By Patrick Markey
After waiting for more than seven decades, William Geary might finally uncover the answer to the question that has haunted him for most of his adult life.
In 1928, Geary was dismissed from his post as a superintendent in the Garda Siochana because of allegations he had taken a £100 bribe from the Irish Republican Army. Without a trial or investigation into those allegations, Geary said, he left for America in disgrace and for the last 70 years has been battling to clear his name.
"I’ve been fighting a phantom and I don’t even know what it is," said Geary, who will turn 100 at the end of February.
But recently after a relative asked for access to documents which would reveal why Geary was dismissed, the answer to that question could be a little closer. Three weeks before Geary’s birthday, the Irish Department of Justice have decided to release documents relating to his case.
After a freedom of information request was filed to the Taoiseach’s Office, the Irish justice minister took a personal interest in Geary’s case and decided to release the documents relating to his dismissal on humanitarian grounds, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said. Those files were scheduled to be sent to New York last week, the spokesman said.
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"It’s been a tremendous disappointment that it took 70 years to release these documents," said Geary’s godson, John P. Collins, a Bronx Supreme Court judge who filed the request.
"I’ve been sending letters for the last 30 years. Hopefully the situation can be rectified now," he said.
Geary’s long struggle for what he claims is his innocence started in the 1920s, when he was assigned to the newly formed Garda Siochana in County Clare in the Irish Free State.
The details of his dismissal are still fresh in his mind. He was summoned to a hotel where several high-ranking officers were waiting for him. As they made their way up a stairway, one turned to Geary and said, " ‘You’re life is ruined, you better tell the truth,’ That was the first inkling I had that there was anything wrong," he remembers.
Taken before a commissioner, he was told there was evidence that he had received money from the IRA for information. He denied the charges, as he always has. Soon after that meeting he was dismissed from the force by the Irish Free State.
"I thought there was going to be an inquiry, and we’d investigate the matter," he said. But no further action was taken after he was summarily dismissed.
So at the end of 1928 he came to New York.
He enlisted in the armed forces and later worked for 30 years for Con Edison. But his struggle to prove his innocence still consumed him. Letter after letter was sent out to successive Irish leaders and justice ministers. He took a polygraph test, he said, to add to the weight of evidence in his favor.
"The onus is on me. To this day I haven’t the remotest idea what is in that file or where it came from," he said. "I followed this because it was a slur on the family name. None of us were ever convicted of anything. That’s why I want my name cleared."