s of stories relating to the Irish experience of that conflict.

His book on the subject, he said, “was initially published in Ireland in an attempt to raise awareness of the impact of this conflict on Irish emigrants. The vast majority of people in what is now the Republic of Ireland are unaware that for many Irish counties, it was this war that saw more men from their locality in uniform than any other in history.”

Damian Shiels

Date of birth: Oct. 1, 1979

Place of birth: London

Partner: Sara Nylund

Children: None

Residence: Midleton, Co. Cork

What is your writing routine? Are there ideal conditions?

My two main types of writing are for my website, where I try to create a few articles per month, and for traditional publication in books and journals. I work best having a major block of time to work in without distractions, preferably over a number of hours. I always aim to keep narrative central, so once relevant research is done I tend to write a piece in its entirety, then go back over it a number of times to polish and refine it.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

When I was first asked to write a paper I initially refused, thinking of a million reasons it might not go well. In the end I decided passing up the opportunity would be something I would long regret, and since then I have always sought to publish as much as possible. Everyone can write, and there is always someone who will want to read what you have to say. In the digital age, it is now much easier to ‘test the waters’ by putting a few pieces up online- there are few better ways to develop and refine your writing style than setting up your own blog.

Name three books that are memorable in terms of your reading pleasure.

In terms of Civil War history, recent works that have influenced me include David Blight’s “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory,” Drew Gilpin Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” and Gary Gallagher’s “The Union War.”

What book are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Stephen V. Ash’s “A Massacre in Memphis: The Race Riot That Shook the Nation One Year After the Civil War” which is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the Irish in the South, particularly with respect to Irish interactions with African Americans in the Nineteenth century.

Is there a book you wish you had written?

Far too many. I would love to be able to write historical fiction- any of John Boyne’s works for example, or perhaps Pat Barker’s ”Regeneration” trilogy, which are superb.

If you could meet one author, living or dead, who would it be?

This would have to be one of the many Irishman who wrote accounts of their experiences of the American Civil War. I have plenty questions I would like to ask them.

What book changed your life?

The Ladybird “Adventures from History” series which explored great people and events from history really ignited my love for the past at a formative age. They still adorn my shelves in their distinctive blue livery.

What is your favorite spot in Ireland?

Doe Castle in Creeslough, Co. Donegal. My mother’s family are from nearby and it was the site that led me to pursing archaeology as a career. Figures such as Red Hugh O’Donnell stayed here and its dramatic setting make it one of the most picturesque castles in Ireland.


You’re Irish if…

For the purposes of my work on the American Civil War, I classify people as Irish if they were either born in Ireland or were part of (or sought to be recognised as part of) the Irish-American community. This is something I would hold to today, there should be room for everyone who wishes to identify as Irish (or part Irish) among the Irish diaspora.

For more on the program in Franklin, go to, or email, or call (615) 532-7520.

Ray O’Hanlon, recipient of the 2014 William Butler Yeats Award

POSTED ON November 5th  - POSTED IN News, News & Views, Opinion

By Áine Ní Shionnaigh

Driving across the iconic George Washington Bridge on Saturday evening last, leaving the twinkling lights of Manhattan behind, the panoramic Palisades peer back at me through the darkness, and hesitatingly welcoming me to North Jersey. My usual vision of the broad expanse of the historic Hudson River is limited somewhat by driving rain and wind.  I mourn the loss of endless summer evenings which have been bluntly replaced by this November blackness.  Crossing the world’s busiest motor vehicle bridge, I can’t help but contrast it with the bridge in the center of my hometown of Boyle which has been the subject for countless photographs, postcards and publications since it was first built as a wooden structure in the 1750’s. The scale of one when juxtaposed with the other is hard to comprehend. The Boyle Bridge, although historical and picturesque is more akin to a bump in the road, its span accommodating on average three vehicles at one time.  It is easy to see why in 1981, 50 years after the George Washington Bridge was built, it was designated as a Natural Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, largely due to the imposing exposed steel grafts.

Once over the bridge and officially in Jersey, the tempo changes, the GPS system kicks in out of necessity, the scenery is quickly forgotten as I scan the highway for exits. Surprisingly quickly, I reach my destination, the Graycliff Manor in Moonachie where the Bergen Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County are holding their 2014 Grand Marshal Quentin Kennedy Jr’s Dinner and Celebration of Irish Culture.

I am greeted by the usual ‘Are you here for the Irish event?’ when exiting the car. Someday I’ll cause confusion by turning up for the Italian night! On entering the salubrious surrounding of the Graycliff, I am almost overwhelmed by the sea of Irish faces, 260 to be exact. As I’m looking for a seat, a woman passes me by with that open friendly countenance that is commonplace in the West of Ireland.  I can’t resist remarking if she is from the West of Ireland, not only is she from the West, she is from the same County, County Roscommon and in fact she comes from Arigna which is just a few miles down the road from me.  As is typical of  West of Ireland hospitality, within a few minutes of meeting Mary Cullen , I am seated at a table in the corner in the midst of her all-embracing family, busy chatting about Doherty’s bakery in Boyle where Mary and one of her sisters, Kathleen worked. Her husband has been ousted from his seat to make space for me, it turns out he is one of tonight’s honorees; the recipient of The Turlough O’Carolan Award for Musical Achievement, James Joseph Higgins. Jimmy immigrated to the United States in February 1957 from Coleraine, Co Derry, where he was born and raised and started playing the bagpipes at the tender age of 12. Upon coming to the Unites States he played with many bands and in 1986, he founded the Bergen Irish Pipe Band and became the piping instructor and organizer. Since moving to Bergen County, over 42 years ago, Jimmy has been involved in a huge variety of Irish activities and has been such a great addition to Bergen County.

The second honoree of the night is Carmel Quinn who is the recipient of the 2014 Humanitarian Award. Carmel has spent the last five decades captivating the American public as a singer, comedienne, storyteller and humanitarian. She was born and educated in Ireland. She began performing locally in theaters, dance halls and went on to work for the BBC in Great Britain. In 1954 she immigrated to the United States where she began to appear as a regular guest on the Arthur Godfrey radio and TV programs. Following this she became a frequent guest on the top national TV shows, recorded numerous albums, acted in numerous stage productions, performed for John F Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson but more important than all that , she is a wonderful humanitarian donating so much of her time and money to charities in Ireland and the US. As I marvel at her youthful complexion, I realize it is probably more due to the fact that she carries out on a daily basis the best Irish tradition, helping those in need and serving as a shining example for the rest of us.

And our very own Ray O’Hanlon, well known editor of the Irish Echo and acclaimed author of two books, The New Irish Americans and The South Lawn Plot, is the recipient of the 2014 William Butler Yeats Award. O’Hanlon has a particular interest in the immigration issue, which his 1998 nonfiction book deals with from his first-hand experience of same. Ray is very proud to be the editor of the oldest Irish American newspaper in the country, which still provides a valuable connection for over 100,000 Irish, a connection which is not available on more ‘instant’ internet websites. His book ‘The New Irish Americans’ was the recipient of a Washington Irving Book Award.

All in all it was a wonderful night, organized by a wonderful organization. There was great entertainment provided by The Ridgewood Dance Academy and The Bergen Irish Pipe Band.

The Council of Irish Associations of Greater Bergen County strengthens Irish American culture in Northern New Jersey. In 1980, George P Gunning led a meeting in Paramus Park mall where various organizations gathered together and discussed the possibility of forming a Council. The Council was formed that evening and George P Gunning served as the first President.  The Council’s first St Patrick’s Day parade was held on March 14th 1982, the 2015 parade will mark their 34th anniversary. The council operates as a 501©(3) charitable organization. Maith thu to all involved.

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


Back to Top