When the IRA came to New York
This revelation caused the story to make headlines the following day. “Man shot dead in Central Park involved in Irish plot,” read the headline of a banner in The Evening World. “Link filming here with the Irish war,” said a Times headline.
All the publicity convinced the IRA men to leave New York. In time, Jimmy McGee, the dockside repairman, helped send the three back to Ireland – two as stowaways and one under an assumed name. Britannia may have ruled the waves, but the Irish ruled New York’s waterfront.
Much to almost everyone’s amazement, Cruxy survived all four gunshot wounds. And he refused to tell New York detectives who shot him. Whenever asked, he emphatically shook his head. It is perhaps not surprising that a spy who stopped spying and a rebel who stopped rebelling became an informant who stopped informing.
When he recovered from his injuries, Cruxy O’Connor moved to Canada, where he married and had a child. O’Connor led his family through a wandering life, moving from Canada to New York, New York to England, and England to Canada, where he died in the early 1950s.
For years after Irish independence, wrestling veterans debated Cruxy’s motives. In an interview in the 1960s, Pa Murray offered a startling view of the New York ambush. “I was sorry afterwards,” he said with a sigh. “We learned later that the poor devil had been tortured to make him talk” after his arrest in Cork.
But another IRA veteran who knew Cruxy well, Stan Barry, was convinced his arrest was faked – to bring in from the cold a man who had always spied for Britain. And a rebel spy who witnessed Cruxy’s interrogation agreed. “It was a process of kindness, this interrogation,” recalls Part Margetts, a former British soldier. “He had a furtive look in his eyes and he was looking at you from under his lashes, but he hadn’t been abused.”
Although veterans differ, Cruxy remains the Benedict Arnold of Cork in popular memory. A local ballad offers an unequivocal verdict:
But damn that Cruxy Connors, renegade traitor and spy
Who sold out the Ballycannon Boys on that fateful day.
Mark Bulik is editor of The New York Times and author of “The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War.” This article is adapted from a forthcoming book.