By Patrick Markey
To William Geary, the name John O’Donoghue had been always been more than simply a signature on the bottom of a letter.
But on Tuesday afternoon, the 100-year-old Irishman and former garda finally got to meet O’Donoghue, the Irish minister for justice, who earlier this year ended Geary’s seven-decade struggle to dismiss allegations he had taken bribes from the IRA.
"I haven’t the words to thank this man," said Geary, who was sporting a dapper red bow-tie for the meeting at Rosie O’Grady’s bar in Manhattan.
O’Donoghue shook hands with the sprightly centenarian, telling him that the new, young and prosperous Ireland apologized for his suffering. Geary, the minister said, was the rock upon which modern Ireland had been built.
Geary’s tale of injustice and redemption began in 1928 when he was working as a Garda Siochana superintendent in County Clare in the fledgling Irish Free State. Clare was still a hotbed of Irish Republican Army activity when allegations surfaced that Geary had taken a £100 bribe from republican activists.
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Without a proper hearing and with little knowledge of the allegations against him, Geary was dismissed from the force. He left Ireland in disgrace soon after and immigrated to America. He has not returned to Ireland since.
For more than 70 years Geary carried out an extensive letter-writing campaign to clear his name and protest his innocence. A meticulous record-keeper, Geary filed away his correspondence with the Irish government and with successive justice ministers. In April, the Justice Department decided to open the files on his dismissal.
Taking a personal interest in Geary’s case, O’Donoghue looked over the files and decided the former Garda Siochana superintendent had been dismissed unfairly. Geary received a lump-sum payment of £50,000, and an annual pension equal to the rank he held before his dismissal.
"Mr. Geary’s story is the story of one man’s unquenchable thirst for justice," the minister said.