Sunday Life

For folk sake!
--FBI spied on Ulster civil rights duo in Sixties, and considered Clancy Brothers a THREAT to America

By Georgina Brennan in New York
21 November 2004

THE FBI was spying on Ulster civil rights activists Bernadette Devlin and Eamonn McCann as far back as the 1960s, according to recently de-classified files.

Sunday Life has seen documents in New York which show - for the first time - the true extent of the bureau's surveillance of Irish-Americans.

The files, released in accordance with the US Freedom of Information Act, now form part of the Sean Prenderville collection, at the Irish Studies Department of New York University.

The 94 pages detail surveillance operations dating from the late 1960s to the 1980s, and include targets such as Devlin and McCann - but also Irish folk group, The Clancy Brothers!

The files reveal that the US government was concerned the Troubles could spread to America.

One document, dated October 1969, describes surveillance carried out on a rally in support of the IRA, held outside a New York department store.

The FBI agent reported:

"Gimbels Department Store. Join Dominic Behan and IRA at Gimbels.

The demonstration at the northeast corner of Gimbels store on West 33rd Street near Broadway bore the message: 'This is the IRA'.

"...other posters along the side of the bus read 'Help us Boycott British Goods', 'Unite Ireland Now' and 'Denounce British Oppression in Ireland'. Speeches were made by a light brown-haired young man.

"He announced that Dominic Behan, who had just arrived last night from Dublin, would be present to make an address at 7.00pm.

"He then introduced a lightly built young man, wearing a khaki uniform-type jacket and a black or dark blue beret, as Kevin O'Keefe, or O'Keeth, whom he described as a member of the IRA."

Another document, from August 1974, written by an agent named 'Charlotte', details how the FBI gathered its information.

In the file, headed 'Threat to Blow Up US Naval Communications Station, Londonderry, Ireland', Charlotte recommends that "sufficient inquiry be conducted in the New York area to enable a conclusion whether the information is factual".

The documents also record that Devlin was a "friend of the Black Panthers, because she gave her ceremonial freedom of New York to the group".

One file reads: "August 21, 1969 - Miss Bernadette Devlin, of Londonderry, Ireland, youngest member of the British parliament, who had arrived earlier on that date in the United States, made a brief appearance at the scene (in New York) at about 4.30pm, where she remained but for a few minutes.

"Newspaper report launched campaign to tell 'the real story' about the struggle in Northern Ireland and to raise 1m dollars for her homeless countrymen.

"She reportedly plans to be in this country for about a week and, while here, she will plead her cause on radio and TV, and will operate through the National Association for Irish Justice at 210 East 23rd Street, NYC."

Eamonn McCann also merits four pages in the same report.

"The presentation was made by Eamon (sic) McCann, chairman of the Derry Labor (sic) Party, to Robert Bay, who identified himself only as a member of the Panthers, in a hall at 853 Broadway, off Union Square."

The FBI described people attending the rally as "hypocrites", because they were interested in civil rights in Northern Ireland, but not in America.

The Clancy Brothers were also described in the files as both a "traditional Irish folk group" and a "security risk".


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