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Inside File Fifth man in Larkin murder plot

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

The 1919 plot to murder labor leader Jim Larkin seems to have included a fifth man. Readers will recall that a story in the Echo last week pointed to four individuals named by a Bureau of Investigation agent in a December 1919 report to superiors about the alleged plot. However, the names were inked out of the copy of the report obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Claire Culleton, associate professor of British and Irish Literature at Kent State University in Ohio.

The report mentions a fifth individual either close or directly involved in the plan to murder Larkin "for the good of the Irish Republic" and send a lookalike in his place back to Ireland.

The unidentified agent states at one point that he had been advised by his source that a man (and here the name is also blacked out) "who is ‘consul general to the Irish republic’ in the City of New York, is charged with the duty of protecting an individual (whose name is at present unknown to informant) who bears a striking resemblance to ‘Jim’ Larkin."

According to Terry Golway, author of the John Devoy biography "Irish Rebel," the protector in question may well have been Dr. Patrick McCartan, a County Tyrone native who was acting at the time as putative consul general for the nascent republic. The language of the report would tend to suggest that McCartan, if indeed he was playing this role, was not one of the four individuals named initially in the report as being the key plotters. It’s worth mentioning that Eamon de Valera was in the middle of his grand U.S. tour at the time the report was compiled by the Bureau of Investigation agent. His involvement in such a plot, however, is highly unlikely, although de Valera was certainly as conservative in much of his outlook as Larkin was leftist.

Larkin survived the plot. It is unclear if the plot ever went beyond the stage of mere talk.

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Interest in Larkin, a central character in the James Plunkett novel "Strumpet City," and whose statue stands in Dublin’s O’Connell Street, has grown in recent years. AFL-CIO president John J. Sweeney traveled to Dublin last November to speak at the launch of "James Larkin, Lion of The told," a book edited by the former general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Donal Nevin. The book is a detailed compilation of writings on the man widely viewed as being the greatest Irish labor leader of the 20th century. "Lion of the Fold" is available from the Irish Bookstore in Manhattan, phone (212) 274-1923.

Richie’s riot act

Rep. Richard Neal has no doubts as to why the peace process in Northern Ireland is halfway down the plughole. And he let Mo Mowlam in on this non-secret during her recent visit to Washington, D.C. Neal, a co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs, sat down with Mowlam at one point and expressed a degree of frustration with the British government that he reckons is shared by many in Congress. With Rep. Peter King at his side, Neal told the Northern secretary that the recent collapse of the Executive had resulted from unionist misbehavior and the continued unwillingness of the British government to stand up to it.

"It was a firm exchange," Neal told "IF." "I told her that all the parties had advanced to the goal line only to have David Trimble and the unionists move the goalposts at the last minute. In the face of this, the prime minister and the British government had bent over backward."

The Massachusetts congressman told Mowlam that for 75 years successive British governments had given comfort to unionists without any appropriate response from them.

Mowlam, he said, listened intently and made the point that it was unfair to single out any one party for recent failures. Neal felt otherwise. There was a need for the British government to nudge Trimble’s UUP in particular in the direction outlined by the Good Friday agreement. The workings of the agreement itself, Neal indicated, could be reviewed, but its essential nature should be left undisturbed.

Clinton’s ire no surprise

That President Clinton is boiling mad over recent events in Northern Ireland comes as no surprise. On the surface, Clinton will maintain his cool, but there appears little doubt that he is now extremely frustrated over the stalemate in the Northern Ireland peace process. Clinton, of course, flung open the doors of the White House to one and all from the wee North over the last few years and has placed considerable personal and U.S. prestige on the line in the search for a just settlement.

The hazards in dealing with the North are not entirely the lot of politicians of course. Journalists too can be caught off guard by the shenanigans along the Lagan’s banks. The Nation devoted an editorial to the North just before Trimble and Co. walked away from the Executive. The editorial described the North as the Clinton Administration’s "one unalloyed foreign policy triumph, with the President himself lobbying Adams and Trimble." Within days, the triumph was looking rather less unalloyed. Still, George Mitchell is back on the job, so Clinton, a wiser man by far at this stage, clearly hasn’t chucked in the towel.

Potomac notes

Change is blowing over the Potomac with a couple of notable exits from the compound inside the Beltway. Larry Butler, National Security Council front man on Northern Ireland the last few years, is departing for a senior U.S. diplomatic post in that cauldron of global political intrigue, eh, Denmark. Copenhagen will doubtless give Butler a few years of his life back after the roller coaster of the wee North.

Also packing his bags is Pat Hennessy, political counselor at the Irish Embassy. Hennessy has been a most effective presence in Washington and will take a bit of replacing. Rep. Ben Gilman paid tribute to Hennessy in the Congressional Record. "Pat is known to many of us in the Congress, on both sides of the aisle, as a diplomat’s diplomat," Gilman said. "He understands our nation and people well." "IF" has no argument with that assessment.

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