Posted by Mary on September 20, 2007 at 22:58:56:
In Reply to: baron john hanley posted by Tracy on September 19, 2007 at 15:59:21:
The Baron of Broadway - Castlebar Parish Magazine 1988
JOHNNY MEE recalls a colourful
character who made a big impact
on the local scene in the 50's
HIS REAL name was John Joseph Hanley, but to all of us he was known as the
'Baron of Broadway.' And how he loved that title! The Baron visited
Castlebar several times in the early 50s, bringing with him his huge Buick
car. He would stride up the Main Street, complete with top hat, stopping
occasionally to talk to locals and tell them how he was going to buy back
the Six Counties.
A lavish host, genial, kindly, this stout-hearted Irish-American had been
coming to Ireland since the early 20s.
He had emigrated to America as a very young man, virtually penniless and
with little education. Through hard work and initiative, he made a go of
things and as the years rolled on it was said he amassed a huge fortune.
But then came misfortune. At the zenith of his success the Wall Street crash
intervened and the Baron lost all his money. Many of his friends, having
lost huge sums of money on the stock exchange, couldn't face the stark
reality of their plight and committed suicide.
But the Baron, it seems, was made of stern stuff. After a tedious uphill
battle, strewn with many trials and reverses, he won through and once more
became a millionaire.
In 1928, a vicious attempt to blackmail him by having malicious letters
published in the newspapers might have had serious consequences were it not
for the fact that the criminals were indicted before a Federal Court in New
York and severely punished.
He was a regular visitor to Castlebar and his coming always created great
interest in the town. He had strong nationalist views which he expounded at
very opportunity. He boasted that he would buy the Six Counties back from
England for the Irish people, and visited Belfast, Derry and other parts of
He crossed the Border at Aughacloy, Co. Tyrone, en route to see Sir Basil
Brooke, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, in an effort to renew or raise
the Baron's offer of £1 million so that, in his own words, 'the Border might
be abolished forever.'
On the front of the car was a large Papal flag; on the left wing was a
tricolour; on the right wing a Stars and Stripes. And on the back window was
a cartoon depicting Uncle Sam putting his heels on the Six Counties. Enough
to raise the hackles of any true loyalist.
As the Baron approached Lisburn a sports car driven by a young man pulled up
sharply by his car. The words 'God Save Ulster' were emblazoned on the back
window of the car. This made the Baron see red. There followed an argument
which lasted for a considerable time with a parting shot from the Baron. . .
"You're quite right kid. It is God save Ulster while Johnnie Bull and
fellows like you have anything to with it." Vintage Baron Hanley stuff.
The next flashpoint was on the outskirts of Belfast when the Baron had a
furious argument with Head Constable Reid of the R.U.C. who insisted that
all flags be removed from the car. The Baron was having none of this and in
an ensuing skirmish the flags were ripped off the car.
The Baron never did get to see Sir Basil Brooke, but he didn't stop there.
He wrote to Mr. De Valera, Mr. Clement Attlee, the British Prime, and the
reigning monarch at the time, King George. His aim was to arrange a
conference between the three men to discuss the Six Counties.
The King referred the matter to the Home Secretary who concluded that 'he
would not be justified m recommending to His Majesty to issue any commands
on the matter.'
But it was on the local scene that the Baron made his biggest impact. It
should be remembered that in the early fifties, Ireland was a much different
country than it is today. Europe was still recovering from the effects of
the World War, there was no television, living standards were poor and
communication with the outside world was limited. The Baron, with his
colour, wit, and extravagant lifestyle, brought a touch of excitement into
our somewhat drab existence.
On one of his visits here, Austin Gannon, Breaffy Road, was engaged by the
Baron as his chauffeur. Austin had a free rein - if that's the right word -
to use the car pretty much as he wanted. We travelled to dances in Westport
with Austin at the controls and Tom Lally in the passenger seat waving to
locals with the Baron's white gloves. What an impact we made going up the
Main Street... like royalty greeting their loyal subjects.
The Baron was a lovable personality and whether he was really a millionaire
is open to question. In any event we had convinced ourselves that he was
fabulously rich, that he could indeed buy the Six Counties, and the
Twenty-Six as well. And angling competition was organised at the local lakes
and the Baron donated a cup for the winner. He made a contribution to the
tiny tots swimming pool and was praised for his efforts by councillors
William Cresham, Gussie Wynne and James O'Quigley.
The Baron took himself very seriously. He liked the attention he attracted
and the resultant publicity which took up acres of the Connaught Telegraph
at the time.
On reflection, I suppose, it is true to say it was all good, harmless fun.
But his outrageous antics brightened up all our lives at a time when they
certainly needed brightening up.
And with Austin Gannon at the wheel, Tom Lally riding shotgun and myself,
Billy Foy and Paud Gutherie in the back seat of the Buick we had a right
royal time in that summer of '55.
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