Children of Irish Strife Enjoy a Holiday From Hatred : N.Y. Detective Runs Vacation Project From His Kitchen

Associated Press

Project Children's headquarters is located on the kitchen table of Denis Mulcahy, a detective on the New York bomb squad whose hobby is defusing the Irish "Troubles."

All winter and spring in their Greenwood Lake home, Denis and his wife, Miriam, sift through the cardboard file folders marked "Protestant," "Catholic" and "P.P."--children of political prisoners. They arrange visas, insurance, passports and charter flights to bring the young victims of Ulster's sectarian strife to the United States for six-week summer vacations.

They check references from host families, try to assign the young Irish visitors to homes with children of the same age and attend endless fund-raising dances, dinners and golf tournaments arranged by friends of Project Children. Supporters of the program include lawyers, bankers, insurance agents, plumbers, teachers and old pals from the police force.

"Everyone wants little girls, Catholic or Protestant, it makes no difference. They're the least trouble and the most affectionate," Mulcahy said, shuffling through the applications. "But this year we brought over handicapped children for the first time and had no problem finding families to love and shelter them."

3,000 Vacations

Since Project Children was begun in 1975, more than 3,000 children, ages 9 to 16, from the ghettos of Belfast, Derry and other violence-ridden Northern Ireland towns, have been treated to a holiday from hatred with host families in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and South Carolina. Now similar programs bring children to Colorado and California.

It costs $500 to bring over a child. Mulcahy has received regular contributions from former President Richard M. Nixon, New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, songwriter Jimmy Webb and an assortment of Irish groups, from the culture-minded Wild Geese of Connecticut to the controversial NORAID, which has denied accusations by both Dublin Castle and Downing Street that it is buying arms for the Irish Republican Army.

"We steer clear of politics, Irish and American," Mulcahy said, displaying another personal check from President Reagan, with this note on White House stationery: "Please accept this token of my admiration and appreciation of what you are doing."

The President last year honored Mulcahy with a Private Sector Initiative Commendation without realizing that it is Mulcahy and his buddies who do the "bomb sweeps" of the hotels when Reagan comes to New York for a speech.

Irish Immigrant

Mulcahy, 44, is one of four brothers brought over from Ireland in 1962 by an uncle in the Bronx. Mulcahy's brother Pat, who has since returned to the ancestral farm in County Cork to raise horses, began Project Children in 1975, bringing over six children. Denis Mulcahy, who has since taken over the effort, was in on it from the start. The second year, 21 children were brought to the United States. This year, two charter flights were needed to transport 641 Irish vacationers.

Among those hosted have been children who have been burned out of their homes, who have been caught in gunfire on their way to school and whose fathers and brothers have been killed or imprisoned. Bernadette McDonnell's father died on a hunger strike in July, 1981, during her American vacation from violence.

Some arrive with deep emotional problems. "Bed-wetting is a common problem," Mulcahy said. But he prides himself on never having had to return a child who is homesick or unable to get along with the host family.

"If there are any discipline problems, they usually wind up spending the summer with Denis and Miriam," confided Councilman Joe Barry of Bloomfield, N.J., who has raised thousands of dollars for Project Children.

A Banner Year

For Mulcahy, who has grown to love America as much as and sometimes more than Ireland, "Everything good happened in 1969. I got married, became a citizen and joined the police force."

"You should have seen him a few years ago," said Frank McDarby, a buddy from the elite Tactical Patrol Force, of which Mulcahy was once a member. "He had long hair, a beard and was sitting around the benches in Washington Square down in the Village as a decoy cop."

But it was almost inevitable that Mulcahy should join the bomb squad. His father had been "a blaster," working with explosives in the quarries of west Cork.

"We're always going to courses (on explosives). We learn from the terrorists," Mulcahy said, shrugging off any hero image. "The bomb squad involves know-how, and there's nothing macho about it." His only professional regret is that "all the electronic components, all the wires and fuses needed to make bombs, are available at the nearest hi-fi shop. Even those musical-cord greeting cards contain the necessary ingredients for anyone to make a letter bomb."

On the mantel of his Greenwood Lake home, Mulcahy has reminders of the terrors and troubles on both sides of the Atlantic. One is a wooden Irish harp with a music box that plays "Danny Boy," hand-crafted by an inmate of Ulster's Long Kesh prison. The other is a leather gun holster, hand-tooled by Richie Pastorello, his partner on the bomb squad, who was blinded on New Year's Eve four years ago when a bomb went off outside police headquarters, killing another officer.

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