Whitey Bulger — An Irish American Who Gave Back … Sort of.

The IRA Asks Whitey Bulger for a Favor

If you’re Irish American, ask yourself this—what have you done for Ireland lately? Now imagine you’re Whitey Bulger, and it’s the IRA doing the asking.

The question came from the IRA back in the early eighties (Whitey’s mother was first generation Irish American.) The Irish Republican Army (IRA) had a specific request: a million dollars worth of hi tech weapons to be shipped across the Atlantic to aid the IRA in its efforts.

Whitey Bulger IRA Connection

In 1984 Whitey Bulger Schemed With Pat Nee and Joe Murray, Running Guns to the IRA.

Patrick Nee was Whitey’s colleague in Boston’s Irish Mafia. He was also an Irish immigrant and enthusiastic supporter of the IRA. Although not as excited as Nee about supporting the organization, Whitey agreed to partner with Nee and Joe Murray of Charlestown because he saw an opportunity to make a buck.

It was Whitey’s idea to set up a sort of triangle trade. When the IRA asked for weapons, Bulger asked for help in securing the funds necessary to purchase the weapons. They contacted an Irish American admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard. An IRA sympathizer, the admiral made sure no Coast Guard boats were patrolling certain waters off Boston on certain nights.

Whitey’s Trade Plan: Drugs for Money, Money for Weapons

Ships laden with bales of marijuana rendezvoused with small craft, which then ferried the drugs to a wharf in Chelsea. There they were loaded onto tractor trailers for distribution throughout New England.

The operation created an impressive cash flow for Whitey Bulger. As a result, he maintained it long after securing sufficient funds to purchase the weapons. Because the IRA became insistent, Whitey finally turned off the cash spigot and finished obtaining the weapons. He arranged for everything to be shipped to Ireland on a fishing trawler named the Valhalla.

The Valhalla Carried Seven Tons of Weapons from Gloucester to the IRA.

In 1984, the Valhalla left Gloucester, Ma, loaded with seven tons of munitions, including assault rifles, hand grenades and Redeye surface-to-air missiles.

The weapons never reached Ireland though. An informant within the IRA’s senior leadership spilled the beans, and the shipment was intercepted by the Irish Navy.

Everyone Loses, Except Whitey Bulger

There were a lot of losers in the operation, including the IRA and the crew of the Valhalla when they returned to Boston. Whitey Bulger and his partners were the only winners. Their drug-smuggling scheme let them leave the game with some serious money.

That’s the short, simple version of the tale. It gets more complicated when you take in different versions of the story from different players. For example, Patrick Nee believed that Whitey Bulger was the one who tipped off the CIA about the weapons shipment. Supposedly to enhance his own standing as an informant.

To read more, the Irish Times has a good post that takes you deeper into this story, with all its interesting details.

That’s just a quick look into Whitey Bulger’s triangle trade with the IRA. I found the whole story interesting enough to weave it into a chapter of my novel (Chapter 2—The Zugzwang). The name Valhalla has been changed to Avalon, but the spirit of the true-life story is all there.

(This post authored by Steve Burke)

Steve Burke

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