he O' Dwyer family of Lismirrane, Bohola, are one of Mayo's most distinguished families.
Their link with Bohola goes back as far as Patrick O'Dwyer, who came from Tullylease on the Limerick-Cork border.
Patrick was headmaster of a three teacher school in Lismirrane, and he was secret organiser of the I.N.T.O. much to the annoyance of the clergy at the time. His wife, Bridget, also taught in the same school as an assistant teacher.
They built a thatched house on four acres of land in Lismirrane, and their first child, William, was born on July 11th, 1890. The O'Dwyers had nine more children, James (Jimmy), Kathleen (Kathy), Jack, Mary Rose (May), Josephine, Patrick Francis (Frank), Thomas (Tommy), Linda, and Paul. Sadly the eleventh child died in infancy. After having her first seven children, Bridget lost her job as a teacher, because the powers-that- were felt she was absent on too many occasions.
Financially it was difficult for the family after this, but they managed, and successfully reared a remarkable family. William eventually became Mayor of New York. Jimmy immigrated to New York. Kathleen taught in Lismirrane School, and moved to Galway after she got married. Jack also went to the U.S. May also taught in Lismirrane School, and married another teacher, Barney Durkan, in 1927.
Barney was an outstanding footballer and was chairman of the Mayo County Board. He travelled to New York on several occasions as manager of the Mayo team. Barney and May had three sons.
Josephine taught in Kilkenny for a few years, married a Mr. Byrne from Kilkelly, and emigrated to the U.S. The family moved back to Galway in later years. Frank and Tommy both emigrated to the U.S. The family moved back to Galway in later years.
Frank and Tommy both immigrated to America. Linda married and settled in Attymass, where she taught in the local national school for many years. Her son Adrian is a presenter with a big radio station in New York, and he was selected as Mayo Person of the Year a number of years ago. The youngest of the O'Dwyer clan, Paul, is a well known attorney in New York.
William O'Dwyer, who became Lord Mayor of New York in 1945, began his education in his parent's school in Lismirrane, and then in St. Nathy's College, Ballaghaderreen, where he matriculated, and at college in Salamanca, where he remained for two year after which he decided to seek his fortune in America.
He arrived in New York in 1910 with just a few dollars in his pocket. He was greeted by two more of Boholas' distinguished sons, Martin and Andrew Sheridan, to whose kindness he later attributed to his success. He landed his first job, that of a dock labourer, within a short time. Later he got work in a grocery store as handyman/delivery boy. After six months he lost his job at the grocery store when a customer complained of the quality of eggs she had purchased, and once again Bill set out looking for a job.
He secured a job as a deck-hand on a freighter at £15 a month, and sailed to South America. On the return voyage one of the stokers died, and Bill replaced him. After this he worked as a plasterer's helper in Manhattan. Despite the type of job or amount of salary, he regularly sent money home to his mother.
In 1916, he married American-born Catherine Lenihan, whose parents had immigrated to America from Tullylease, Bill's father's home place.
Bill enlisted in the New York police force in 1917, and while on his first beat he was highly commended, when he disarmed a killer, and took him to justice.
Studying at night, he qualified from the Fordham Law School in 1923 and went into private practice. All along he continued to send money home to help educate his brothers and sisters, and later sent money to his brothers to pay their to cross to America.
His brother Jim became a member of the New York fire brigade, and he was killed going out on a false fire alarm. Another brother, John, was shot dead by gunman when he attempted to aid a policeman in making an arrest.
In 1932 Bill was appointed a magistrate by Acting-Major, Joseph McKee and, always remembering the fate of his brothers, he began a grim battle against organised crime. In 1935 he was appointed to the Brooklyn Adolescents Court by Mayor La Guardia. Here he battled against juvenile delinquents. Nine hundred youngsters were brought before him in all, and it is reported that only ten got into trouble again.
His next appointment came unexpectedly when, in 1937, he was appointed County Court Judge. He now became the terror of criminals and the enemies of society.
In this position of judge he excelled, as he had the ability of understanding people and human nature. He learned about their struggles and conflicts, and he felt that justice was a comparative thing.
He once said "A man's body can be washed in prison, but his mind can never be cleansed of a stay in prison."
The next step on the law ladder was District Attorney, and Bill decided to run for office, despite the substantial reduction in salary it would mean. He secured the office of D.A. in 1939 by a very big majority.
He now set out in earnest to smash the criminal, earning the title of Gang Smasher from the American Press. In less than a month, he exposed the brutal murder ring known as Murder Incorporated, the crimes of which had shocked New York.
In June 1941, Bill enlisted in the U.S. army and was commissioned a Lieutenant-Colonel. He was appointed inspector to the Air Force. In recognition of his very valuable services he was appointed Colonel in 1943, subsequently making the grade of Brigadier-General. During his absence on war work in Italy, Brigadier-Gen. O'Dwyer was re-elected District Attorney.
Urged and supported by Henry. A. Wallace, and by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the late President, Bill consented to go forward for the mayoralty of New York in 1945.
The excitement in Bohola was unbelievable. Bill's younger sister, Kathleen, herself a teacher in Lismirrane School, travelled to New York to give her brother every support and encouragement during his campaign.
It was only a matter of time before Bohola, and Mayo, began to rejoice that another son of the soil had made international history by being elected first citizen of one of the world=s greatest capitals and largest city in America.
Bill's first term as mayor began with the problems of building schools, hospitals and transport facilities, all of which had been deferred during World War Two. He gave the city its first billion-dollar budget. He also suggested a city tax on horse-race betting and proposed a city-wide lottery to raise money.
Bill's wife Catherine died after a long illness in October 1945. Bill led a fairly lonely life after this and he stood for re-election as mayor in 1949.
After serving eight months of his second four-year term as Mayor, Bill left New York in 1950 to become President Truman's ambassador to Mexico. His second marriage to fashion model, Elizabeth Sloan Simpson, broke up but the couple remained close friends. In 1960 Bill returned to New York as adviser to the law firm of O=Dwyer and Bernstein. Bill wrote a book on his life, and his home place of Lismirrane, which remained unpublished until after he died. His brother Paul edited the manuscript and Beyond the Golden Door was published in 1987. All proceeds from the sale of this book were given to the Mayo Foundation for the Handicapped in the U.S., the main beneficiary being the O'Dwyer-Cheshire home in Lismirrane.
The man from Bohola, who rose from a policeman on the beat to Mayor of New York, and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, died of a heart attack on November 24th, 1964 at Beth Israel Hospital, New York, at the age of seventy-four. Paul O'Dwyer also enjoyed a distinguished career. He was elected president of New York City Council on November 7th, 1973.
He played an instrumental role in the opening of the Cheshire Home in Bohola in 1975. In 1986, he was appointed historian for New York City. He was honoured by Mayo County Council in 1988 when the authority accorded him a civic reception.
Paul was appointed New York City's Commissioner to the United Nations. He resigned from the post in December, 1991, because of the U.N.'s failure to do anything about abuses of human rights in Northern Ireland.
It was not the end of his career by any means, however, as he returned to the law offices of O'Dwyer and Bernstein where he has worked as a civil rights and labour lawyer for 60 years.
(Extracted from Bohola—It's History and it's People)