For Some, No Tears Lost for Thatcher’s Death - WBAI Producer John McDonagh
- 05/13/2013 by Corey Kilgannon (NY Times)


Marcus Yam for The New York Times- John McDonagh, right, the host of Radio Free Eireann on WBAI-FM, is marking Margaret Thatcher’s demise with a party.
John McDonagh, a taxi driver and lifelong resident of Middle Village, Queens, was driving his yellow cab in the wee hours on Monday when his cellphone began lighting up with a flurry of text messages from Irish friends saying that Margaret Thatcher had died.

The messages were not mournful.

Some were derogatory, but most basically were some variation of ‘O.K., where’s the party?’” said Mr. McDonagh, 58, the longtime host of Radio Free Eireann, an Irish-American talk show on WBAI-FM (99.5).

Mr. McDonagh, speaking from his cab on Monday – not while driving, he emphasized – called Ms. Thatcher an enemy to Irish people “because of the destruction she brought to Ireland with her policies — she always thought of Ireland as a colony and never a country.”

Sentiment against Ms. Thatcher among Irish nationalists hardened in the early 1980s when she stood firm against the demands of Irish Republican prisoners on hunger strikes, including Bobby Sands, who died during his strike. She barely escaped being injured in October 1984, when the Irish Republican Army detonated a bomb in a hotel in Brighton, England, where Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative Party was holding a meeting.

Mr. McDonagh said he and his fellow activists in New York City had begun planning a celebration party for Ms. Thatcher’s death five years ago.

As soon as he finished his driving shift on Monday afternoon, he said, he would go about organizing the event, to be held Saturday afternoon at Rocky Sullivan’s bar in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

“We did long-range planning for this,” he said. “The theme would be, ‘The horror of her life and legacy,’” he said. The proceedings will include live music and the reading of a list of names of Irish people who had died during “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

The planning included several posters created by a fellow activist and illustrator, Brian Mor O’Baoighill, who died last year. He and Mr. McDonagh worked together at the Irish People Newspaper, which was based in the Bronx before it shut down.

Both men managed to irk Ms. Thatcher in 1983 by paying for a message on an electronic billboard in Times Square that sent Christmas greetings to Irish prisoners.

“It made world headlines and Thatcher spoke to the American ambassador about it,” Mr. McDonagh recalled, adding that on Saturday, “We’re inviting everyone to come down and have a drink on Maggie Thatcher.”

Chris Byrne, a retired New York City police officer and co-owner of Rocky Sullivan’s, said he would be playing the bagpipes there with other musicians.

“I wouldn’t gloat over anyone’s death,” Mr . Byrne said. “But I don’t think there will be any tears shed for her on Saturday.”

“You could best describe it as a traditional Irish wake,” he said, “and people can interpret that however they want.”

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