Bill O'Dwyer (1890 - 1964)

William O'Dwyer, better known as Bill, was the eldest son of Patrick and Bridget O'Dwyer and he was was born in Bohola in 1890. At that time it was normal that the first born son would be expected to join the priesthood. He was educated in Lismarrane National School, St Nathy's College in Ballaghaderreen and at College in Salamanca. Bill however felt he had not the necessary calling for the priesthood and left for America arriving in New York in 1910 at the age of 20 with just a few dollars in his pocket.

He met up with Andrew and Martin Sheridan who looked out for him until he got his first job as dock labourer. He worked at many different jobs including, handyman, delivery-boy, deckhand, stoker and plasterers help. Bill enlisted in the New York police force in 1917 and was highly commended when on his first beat he disarmed a killer. He studied at night and qualified as a lawyer in 1923 and went into private practice.

His brother Jim O'Dwyer became a member of the New York Fire Brigade and he was killed while going out on a false fire alarm while his other brother, John O'Dwyer, was shot dead while helping a policeman make an arrest. Acting-Mayor Joseph McKee appointed Bill as magistrate in 1932 and he began a grim battle against organised crime: the tragic deaths of his brothers were still fresh in his mind.

He was appointed to the Brooklyn Adolescents Court in 1935 and in 1937 he was appointed County Court Judge. The next step up the ladder of success was the office of District Attorney, which he reached in 1939. The American press put the name "Gang-smasher" because of his ongoing battles against organised crime. The outbreak of the World War 2 saw him join the US Army and he rose to the rank of Brigadier-General.

After the war he decided to run for Mayor and with the help of Henry A Wallace and Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt he was elected with a big majority. In November 1945 the Connaught Telegraph relayed the story of this great achievement and congratulations poured in for his sister Mrs Barney Durcan living in Bohola. Bonfires were lit and there was a great feeling of achievement in Bohola and all over Mayo.

During Bill's first term as Mayor he concentrated on building schools, hospitals and transport facilities that had all been neglected during the war years. He stood for re-election in 1949, but after a year he left New York to become President Truman's Ambassador to Mexico.

He later returned to New York and became an adviser for the law firm of O'Dwyer and Bernstein in 1960. Bill wrote a manuscript on his life called "Beyond the Golden Door", his brother Paul edited it and the book was published in 1987. William O'Dwyer died in 1964 at the age of 74. Flags were flown at half-mast in his memory and a grateful nation committed his remains in Arlington Cemetery with full military honours.

By Susannah Sweeney

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