That revelation brought the story to the front pages of the newspapers the next day. “Man shot in Central Park involved in Irish plot,” read a banner headline in The Evening World. “Link Shooting Here With Irish Warfare,” headlined the Times.
All the publicity convinced the IRA men to leave New York. In time, Jimmy McGee, the wharf fixer, helped the three get back to Ireland—two as stowaways and one under an assumed name. Britannia may have ruled the waves, but the Irish ruled New York’s waterfront.
To nearly everyone’s surprise, Cruxy survived his four gunshot wounds. And he refused to tell the New York detectives who shot him. Whenever asked, he adamantly shook his head. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a spy who gave up spying and a rebel who stopped rebelling became an informer who stopped informing.
When he recovered from his injuries, Cruxy O’Connor moved to Canada, where he married and had a child. O’Connor led his family through a nomadic life, moving from Canada to New York, from New York to England, and from England back to Canada, where he died in the early 1950s.
For years after Ireland gained independence, veterans of the battle debated Cruxy’s motives. In an interview in the 1960s, Pa Murray gave a surprising look at the New York ambush. “I was sorry after that,” he said with a sigh. “Later we learned that the poor devil was tortured to get him to talk” after his arrest in Cork.
But another IRA veteran who knew Cruxy well, Stan Barry, was convinced his arrest was fake — to bring in a man who had been spying for Britain all along. And a rebellious spy who witnessed Cruxy’s interrogation agreed. “It was a process of kindness, this interrogation,” recalls Part Margetts, a former British soldier. “He had a furtive look in his eyes and he looked at you from under his eyelashes, but he hadn’t been mistreated.”
Though the veterans disagreed, Cruxy the Benedict Arnold of Cork remains in popular memory. A local ballad offers an unequivocal verdict:
But curse those Cruxy Connors, traitorous defector and spy
Who sold the Ballycannon Boys on that fateful day.
Mark Bulik is editor in chief at DailyExpertNews and author of “The Sons of Molly Maguire: The Irish Roots of America’s First Labor War.” This article is an adaptation of an upcoming book.