For Malachy McAllister, 50 Years Under the Gun

  • The Wild Geese republishes a 2006 interview with Malachy McAllister who faces imminent deportation from the US if strenuous opposition to the move is not forthcoming. The interview was conducted by Gerry Regan, editor of the Wild Geese.

    • The published the following interview with beleaguered and much-respected Irish immigrant Malachy McAllister in 2006, and we are astounded at how relevant -- and urgent -- the concerns the Irish-American community expressed about his plight then remain today.

    Above: A Loyalist mural in Belfast. Courtesy of "Belfast Exposed."

    The account we reprise here dramatically underscores how precarious Malachy's hold on the American dream has remained for the past decade -- this despite a change of control of the White House and the mainstreaming of Irish republicans into Ireland's political life. Readers merely have to substitute Malachy's federal government-issued reporting date of April 25 with the phrase below 'any time now.' Reading his remarks here today, one could readily think the deportation threat that hung over Malachy McAllister in 2006 hasn't changed. Well, clearly, it has not. And we find that unconscionable. Here's the original interview. . . .

    Hard-pressed Irish immigrant Malachy McAllister, living in New Jersey the past 10 years with his family, may be deported any time now, despite the high regard of his friends, neighbors and the Irish-American community in greater New York. They have launched a full-press on the Department of Homeland Security to allow him to remain. McAllister saw brief service in the paramilitary Irish National Liberation Army in 1981, the year of the Hunger Strikes, a transgression that he paid for with a nearly four-year stint in the Maze Prison. He talks to Gerry Regan about the lessons of Irish history he has lived, and learned.

    NEW YORK — Malachy McAllister would seem to have an advantage in understanding the tortured history of British rule in Ireland. He has lived it, become a part of it, was nearly swallowed up by it, as he grew into manhood in nationalist neighborhoods in his native Belfast -- The Markets and later, Lower Ormeau Road, he said, known as"Murder Mile," for the preponderance of Loyalist attacks on Catholics there. As he tells it, he and his peers routinely suffered overt discrimination in employment and harassment by the British army and the local police, a largely Protestant force until November 2001 known as the Royal Ulster Constabulary, or RUC. No one who knows the history of "The Troubles" has any trouble believing him.

    On the fringes of a gathering of perhaps 100 or so in late April, at the city comptroller's annual "Celebration of Irish Heritage and Culture" in lower Manhattan's historic Surrogate's Court Building, McAllister stands near the rear of the rows of folding chairs. He's neatly dressed, wearing a sports coat, with an American flag pin in his lapel. He is also solid looking, with broad shoulders, as befits a man who's worked with his hands most of his life. He worked as a stonemason, before opening Antrim Masonry, his own contracting business, in New York, where he's lived since 1996. While most head for the buffet line, he earnestly fields questions from a young wire service reporter and greets the occasional well-wisher.

    A British soldier on patrol. Courtesy of "Belfast Exposed."

    This is at least the second Irish cultural event for him in the city within the previous 13 days. In an SRO crowd of 200 two weeks earlier, he stood listening to a presentation on the Easter Rising at New York University. During the summer of the Hunger Strike, in 1981, 25 years ago, he had a flirtation with the Irish National Liberation Army, a group inimical to the Irish government, sponsor of the NYU event. But as McAllister himself acknowledges, he has come a long way since he emerged from HM Prison Maze aka Long Kesh in 1985, where he served three-plus years for his role in two INLA actions. Today he is on record as supporting the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which has substituted politics for the gun in Northern Ireland.

    . . I was just someone who was prepared to riot, and do whatever I could to fight back, to show that, you know what I mean, we supported the men on hunger strike.

    McAllister served as an armed lookout in a July 1981 INLA shooting of an RUC officer, who was wounded in the incident. He was also charged, in a second incident, with conspiring with others to kill another RUC officer, a plot that was aborted. He was driven to this violence, he says, by the sense that he was living in a community under siege, at a time when, beginning with Bobby Sands' death in May, 11 of McAllister's peers went on to slow, wasting deaths. With the streets of nationalist Belfast in turmoil, he says he felt a need to choose sides.

    Out of prison three years, McAllister, his wife, Bernadette, and children fled Belfast to Canada after a Loyalist gang shot up their home in 1988. After Canadian authorities rejected their bid for asylum, the McAllisters entered the United States on a tourist visa in 1996, and have never left.

    Many in the Irish community here believe that McAllister's offenses, against the authority of Britain, America's most valued ally these days, have inspired the hard line taken by U.S. authorities toward McAllister's plea. He has lived peaceably ever since his incarceration in Northern Ireland, earning early release from prison for good behavior. In another tragic note to his American experience, his wife, who stood by him through his transit through the legal systems of two nations, died in May 2004.

    On April 10, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided against the McAllister family's appeal against deportation. Judge Maryanne Barry wrote in a concurring opinion, "I cannot find a way to keep the McAllisters in this country, and I have surely tried. But the laws Congress has enacted, particularly those enacted in the wake of the September 11th horror, are bullet-proof, designed, as they should be, to combat terrorism. The problem here, though, is that Congress's definition of 'terrorist activity' sweeps in not only the big guy, but also the little guy who poses no risk to anyone. It sweeps in Malachy McAllister."

    On May 25, McAllister faced the end of a legally mandated grace period. He and his two youngest children, Nicola, 19, and Sean Ryan, 18, are now subject to U.S. government action to deport them. Sons Gary, 29, and Mark, 26, are entitled to stay by dint of marrying Americans. Pressure from concerned citizens and their legislators has been building on U.S. authorities to let the McAllisters remain in the United States. If that fails to sway officials, however, they face deportation to the United Kingdom, perhaps within the next several months.

    In the Surrogate's Court Building, a Beaux-Arts masterpiece built in good part 100 years ago by other skilled Irish artisans, WG's Gerry Regan asked McAllister about his personal experience of the wages of 800 years of British rule in Ireland.

    WG: You were born in Belfast, right, in what, '58, '57?

    Malachy McAllister: '57.

    WG: What neighborhood?

    McAllister: In The Markets area, south Belfast. It was like a stone's throw from the City Hall. That neighborhood was predominantly a nationalist neighborhood, a Catholic neighborhood.

    WG: When you say predominantly, were there Protestants living there also?

    McAllister: Probably on the outskirts of it, but not necessarily within the confines of that particular area.

    WG: And it's called Markets?

    McAllister: The Markets, yeah.

    WG: Did you have any Protestant kids, friends, growing up?

    McAllister: No, no, no. Belfast was mostly sectioned off. Protestants lived in one section, Catholics lived in another section.

    WG: Again, focusing on Irish heritage, history, which is what our readers are mostly into, when did you first hear of the '16 Rising, for example?

    McAllister: Ah, I'd say, in the early part of "The Troubles" in the north of Ireland, I think, it brought it to light. And then you, you know what I mean, it certainly reflected on what went on in the early days of the struggle, when we had "one man one vote."

    WG: That was what, '68, '69?

    And to see the scenes on televisions and everything else, it was just very disturbing. . . . And it really, it really made you want to stand up and fight back against that evil that came to our shore.

    McAllister: Yeah, the campaign for civil rights, basically, which took place all over the north of Ireland but obviously Belfast and Derry, predominantly.

    WG: At the time you were only . . . .

    McAllister: I was only 9, really, 8, 9 (years old). '66, 10 or 11, but going back to '66 really that was my first enlightenment of seeing real violence at first hand. And that was when the so-called Rev. Ian Paisley tried to march his group of Apprentice Boys through my particular area, where I lived in The Markets. And I seen at that time it was the B-Specials, who were an auxiliary police force, who were in control, sort of, also the RUC, they were part of the RUC.

    So what happened was that the local people within the area that I lived in tried to block their way, and the RUC or the B-Specials intervened and started to baton down the locals. You know, my father and uncles and that sort of thing, you know.

    WG: So were people in the neighborhood trying to impede the march?

    McAllister: Exactly.

    WG: Were they linking arms or setting up barricades?

    McAllister: A peaceful protest, they tried to go across the road and block their way, peacefully, and they were attacked by the RUC.

    WG: Was your dad hurt, physically?

    McAllister: No, my uncle, I remember, was struck in the head by one of the batons that the police was wielding. That was significant. I was only nine years of age. So it had an immediate impression on me.

    WG: Did you witness that?

    McAllister: Yeah, I witnessed that. I was stunned. . . . And then they made running charges at the local people who obviously started to congregate and protest and then a riot developed. So I remember that, as though it was yesterday. So that was sort of my first sort of way of learning this. That there was something wrong here, there was something going on. So then, furthermore, as things continued that certainly we were treated as second-class citizens. We had sort of dilapidated housing.

    WG: But did that inspire you to wonder why?

    McAllister: It inspired me for more knowledge, for a quest for knowledge. As to why we were treated in the manner in which we were.

    WG: And where did you turn, did you turn to your uncles or your dad or books or your friends?

    McAllister: Well, to various, you know what I mean. You got as much information as you could from all sources. You read the papers, even in those days there were celebrations, coming around Easter, of the Easter Rising. So I took part in the parades in West Belfast as a young boy, and participated in all the civil rights marches. So there was certainly a time where I was at the same time becoming aware of what was going on around me, and educating myself, even at nine, 10, 11 years of age.

    WG: Was your grandfather involved in the IRA, or your father?

    McAllister: No, actually I can't say they were involved in any paramilitary organization, and I don't have any knowledge of my father (being involved). He was just a working-class guy, and my mother was also. It's just that we lived in a neighborhood that was predominately nationalist and wanted to see Ireland reunited, by peaceful means obviously.

    WG: What did your dad do for a living?

    McAllister: My dad was just a truck driver. You know really, he just worked very hard to put bread on the table, and even at that it was difficult.

    WG: Did he feel it was difficult to make a living in Belfast because he was a Catholic? Did he feel it held him back?

    McAllister: I think that if we look at the whole education system in Ireland, that there was so many roadblocks for Catholics in the early days, that prevented us from doing anything in the way of being able to first and foremost of doing what we really want to do, which is to bring up our children and support them. That was certainly important to anyone, to be able to put bread on the table and give them a good education.

    WG: Now when did you feel the pull toward more than just nonviolent demonstrations? When did you get involved with paramilitaries?

    McAllister: Well, there was a long, long trip before that. You go back to the early '70s, you get into the '70s and you start to talk, for example, about internment and that was one thing. But I think the most important thing you have to acknowledge, we all have to acknowledge, is the 14 innocent civilians that were murdered (in 1972) on the streets of Derry at a peaceful protest.

    WG: Do you remember where you were when you first heard about that?

    McAllister: No, I can't really say where I was. I just know when I heard about it, it was such a shock. You know what I mean. And to see the scenes on televisions and everything else, it was just very disturbing. . . . And it really, it really made you want to stand up and fight back against that evil that came to our shore.

    WG: Were there demonstrations in your neighborhood after "Bloody Sunday"?
    Editor's Note: On Jan. 30, 1972, as 15,000 to 20,000 people attempted to march peacefully through the streets of Derry, British troops opened fire with assault rifles and killed outright 13 unarmed people, with a 14th later dying of wounds. The massacre, known as "Bloody Sunday," is arguably the seminal event in the history of the recent decades of political violence in Northern Ireland.

    McAllister: Sure there were, yes, lots of civil rights demonstrations.

    WG: Impromptu?

    McAllister: Impromptu, whatever. At that time, all the protests were for certain better housing, civil rights. And being able even to get a job. When I got one of my first jobs, I was attacked several times and finally a gun put to my head and told not to come back. The fact of the matter is, when you're going on a job interview, the first question you were mostly asked was what school you came from. And nine times out of 10 if you said anything with a saint, they knew, and you were never going to get that job.

    WG: But the Protestants had saints too, though, right?

    McAllister: Yea, sure they had, you know. . . .

    WG: . . . but they didn't go to schools with saints' names?

    McAllister: Yeah, Wolfe Tone was our saint in those days.

    WG: Well, that's an interesting comment. Have you read any books about Tone?

    McAllister: Well, I used to go and commemorate Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown. . . .
    (Editor's Note: 18th century Irish revolutionary Wolfe Tone lies buried in Bodenstown, County Kildare, which has become a place of pilgrimage for Irish republicans and other nationalists.)

    WG: So you were still a teenager?

    McAllister: I was still very much so.

    WG: So how did you get down to Bodenstown? Did they have a bus or something?

    McAllister: Yes.

    WG: (Activists) would pull together a bus?

    McAllister: Yeah, it would happen every year.

    WG: And you're still in school, right?

    McAllister: Still in school.

    WG: Did your dad discourage you from doing that?

    McAllister: No, this was generally a feeling within the community you should always look toward great leaders who have given their lives to the cause over the years. Again, it was part of the education. I took it in those days, it was more an interest and more of a cultural shock to see what was going on around me.

    WG: When did you get involved with the INLA? Was that your first foray into paramilitary life or were you involved with the Provisionals first and moved over?

    McAllister: No, I was not involved in the Provisionals. I wasn't involved. I took part in one incident . . . going back to 1981. But I mean to say you have to know, I think the focus should, the question should be what premeditated me to take the course of action that (I) took on that particular day. One thing, certainly, the whole emotion, and the whole upset with the hunger strikes.

    WG: Which was 1981?

    McAllister: Which was 1981, you know what I mean. Which through, I think, not only the people who were playing their part in those days, but you know I was young at the same time. But during the course of the years it was very easy to stand up or be involved in the sense that you're rowdy, you're throwing bricks and bottles and all that. During the course of, for example, internment and "Bloody Sunday" and all that, as a nationalist I always found myself being targeted, specifically for some reason in the particular areas that I lived. So I was the focus of attention on so many occasions.

    WG: Why do you think that was?

    McAllister: I don't know.

    WG: They knew you were traveling to Bodenstown every June?
    RUC officers arrest a "Hunger Strike" demonstrator. Courtesy of "Belfast Exposed"
    RUC officers arrest a "Hunger Strike" demonstrator. Courtesy of "Belfast Exposed"
    McAllister: Sometimes I think, in a small neighborhood, you know there's somebody who stands out by way of their mannerisms or whatever. So I was recognized as someone who was very sure of himself, and I was sort of picked on. When I say picked on, I was always targeted for several stops a day, even going to school and coming back from school. I'd be stopped and my school bag searched and that sort of thing. I'd be forced up against the wall, my legs kicked out, hands shoved apart. I'd be physically searched by them.

    WG: By the RUC?

    McAllister: We're talking about the British Army and the RUC.

    WG: Were you . . . would you call yourself an activist at that stage?

    A young activist.

    WG: Were you involved in planning demonstrations?

    McAllister: I wasn't involved in any plans whatsoever. I followed the course of actions, which our community leaders would enact, you know what I mean, by civil rights protests and everything else.

    WG: So you'd hear about an action and then you'd jump in, support it?

    McAllister: That was part of it. . . . As a young kid I used to be with my mother holding on to her, being part of protests, and being part of civil rights actions.

    WG: So when was that shooting incident with the RUC?

    McAllister: That occurred on the Ormeau Road, and that was in 1981.

    WG: What month?

    McAllister: July, around July. What I felt at that time was a civil war had begun in Belfast. Because Belfast, Derry, all over was up in arms, for example, because of Bobby Sands.

    WG: When did Bobby die?

    McAllister: Bobby died in May (1981).

    WG: And there were still some men on hunger strike then?

    McAllister: Ten others followed. Right up to the last one, (Mickey) Devine. It struck me in the sense that you needed to get up there to do more than just protest. And also the (acts of sectarian violence) that were taking place on the Ormeau Road.

    A 'Black Flag' march in support of the 1981 republican hunger strikers, including Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams (2nd row, middle), pass Andersonstown RUC station en route to a mass rally at Connolly House, Andersonstown, July 1981. Courtesy of "Belfast Exposed"
    Editor's Note: The 1981 Irish Hunger Strike was a campaign by Irish republican prisoners in Northern Ireland to compel the British government to regrant them political status, which had been revoked in 1976, precipitating the Blanket protests. Ten men in total died before the strike was called off in October.

    WG: Why the INLA, one might ask? Why not the Provisionals?

    McAllister: It wasn't a choice.

    WG: Were the INLA strong in your neighborhood?

    McAllister: That's it. . . . Exactly! It just so happened that within that neighborhood the people who were fighting against the Brits and the RUC were predominantly the Irish National Liberation Army.

    WG: So the paramilitaries had strengths in different neighborhoods? The (Official IRA) perhaps in one neighborhood and the Provisionals . . .

    McAllister: No, there were no Stickies (Official IRA) around.

    WG: But the Provisionals really weren't as strong a presence in your neighborhood?

    McAllister: Probably not. . . . I was just someone who was prepared to riot, and do whatever I could to fight back, to show that, you know what I mean, we supported the men on hunger strike. So that's what it was all about.

    WG: But what about the socialist agenda of the INLA? The INLA is the so-called military wing of the IRSP. Right, the Irish Republican Socialist Party? Did you have a socialist sensibility?

    McAllister: Well, do we talk about a socialist 32-county republic these days? I don't think so. . . . Certainly things have changed over the years, over the generations that the struggle has been fought. So, socialism in a sense is within your own concept. I certainly want to see everyone being able to provide and do what they can for their families.

    WG: But in 1981 you wouldn't call yourself a flaming socialist?

    McAllister: No, no, no, no, certainly I'm just a nationalist wanting to see a united Ireland. Wanting the ability to . . . You know we lived in a neighborhood that was predominantly . . . . When I moved to the Lower Ormeau Road from The Markets, (Lower Ormeau Road) was known as the "Murder Mile." It was a neighborhood that was struck by Loyalists so many times and so many individuals, friends of mine in the neighborhood, were shot dead. And no one was ever charged. A friend of mine was shot dead right beside me, 15 years of age.

    WG: By whom?

    McAllister: By Loyalists, obviously.

    WG: Close up? Close and personal?

    McAllister: I was standing alongside him. From here to that girder there. That was in 1974, that was one incident.

    WG: Was it just by the grace of God that you were not shot?

    McAllister: Exactly, by the grace of God. That was one incident. And another incident followed that, when another friend was shot dead. I was close by him too.

    WG: Again by Loyalists, not by policemen?

    McAllister: Loyalists. And to this day I've never been interviewed by the RUC, so what does that tell you?

    WG: So did you see the RUC as propping up this Loyalist violence, as encouraging it?

    McAllister: Well, in my case, they supplied the information.

    WG: Back in '88, when your house was shot up?

    McAllister: They provided the information (about McAllister) to the Loyalists that carried out the attack. That's clear.

    WG: Thinking about the Easter Rising, have you read much about it? Who do you find the most heroic figure of the Rising?

    McAllister: They're all heroic. I think they all were. . . . And that's a tribute to what's going on now, I mean to say (the Rising is) being honored, it was honored in Dublin last week. So if you take what was done in 1916, what is the difference between (those who rose up against British rule in Ireland in 1916) and people like myself today?

    WG: That's a good point. We'll end on that one, I think.

    Below, Malachy McAllister, left, in March 2016 at the Irish Consulate in Manhattan, with former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, architect of the Good Friday Agreement. Photo courtesy of


    1. WG: But the Protestants had saints too, though, right?

      McAllister: Yea, sure they had, you know. . . .

      WG: . . . but they didn't go to schools with saints' names?

      McAllister: Yeah, Wolfe Tone was our saint in those days.

      WG: Well, that's an interesting comment. Have you read any books about Tone?

      Eh? Protestants don't have 'saints' as far as I'm aware, and I chuckled at the elevation of a proddy to sainthood!

      But I am confused, is Britain wanting him extradited (in which case why?) or is it just the Yanks being narky about the visa?

    2. Steve,

      he is out of the North almost 30 years since his home was attacked. Some of his children have been born and grown up there. The Brits are not seeking him and the US long deferred moving to actually expel him. Then out of the blue the threat of deportation becomes imminent. Maybe Trump moving the discourse to the right has caused a hardening of attitudes.