14 February 2006

Teacher helps IRA mobster chronicle life

Clayton News Daily

By Colin Steele
14 Februaray 2006

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Click photo for large view - Patrick Nee was one of four men convicted of trying to use the Gloucester fishing vessel Valhalla to smuggle weapons to the Irish Republican Army in 1984. Nee and Andover High School teacher Rich Farrell have co-written a book, “A Criminal and an Irishman: The Inside Story of the Boston Mob-IRA Connection,” which details Nee’s life as a mob associate and IRA operative. (Eagle-Tribune file photo)

As a journalist covering the war in Bosnia, Richard Farrell used cigarettes to bribe drunken teens into letting him through military checkpoints as they jabbed AK-47s into his chest. So when someone asks him if he was scared interviewing former Boston gangster Patrick Nee for a new book, he can only laugh.

“That’s the farthest thing from my mind,” said Farrell, an Andover High School film teacher. “Dealing with Pat Nee, having him tell a story, was not in any way frightening. It was enlightening.”

Farrell and Nee co-authored “A Criminal and an Irishman: The Inside Story of the Boston Mob-IRA Connection,” which comes out next month. It tells the story of Nee’s life as a South Boston mobster and operative for the Irish Republican Army, including his role in the 1984 plan to smuggle more than seven tons of weapons from Gloucester to Ireland aboard the Ipswich-based fishing trawler Valhalla.

Nee, the son of Irish immigrants, served two years in prison for that gun-running operation. After he received early parole, he tried to rob an armored car to fund the IRA and went back to jail for nine more years.

People who read Nee’s standard biography will likely view him as a thug and a criminal, Farrell said, but Farrell saw a different side of him in the three years they worked together on the book.

“I learned resolve,” Farrell said. “Regardless of the moral issues, Pat Nee had the resolve to help his country, and that was it. ... Pat helped the IRA for the sake of his country.”

Farrell got the idea for the book while he was directing films in Los Angeles. He met South Boston screenwriter Michael Blythe, who ended up being the book’s third co-author. Blythe told Farrell that Nee, his friend, was getting out of jail soon.

“I immediately said, ‘Hey, we should try to do something about this,’ “ Farrell said, but Nee was “reluctant” to tell his story.

That changed after the publication of other mob- and IRA-related books that Nee felt were wrong or incomplete. He finally agreed to the book, Farrell explained, because, “we (journalists) never get our stuff from the doers, from the criminals. A lot of the stuff that is written comes from court documents or confidential informants. ... Pat wanted to tell his story and kind of make things right.”

Farrell and Nee traveled to Ireland to research IRA history and interview Nee’s associates there. Farrell spent an entire summer reading court documents from the gun-running trials in the United States and Ireland. And he tracked down the Valhalla’s captain, Robert Anderson.

During his interview at the Blackburn Tavern in Gloucester, Anderson provided enough material for his own book, Farrell said. Based on that talk, “A Criminal and an Irishman” will provide the first published account of the Valhalla’s return voyage from Ireland to Boston, Farrell said.

“He told me day by day what happened,” Farrell added.

The Valhalla crew transferred its cache to another trawler, the Marita Ann, off the coast of Ireland in September 1984. The Irish navy seized that boat, but the Valhalla managed to make it all the way back to Boston — even though authorities in Ireland, the United States and Canada were searching for it.

The incident still raises questions about U.S. security today, Farrell said.

“The big thing is, can this happen again?” he said. “If you can take 71/2 tons of weapons across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s a huge ocean. How easy would it be to bring a nuclear warhead across? ... If those guys (in al-Qaida) could figure out how to crash three planes into big buildings, they can figure out how to get a fishing trawler across the Atlantic. And that’s the scary thing.”

When Farrell reflects on how much work he put into the book, he swears, “I’ll never do it again.” But, even though it doesn’t hit shelves until March 14, he’s already thinking about future possibilities.

“I think it’s a book that will make a movie,” he said. “I’ve already had calls from people that are interested, because these are great characters.”

Colin Steele writes for The Eagle-Tribune in North Andover, Mass.

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