Remembering the Irish Americans we lost in the 9/11 attacks


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.

106 stories from safety, Eamon McEneaney also called his wife. The 46-year-old vice-president at Cantor Fitzgerald was a heralded survivor of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, when he calmly covered the mouths of co-workers with wet towels and led human chains down the stairs.

On September 11, the father-of-four left a message at his wife's office: a plane had hit the building, he was on the way out, and he loved her. McEneaney never made it out.

Unlike McEneaney, John O'Neill managed to escape. The 50-year-old former FBI man had been named the Trade Center's Director of Security just two weeks before.

He made it from the 34th floor to the street, from where he called his son to report that he was safe.

Then O'Neill re-entered one of the Towers, joining the human sacrifice that was under way in the name of evacuating others.

In Spring Lake, New Jersey, the McAlarys leapt for joy when their son and brother Bryan phoned to say he had escaped unharmed from his Trade Center office.

They were soon horrified to learn that Bryan's older brother James, a 42-year-old broker, was in the Trade Center that day for a sales meeting. "Jimmy Mac," as he was known to all, never came home.

The McAlarys were but one of many sets of brothers at the scene that day.

At the base of the Towers, Michael Moran of Rescue 3 spoke by cell phone with his big brother John, a 43-year-old Battalion Chief. They were brothers by blood and “brothers” by profession, among the fraternity of the FDNY.

"I told him to be careful," the younger Moran would recall weeks later, at a memorial service for John. "I didn't see him there that day, but now I see him all the time."

Maureen Haskell, a Fire Department widow, sent three of her four boys, Kenny, Timmy and Tommy, to the FDNY.

Timmy, 34, was on the 60th floor of Tower One when the floor dropped beneath him. Nearly two weeks after the attacks, Maureen listened as Kenny gave a eulogy, Timmy's remains lay in a casket, and Tommy was still in Lower Manhattan, one of thousands lost in the mountain of steel and smoke.

"We need to pray for Tommy's safe return . . . I'm sure he's fine," Kenny told those who gathered to bury Timmy, in Seaford, Long Island. "Tommy's probably sitting comfortably down there in a large void, wondering, “what's taking us so long?"

Kenny Haskell vowed to retrieve his brother, as did Danny Foley, who seven years ago had followed his above-mentioned elder brother Tommy into the FDNY.

Danny worked around the clock with rescue crews searching for the brother that he idolized, and nearly two weeks after the attack he addressed mourners at St. Anthony's in Nanuet, New York: "It took 10 days, but a promise I made to my family was kept, when I brought Tommy home."

Danny recalled the nights spent talking across bunk beds to his older brother, discussing what he called their common interests: football, fishing, becoming a firefighter and girls.

In later years, he recalled joking about his big brother's pin-up pose in a firefighter's calendar, a charity fundraiser that led to modeling jobs and appearances among “eligible bachelors” in People and also the Top 100 Irish Americans list published by Irish America magazine.

"I knew someday I wanted to be just like my big brother," Danny recalled. "He's always been a hero to me, and now he's a hero to people around the world."

Bob Conroy, the family friend who earlier recalled the young Tommy Foley running around a Harlem firehouse, and would later become the Foley brothers' FDNY mentor, echoed the sentiments of so many families and friends when he said, "I only wish I could see him one more time – just one more time to tell him how much I love him."

Foley was not the only September 11 victim to have previously appeared in the pages of Irish America magazine.

Of the more than 70 employees lost from Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, two were former honorees among the Irish America Wall Street 50: Chairman & CEO Joe Berry and Executive Vice-President Joseph Lenihan.