Remembering the Irish Americans we lost in the 9/11 attacks
An estimated 1,000 people of Irish descent or of Irish birth were lost
Armstrong, a Manhattan native who was so outgoing and gregarious that his many friends long ago nicknamed him “Posse,” was getting married to longtime girlfriend Cathy Nolan on October 6th.
At Logan Airport, the McCourts waited on standby. Ruth Clifford McCourt, a 44-year-old businesswoman who left her native County Cork as a teenager, was taking four-year-old Juliana on a vacation to Los Angeles. Mother and daughter found seats aboard United Airlines Flight 175.
Shortly after takeoff, of course, Flight 175 was yanked from its flight path by hijackers. As Ruth McCourt's plane hurtled towards Lower Manhattan, it's likely she never knew that her own brother, Ronnie, was attending a business meeting in the very same skyscraper where she and her daughter would meet their fiery end.
Ronnie Clifford would escape the Trade Center without serious injury, only to learn later that one of the two planes that brought the Towers down contained his sister Ruth and niece Juliana.
Panic spread like brushfire across the country, and Navy Commander Robert Dolan was among those called to quell the flames. The 40-year-old husband, father and Little League coach often addressed his military colleagues with speeches that quoted everything from Shakespeare to Monty Python; he was equally adept commanding naval fleets that resemble floating steel cities.
On the morning of September 11, Dolan was in his office on the first floor of the Pentagon's D Ring, among a group hearing reports on that morning's attacks in Lower Manhattan. At 9:43 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 exploded through Dolan's window.
"Bob Dolan was the best and brightest this country had to offer to the altar of freedom," Lisa Dolan would later write about her husband of nearly 19 years. "We pray his rest is peaceful, although ours cannot be."
The final plane to be hijacked that morning was United Airlines Flight 93. Because its passengers learned by cell phone that the morning's previous hijackings were suicide runs, they obviously deduced there was nothing to lose from being brave.
As Flight 93 rumbled through rural Pennsylvania, passenger Thomas Burnett spoke to his wife in California. "I know we're all going to die," said Burnett, a 38-year-old father of three. "There's three of us who are going to do something about it."
By nature of the phone call to his wife, then, Burnett was among the lucky ones.
With so few survivors pulled from the ruins, and hospitals across New York relatively empty because the dead so outnumbered the physically wounded, there were so many who never got the chance to say goodbye, never got the chance to say "I love you."
Martin Coughlan also got to make that final phone call. Shortly after 9 a.m., the 53-year-old carpenter from Cappawhite, County Tipperary, managed to call home from his jobsite on the 96th floor of Tower One.
"There's been a bomb in the building," Coughlin told his wife, "but I'm OK, and tell the four girls I'll be home for dinner." Many days later, Coughlan's remains were found.
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