by Irvin Muchnick
In search of a hook
The generosity of the Irish news site Broadsheet.ie enabled me earlier this month to make a several-day stop in Dublin. Thank you, thank you.
The ostensible purpose was promotion of the second edition of my ebook THE GEORGE GIBNEY CHRONICLES: What the Hunt For the Most Notorious At-Large Sex Criminal in the History of Global Sports Has Told Us About the Sports Establishments and Governments on Two Continents. Two Broadsheet worthies share my belief that this is a story worth continuing to tell, more and better: Olga Cronin (who has been vetting new Gibney factoids for a number of years) and John Ryan (this quirky website’s somewhat Oz-like majordomo but in a good way!).
This is an account of how things turned out for me in Ireland on the extradition campaign front — and several others. Obviously, I didn’t accomplish the immediate transport of Gibney in handcuffs. But I was able to experience one of the world’s great cities and meet the coolest people.
If a career of reporting from the margins has taught me anything, it is that quick-hit promo tours are Zen experiences. Usually you have to settle for media blitz interruptus, media blitz manqué. The sands of justice sift through the machinery a grain at a time. Sometimes the sands just jam the gears.
In America, where the rubber is meeting the road at a moment of broad government investigations of USA Swimming and other U.S. Olympic Committee national sport governing body abuses, I probably wouldn’t be able to generate major coverage of “George Who?” if Donald Trump himself set his Twitter timeline to vibrate.
For those of you just tuning in, Gibney is merely the former two-time Irish Olympic swimming head coach who fled here in the mid-1990s after a dodgy technical Supreme Court decision over there quashed what were then the 27 most rigorous charges assembled against him, out of a body of more instances of child molestation and rape than we’ll ever know.
Agreeing in 2016, in my Freedom of Information Act case against the Department of Homeland Security, to open up at least some of the Gibney immigration files I was seeking to daylight, a distinguished senior federal judge, Charles R. Breyer, reviewed the dual paradoxical upshot of Gibney’s 2010 application for naturalized citizenship. Number one, that application failed because he lied on it in response to the material question of whether he had ever been criminally indicted in his native country. Number two, the federal immigration bureaucracy decided, nonetheless, that he was not a candidate for removal from the country. In his published opinion, which remains in the law books in the wake of my 2017 settlement at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Breyer asked why? “We’re not a haven for pedophiles,” he observed.
Maureen O’Sullivan, the Dublin Central district’s independent representative in the Dáil Éierann, or lower house of the Oireachtas (Parliament), promptly pressed Simon Coveney, Ireland’s tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and foreign minister. The government “will act” on the new Gibney information “if we can,” Coveney said on the floor of the Dáil.
More than a year and a half later, these Socratic maieutics remain aspirational during the pendency of what I am reliably told is yet another run at examining Gibney’s p’s and q’s — an exercise that also resumes the on-again, off-again exploration of whether Ireland’s director of public prosecutions has any game left.
Some of us insist that where there’s a way, there should be a will. The scholarship of the 1994 Irish Supreme Court statute of limitations ruling in the Gibney matter — partially determined, with classic cronyism, by a justice whose brother argued the case before the judicial panel — has frayed. And new information has emerged on the old cases. And new cases have emerged. And lest we forget, one of the most heinous allegations against Gibney, his rape and impregnation of one of his teen swimmers, occurred in 1991 in Tampa, pointing to the direct jurisdictional interest of not only the U.S. Department of Justice, but the state attorney of Hillsborough County, Florida, as well.
(Citing the Irish government’s too-little-too-late 1998 Murphy Commission report, which passively voiced the finding that Gibney’s accusers “were vindicated” by the evidence accumulated against Gibney by An Garda Síochána, the national police, I decline the conventional and cant adverb “allegedly.”)
Last year Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker and a reporting team from the New York Times shared a Pulitzer Prize in public service for the articles that brought down Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. No one is handing out unPulitzers, however, for the evident decades of neglect or timidity prior to a decision by some key editor or publisher somewhere finally to push the button on publicizing documented accusations and behind-the-scenes legalistic thuggery that floated indefinitely in the journalistic ozone.
My Ireland trip revealed scant more enthusiasm than America’s for reviving a set of cases that have taxed the national appetite for a full plate of long-frustrated institutional abuse narratives. But at least there’s no “George Who?” problem on the Emerald Isle. The media scorecard from my trip included one new joint interview with TD O’Sullivan for the popular audio-video podcast Off the Ball; another collaborative appearance on Irish radio’s Newstalk; and my solo live shot on RTÉ Radio 1, the equivalent of our National Public Radio.
But what I imbibed in Dublin added up to more than media hits. I couldn’t help noticing that my trek across the Atlantic left behind a homeland in the new world that today is steeped in hatred and slouching towards theocracy, and encountered a promising laboratory of a still newer world arising out of the old one: diverse, comfortable in modernity’s skin, striding confidently into the 21st century.
There’s only one thing the Irish continue to lack out of the American civics playbook, it seems to me, and that is this thing we call the First Amendment. Some day, let’s hope, activists and journalists will be free of the censorious shackles of a legal system that doesn’t permit them full throat to record the George Gibney story and other awful legacies. In my own message, I don’t seek to trample the interests of those survivors who mostly want to turn the page; rather, I want to call attention to the global youth sports system, which has turned adults into children and children into adults, and which cannot be meaningfully reformed until we come to grips with the scale and transnational nature of its abuse cover-ups. Gibney’s unaccounted-for passage through two continents is an especially instructive, not-so-shining example.
Lunch at the Oireachtas and other business
My first meeting was with TD O’Sullivan. Arriving on a red-eye flight, I’d feared I might wind up having to wheel my suitcase straight to the Kildare Gate of Leinster House, but my Airbnb hostess, an elderly Hungarian woman, graciously met me at the door at an odd hour.
Spurred by the late rabble-rouser Bart Nolan, Ms. O’Sullivan had launched, at around the same time my own Gibney immigration reverse-engineering project began in 2015, the most recent round of serial pressure on the Garda commissioner to do something. Over lunch in the legislators’ elegant dining room, I shared with her a few latest details, from intermediary sources, of the American investigation undergirding my prediction that 2019 is the year. As I lay out in the new edition of the ebook — and as I hope the Irish politician will resume impressing upon Congresswoman Jackie Speier, with whom she met last year in Washington — these details bear less on the parsing of immigration paperwork (which, anyway, is a subject freighted with potential unintended consequences during an American president’s pivot to narrow white nationalism). They turn more on actual hitherto unexamined narrative details of Gibney’s possible abuse of visa/green card hospitality.
Citing no backup, the Irish media have long been content to reproduce rumors that Gibney was aided in his flight from Ireland by Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus. In the new George Gibney Chronicles, I meticulously tie other Catholic Church players to Gibney’s first decade in the U.S. state of Colorado. There, Gibney led a parish medical mission for Peruvian children at a precise moment when successive archbishops were working to help a controversial Peruvian sect called Sodalitium Christianae Vitae establish a presence in the Denver archdiocese. The Sodalitium has acknowledged the exposure of its founder, who now lives obscurely in Rome, as a child sexual abuser and a participant in kidnapping and other criminal conduct. While my ebook doesn’t close open questions about Gibney’s relationship to the Sodalitium drama in the early years of his guest residency in the U.S., it provides a clear roadmap to the answers.
In Dublin I also had breakfast with Gary O’Toole, Ireland’s greatest swimmer of the late 1980s and early 90s, now a prominent orthopedic surgeon. O’Toole, who helped collect the information that at least ended Gibney’s reign of terror over Irish swimming — following Gibney abuse victim Chalkie White’s decision to confide in O’Toole in 1990 — took me on a driving tour, too. I passed a district of River Liffey quays and footbridge crossings, increasingly occupied by young professionals’ housing, which I’d been prowling on foot; resting at the top was the site of the old studio where U2 used to record their albums and where pilgrims the world over scratched out legal graffiti.
We ended up at the Newpark Sport Centre in Blackrock, a southern suburb overlooking the Irish Sea. Within, on a Saturday morning surprisingly vacant of athletic activity, you could steal a peek at scenes of the crimes that O’Toole described as unchanged — through the window of Gibney’s old office and past the gate to the 25-meter swimming pool.
Later in the day I had the honor of meeting with a importantly positioned Gibney victim (I prefer the term “survivor”) who has spoken out at intervals. She was on crutches during rehab from surgery — an operation performed, naturally, by Gary O’Toole, whom she called “the busiest person in Ireland.” Just as I was able to share certain Gibney investigative details I’m not yet at liberty to publish, so too did I acquire new Irish details that only face-to-face human interaction could have facilitated.
Preferring to get to know Dublin at ground level, I took only one non-airport taxi ride, to make a radio appearance on time. I didn’t have the patience or organization for touring sites such as Trinity College or St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but I passed them. My favored metric of romance in a new city is its basic rhythm and vibrancy.
The neighborhood where I was staying, the North Strand, borders an area, Fairview, with a massive expanse of green sward. There’s nothing sophisticated about the landscaping of Dublin parks — I came across no zoos or dedicated gardens, just the occasional children’s playground or team sport pitch. After our lunch at the Parliament, Maureen and I taped our Off the Ball piece from a bench across the street from Leinster House in Merrion Square, which is one of the four big squares in the downtown district. Again, plenty of greenery but none of the elaborate manicuring you find in the municipal parks of the equally beautiful but more self-conscious capital cities of Paris and Washington.
There are no street signs in Dublin. Well, there are teeny-tiny banners adorning the brick and stoneworks at the tops of blocks — that is, except where there aren’t. Thank God for Google Maps, which can get as confused as non-artificial intelligence but which at least, in the notation of minutes of duration to your destination, keeps you educated in whether you’re headed in the right direction.
The RTÉ studio is in Donnybrook, an area south of city center. Yes, the word donnybrook does so derive, owing to an annual fair from the 13th through 19th centuries, which devolved from a straightforward agriculture and livestock exhibition to a carnival marked by “drunkenness, fighting, and hasty marriages,” according to Wikipedia. A sign on the main boulevard promised “Donnybrook Castle,” which sounded exciting but it was just a subdivision. Don’t go into a huff: the old McCarthy Ranch in Milpitas, on my drive from Berkeley to San Jose, is now a shopping center with an In-N-Out.
Calling an audible, I turned right through another spectacular park, Herbert’s. On the other side was the ritzy mansion-dotted east side neighborhood, Ballsbridge, featuring embassy row (I passed the huge U.S. compound). Ballsbridge was familiar to me as the home of the swimming complex at the Burlington Hotel, since renamed, where in 1982 George Gibney and another coach who actually went to prison, Ger Doyle, perpetrated their filth on a girl, then 11, who came forward to me just two years ago. See https://concussioninc.net/?p=12080; https://concussioninc.net/?p=12083.
Dine and drink
I’m no gourmand. On this hasty tour I enjoyed no Irish stew. I failed to dine on bacon and cabbage. There wasn’t a single tasting of carvery, boxty, colcannon, or soda bread. This was not because I was being carb-conscious so much as middle of the road — the low road. As an exile of St. Louis, widely recognized as the Mecca of Western Civilization (where the late Chuck Berry, an auto insurance customer of my late father’s before he was famous, mused “the hamburger sizzling on the open grill night and day”), I seem culturally allergic to the artisanal. On my first night in Dublin, it took painstaking seconds of Yelp research to determine that my fate was the Hillbilly Family Restaurant, a fast-food joint.
I have no taste for Bushmills or Ballyhoo, either, and I’m not a beer slosher. But a modest pub crawl grounded in Guinness was obligatory. An American friend told me the Guinness in Ireland is much better. I agree, it’s smooth.
My first pint was at a pub called Cusack’s in the North Strand. The place was recommended by Maureen O’Sullivan, whose legislative district encompasses the northside. I bellied up to a bar where the television was tuned to sports. Horse racing. Everyone else there was my age, which is to say, old. I downed my maiden Guinness.
A special interlude was the fish and chips and multiple rounds of Guinness with Broadsheet’s Olga Cronin at Bailey’s Bar, an establishment in city center with deep literary bloodlines. Don’t ask what we talked about. What’s said at Bailey’s stays at Bailey’s.
Walking in, I noticed a plaque commemorating John Ryan, the owner of the pub from 1956 to 1971. I didn’t immediately associate this with the John Ryan who, from an undisclosed European location, serves as Broadsheet.ie’s puppet master. After all, in the economy of Irish names, no one wonders if TD Maureen O’Sullivan is the actress who played Jane in the Tarzan movies. But as it turns out, the John Ryan of Bailey’s was indeed the father of our own: an artist, writer, publisher, and devoted supporter of Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, and others, whose greatest contribution to world culture was the creation of the annual Bloomsday celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Ryan père was said to have purchased the pub largely because it simplified the bookkeeping in covering the running tabs of the deadbeat poets and bohemians he patronized.
My crowning dose of Irish immersion and hospitality came the last night. In talking with the Gibney abuse survivor, I mentioned that I intended to take the short walk from my Airbnb to Croke Park so that I could drink in the setting of a 1972 Muhammad Ali fight whose picaresque promotional back story was the subject of a book I’d recently read, by the Irish-American author Dave Hannigan, who also writes a weekly column from America for the Irish Times. My new friend promptly noted that there was a Gaelic Athletic Association football match that evening and called her son, who informed me he had an extra ticket and I should meet him at the entrance to the standing room section on the hill, “where the real Dublin fans go.”
A couple of hours later, my preparatory nap was interrupted by a text from Andrew informing me that if I fancied a pint, I should meet him and his friends at Kavanaghs the Temple on Dorset Street Upper.
Off the main drag of Croke Park’s middle-class Drumcorda neighborhood, side streets were blocked off to car traffic. Very nearly all of the hordes advancing toward the stadium on foot, including many families with children, donned the blue T-shirts of the Dublin club’s sponsor, AIG Insurance. At the pub, Andrew and his contingent advised me that my red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap was all wrong, as that color represented the opponents from Cork in the upcoming All-Ireland Senior Championship semifinal tilt. I stuffed the Cardinals cap into my pocket (indeed, lost it on the walk back to Croke) and purchased a proper Áth Cliath (Dublin) blue cap.
Gaelic football is somewhat of a bigger deal in Ireland than soccer, in the sense that the top athletes are amateurs who don’t migrate for most of the year to England or the continent, and are therefore embedded in their communities. Irish football, roughly akin to the Australian rules football that was highlighted many years ago on ESPN before the worldwide leader in worldwide leadering inevitably acquired broadcast rights to the major American sports, is not considered as elite as the GAA sport Irish hurling, which involves manipulation of a smaller ball with an ash stick. The football rules, allowing use of both feet and hands, incorporate principles of soccer, (non-brutal) American football, and basketball. The latter takes the form of what we would call “dribbling” and they call solo-ing, or toe-kicking the ball back to yourself at least once every five steps as you take the ball downfield without passing off.
Dublin won at the end of two swift 35-minute halves. The crowd whistled boos for bad calls by the umpires and two or three times broke out en masse in the traditional chants. Not as rowdy, not as frenzied, I suspect, as would have been a soccer crowd. Here it’s all about the pre- and post-pub.
My greatest challenge was understanding Andrew and friends; unfortunately, I could make out only one out of every 6.348 words. Andrew had a speech disposition toward being a feedback loop of the last thing I said (“Is this a high-scoring match?” “High scoring match, it is”). I tried to use this as an instant guide to his pronunciation, but the sample size was too small and I’m no good at this kind of thing. Walking to the stadium, Andrew educated me that when you kicked the ball between the uprights it was “one pint” and when you got it past the goalkeeper into the net by any means it was “three pints.” I thought this meant the fans celebrated accordingly, until I realized that not even Irish livers could process so much brew. One point. Three points. Duh.
Characteristically for the Irish, Andrew told me my euros were no good when I tried to pay him for my ticket. He did let me buy a round after the game. To my surprise, he opted not for draft Guinness but a bottled foreign brand, Buckler I think. I tried to save face by claiming I was getting hard of hearing as I motioned to him to specify for the bartender.
With that universally recognized wrist flick, the dexterous 16-ounce curl, the wife of one of Andrew’s friends enhanced my vocabulary. (Did I mention that the kids who helped fill the streets in the procession to the stadium are allowed in the pubs? They are expected to remain seated, however.)
“Slàinte,” she said. Pronounced “slaunch-che.” Cheers. A winner in any tongue.
Sampling the spice bag
When Graham Merrigan, co-host of the What’s the Story? podcast, decreed that while in Dublin I must partake of something called the spice bag, an Irish-Asian concoction, I identified a culinary mission proportionate to my ambition. My son Nate, who is living in China, reinforced the demand for a full field report. My last window for a spice bag order came after Croke Park and Kavanaghs the Temple.
I chose an alternate pedestrian route out of Drumcorda along what I believe was the River Tolka, which in my unfortunate stretch, at least, resembled a sewage canal. I came out upon a part of Parnell Street that seems enlivened by the African and Caribbean transplants who have enriched the spirit of Dublin long after the lily-white generation that witnessed Muhammad Ali vs. Al “Blue” Lewis. (The eponymous Parnell, presumably, was Irish nationalist Charles Parnell — controversial conversation about whom found its way into the dinner table memories of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist.)
At the Fragrant River restaurant on North Strand Road, the takeout menu (or as they call it there, “takeaway”) listed “spicey” bag. Liù of one, half dozen of the other, I calculated.
I’ll have to admit to Graham that this is the kind of thing pro wrestling fans die for. In fact, it will speed them to their graves. There’s a clear plurality of unidentified artery-annihilating fried ingredients. In second place, french fries. Also onions, green peppers, chicken chunks (very few in my serving), shrimp, calamari. Whether or not you’re Trump contemplating a gross pass at a desired woman, popping a Certs afterward is recommended.
Tale of two cabbies
One of my most devoted readers, who retweets all things Gibney, is a Dublin cab driver. In the middle of my visit, he kindly sent me a direct message asking if there was anything he could do to make my time there smoother. I hope we can hoist a pint together next time.
My driver back to the airport was Pakistani. He corrected me on the terminal number — for Aer Lingus, it’s Terminal 2. He said Aer Lingus is an exceptionally well-run airline, counter to the Irish rep for lovable dysfunction. I agreed.
The cabbie monologued at length about why Ireland is his second-favorite country. “There are some two-faced people here, but you see those everywhere.” His favorite country is Germany. His least favorite city is New York. He’s not crazy about Moscow. He has driven taxis in 24 cities around the world. He moves every few months.
He’s says his perpetual motion is in service of a book in progress. Join the club.