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IRA Track British Spy From Cork To London and to New York City

Updated: Apr 16



Ninety-nine years ago there was a shooting in New York City. The victim Patrick “Cruxy” O’Connor, a recent immigrant from Ireland, was making his way to his place of work at Altman's Department Store in Midtown. Cruxy had just turned down 84th street in the direction of Central Park West. A gunman opened fire seriously injuring Cruxy O’Connor before making off on foot. Two other men fled the scene chased by onlookers. The men were never caught.


What bought violence onto the streets of New York that morning, who was responsible, and why attack Cruxy O’Connor?


Cruxy O’Connor had left the British Army and joined the IRA in Cork after World War I. In an ambush against British forces in February 1921 his job was to provide covering fire from a machine gun but he unexplainably failed to engage the enemy. In March 1921 Cruxy failed to report back to the IRA to explain his actions. It turns out Cruxy had been arrested by the RIC in possession of a revolver and when questioned about it he claimed that he was a British Agent. Cruxy subsequently gave up the locations of several IRA arms dumps.


Cruxy then led the RIC and Black and Tans to an IRA safe-house in Cork. He was present when they raided the house, beat and shot dead the six IRA Volunteers found inside. This became known as the Clogheen Ambush. It was a notorious double cross.



Funeral for the dead IRA men of the Clogheen Ambush


The IRA after having identifying Cruxy as the mole, tracked him down to a barracks in Cork where they planned to poison him. The plot was uncovered and Cruxy O’Connor was given a substantial amount of money by the British government and transported to safety in London.


The IRA then dispatched three volunteers, Martin Donovan, Daniel Healy, and Liam O’Callaghan to London to track him down in the summer of ‘21. They planned to ambush him when he went to collect a letter at a London post office. The IRA men waited for 10 days, ready to pounce but O’Connor never showed himself and the trail went cold.


Later on, word came from Cork that a female source had spotted in New York City. In February of ’22 two of the Volunteers on the previous Cruxy mission, Healy and Donvan were joined by a third volunteer Pa Murray and left for New York. The pursuit was back on. The three traveled separately to New York City to avoid detection.




The key NYC locations of the events of Cruxy's shooting


The three IRA men swore to avenge the death of their six comrades at the hands of the Black and Tans and the deep betrayal of their former comrade Cruxy. On the 13th April they put their plan into action. O’Connor left his home on the Upper West Side on foot to make his way to his job across town. There were three possible routes he could take and each off them covered by an armed IRA man. There would be no escape this time. Cruxy O’Connor was confronted on 85th and Central Park West where he was shot multiple times. At least once in the stomach, back and jaw. It is not 100% clear if he died or survived although newspaper accounts at the time suggest he was mortally wounded. The IRA men ran from the scene which had attracted outraged crowns and escaped separately on the New York subways before meeting back up later at their safe-house.



A contemporary account of the shooting describing Cruxy's condition


The three IRA volunteers were never caught by the American authorities and made good their final escape. Two of them returned to Ireland right away via Hamburg and the other remained in New York where he procured and ran guns back to Ireland for the use of the anti-treaty IRA.


The Cruxy affair is a classic spy game story of betrayal, corruption and revenge. Was Cruxy a British agent all along? Or did he betray the IRA because of a gun charge? Was he remorseful for leading the British to the safe house of his comrades? Did he die in NYC in 1922 or did he survive the long arm of the IRA? Whatever the truth is, we may never know it, but a shocking spy thriller unfolded on the streets of New York City ninety nine years ago this week.






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