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Book details Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger's relationship with his right-hand man from the Galway Gaeltacht

Whitey Bulger and right-hand-man Pat Nee from Connemarra were feared throughout Boston for their ruthlessness.
Nov 3rd 2018, 8:00 PM 43,510 10

We meet the notorious Boston crime lord Whitey Bulger - who died earlier this week - in this extract from the book The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down, along with his right-hand man and would-be assassin, Pat Nee, from the Galway Gaeltacht village of Ros Muc.

Both Bulger and Nee were feared throughout Boston for their ruthlessness, and Nee’s protection of Irish boxer, Seán Mannion, ensured his fellow Connemara man’s safety among Bulger’s gang.

Whitey Bulger with Pat Nee and wife Debbie from Pat Nee's tell all book Whitey Bulger with Pat Nee and Debbie Nee

As new members of the Winter Hill Gang, Pat Nee was now teaming up with former Killeen rival, James “Whitey” Bulger, extorting drug dealers and running betting and loan rackets. There was little love lost between Nee and Bulger, however. Before coming under the leadership of Howie Winter, Bulger had attempted to kill Nee, and Nee had attempted to return the favor. Neither had succeeded.

When Winter was imprisoned in 1979, Bulger took over the leadership of the gang, leading to a murderous domination of the Boston criminal underworld that would eventually see him fleeing Boston in 1994 after being revealed as an FBI informer, and later sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus five years, after being arrested in 2011.

While Nee was implicated, but never charged, in a number of Bulger-related killings, he began to focus on a new venture following Whitey’s takeover of the Winter Hill Gang. He began putting together the largest arms haul ever seized on the IRA.

By September 1984, Pat Nee had accumulated 7.5 tonnes of guns, explosives, electronics, hand grenades and other material. A fishing boat, the Valhalla, was purchased to ship the weapons from Boston to Ireland, where the $1.2 million haul was transferred to another fishing vessel, the Marita Ann. On board the Marita Ann was Martin Ferris, who would later be elected to Dáil Éireann, the Irish parliament, as a member of Sinn Féin.

The Irish Navy was lying in wait for the shipment from the US, however, and the Marita Ann and its cargo was seized off the coast of Kerry. Martin Ferris and his crew were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The FBI eventually caught up with Nee and he was given 18 months.
It wouldn’t be the last time Patrick Nee would see the inside of a prison. He wasn’t a year out of Danbury Federal Correctional Institute when he was arrested again while attempting to rob an armoured truck. This time, he would be sentenced for 37 years. He was out again after 10.

Pat Nee today Pat Nee

But back in 1977, when Seán Mannion first came over to Boston, Pat Nee, along with Whitey, ruled Southie with a very strong arm. Nothing happened on the streets and in the projects of South Boston without Nee knowing.

Sure enough, Mannion wasn’t long in the city when Nee came by his gym for a chat. Two guys from Ros Muc, a long way from home, both of whose livelihoods depended upon very different forms of violence. Seán, working the punchbag, didn’t notice Nee and his colleagues entering the room. Everyone else noticed, however. A blanket of quiet fell over the relentless thud of punchbags and skipping ropes.

“Hey Seán, howya doin’?” asked Nee. He introduced himself. They discussed family. They discussed Ros Muc.
“Seán, if any of these fucks here, or anyone else for that matter, fucks with you, you give me a call. You got that?”
Seán nodded, but the “you got that?” wasn’t meant for him. It was meant for the rest of the gym. They got the message. Don’t fuck with Seán Mannion.

“When Seán came over in 1977, he was around some people that mightn’t have had his best interests in mind,” said Pat Nee, recalling the time. “There were a lot of drug dealers in the gym, bringing all kinds of heat on the place, scumbags, wise guys that would try and make money off Seán.

“When the gunmen get involved, you get a problem, but those were guys that we could and we did handle. Just the fact that they seen us come in to see Seán and knowin’ that we’re both from the same place in Ireland was enough.”
Pat Nee wasn’t exaggerating about wise guys and drug dealers. It seemed that half of Whitey Bulger’s gang was training with Seán at the time. And Seán was getting plenty of offers to join up as yet another Whitey henchman.

One of those Whitey gang members was John “Red” Shea. It was clear early on that Red had most of the abilities needed to become a boxer. He was light and quick on his feet and he wasn’t long racking up significant underage victories. By the time he was 14, he was the New England Junior Olympic Champion, which he went on to win three times.

Shea had two things going against him when it came to a potential boxing career, however. He had a short temper, and he couldn’t resist the trappings that came with a life of crime. ‘Red’ Shea was selling cocaine for Whitey Bulger and he was in no way reluctant to use his fists, or anything else for that matter, in making his way in the world of drugs.

“On the one hand, boxing was tremendous for me, it taught me so much, it gave me confidence, skill, focus,” said ‘Red’ Shea. “But I also met a lot of characters that had been associated with Whitey Bulger and it’s pretty much where it all began for me in getting into the Irish Mafia.

“In the gym, I was associating myself with the guys who were associated with him. And the biggest thing was drugs, and that’s what I started getting into, because the money was easy, and good. And with all that, there was a power that came with it, a strength, and a sort of respect, you know, who’s who of the neighborhood.
“Most of the guys that were associated could obviously handle themselves, because I met them in the gym, sparring, boxing and Sean boxed some of them too.”

Shea was sparring with Seán one evening when the Ros Muc man raised the question of cocaine.
“Red, you should stay away from those drugs, they’re going to be nothing but trouble for you.”
“Look, Seán, I’m going to be a millionaire by this time next year.”
“Yeah, Red, but you’re going to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder.”
It’s unlikely that ‘Red’ Shea was thinking of Seán’s advice on August 10, 1990, but when Seán picked up the Boston Globe the following day, he wasn’t surprised by what he read.
“In a sweeping blow to the criminal organization of reputed underworld figure James J. (Whitey) Bulger, a federal grand jury has indicted 51 persons on charges including distributing cocaine, conspiring to operate a criminal narcotics enterprise and filing false income tax returns.”

Mannion defeating Roosevelt Green shortly before his world title fight against Mike McCallum in 1984 Sean Mannion defeating Roosevelt Green

The list of arrested Whitey Bulger accomplices read like a who’s who of Seán Mannion’s boxing circle. ‘Red’ Shea, who tried to flee from the police on the night. ‘Polecat’ Moore who was a senior figure in the Bulger infrastructure. Kevin MacDonald, or ‘Andre the Giant’ as he was known in Southie, was Seán’s bodyguard when Mannion was preparing for his world title bout in New York. He was arrested with a loaded shotgun and a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson by his bed.

But while Seán used to spar with ‘Red’ Shea, the age and weight gap meant that he sparred more often with the likes of Paul ‘Polecat’ Moore, Frank MacDonald and Danny Long. Long ended up with the Boston Police Department when he finished boxing. The other two didn’t.

Six feet tall, 200 pounds weight, ‘Polecat’ Moore could challenge anyone in Jimmy Connolly’s gym. But like ‘Red’ Shea and Andre the Giant, he ended up as another Whitey acolyte caught in that August dragnet. Sentenced to nine years for drug dealing, he began to question his loyalty to Whitey Bulger after some time alone in his cell and offered to testify against him.

The authorities didn’t think twice about the offer and Polecat was released. In an article from August 1991, The Boston Herald called Moore and his testifying associates “a Dream Team of rat witnesses.”

“Moore was a top drug dealer in South Boston but was reportedly disillusioned with being a ‘stand-up guy’ for Bulger after his wife wasn’t ‘taken care of” when he went to prison on drug charges. ‘He knows where some serious bodies are buried,’ one source said.”

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Seán remembers being asked on a number of occasions to meet Whitey Bulger in his infamous Triple O’s Lounge. Boston’s Irish mob always needed muscle, but Mannion refused the Boston Godfather’s invitations. John ‘Red’ Shea recalls as much.

“Seán’s not a mean person. I heard that Seán was asked to probably join the Irish Mafia, again I don’t know that personally, but from what I hear, he was asked, Seán could never do that.

He doesn’t have the disposition, he’s not that type of person to be mean like that. And, yeah, I’m so glad that he never made that decision.”

“I didn’t want anything to do with that stuff,” said Mannion, “ruining people’s lives, pushing drugs on kids.”

Seán steered clear of Bulger, their only one-to-one encounter being when a speeding Whitey crashed his car into Mannion’s one night while coming off L Street in Southie. Bulger didn’t stop and Mannion, not realising who the driver was, chased Whitey through the streets of South Boston. Eventually, Bulger pulled over.

“Do you realize you hit my car?” asked Mannion through the window of Bulger’s Chevrolet Malibu.
Bulger didn’t say much, apologized, and threw a roll of cash at Mannion. $500.
“That was more than what the car was worth,” said Seán. “It only dawned on me when he pulled away who I had been talking to. I don’t think I would have chased him down if I knew it was Whitey!”

Bulger wasn’t the only mobster to throw cash Seán’s way. Four years after his first visit, Patrick Nee recalls arriving back in Connolly’s Gym, looking for Mannion.
“There’s a guy going to call you from Leavenworth Prison in Kansas, he’s from Limerick. He wants to write an article about you, he writes for the Irish paper down there.”

Looking to get in touch with Seán, the Limerick man had contacted the former head of the Winter Hill Gang, Howie Winter, who was also in Leavenworth, serving time for fixing horse races. Winter, who had previously gotten Pat Nee to arrange a phone call between him and Seán so that he could wish him good luck coming up to a big fight, asked Nee to sort things out. Nee headed down to the gym.

“Sound,” said Seán, “I’ll talk to him, no problem.”
“Thanks,” replied Nee and handed Seán $100.
“Ah Jesus, Pat, I don’t want any money for it.”
“Take it, Seán.”
“No, really Pat, it’s okay.”
“Seán, take it. It’s not from me, that’s what they told me to give you. You gotta take it.”
Séan took the $100.

The two spent another while in the gym talking, discussing life, relatives, Ros Muc. When Nee left, the other boxers ran over to Mannion.
“Do you know who that guy is?”
“Why wouldn’t I know him?”
“But do you know who he is?”
“Of course I know him, he’s my cousin.”
“But do you know who he really is?”
“Look, I’ve been talking to him for the last fucking hour. Yes, I know very well who he is, don’t you worry.”

When the crowd around Seán dispersed, Jimmy Connolly came over to him.
“What did he want?” Seán looked at him. “He came here to make sure that nobody fucks with me.”

It was obvious to Seán that everyone in the room was afraid of Patrick Nee. It was also obvious to him that everyone in the room was now treating him in a different way. Seán Mannion had their respect for something other than boxing.

Pat Nee remembers the incident, laughing off any suggestion that he provided Mannion with protection. “He’s from Ros Muc, I’m from Ros Muc. We were climbing to the top in our respective fields, you know. I would have done anything for Seán, but Seán was a tough guy in his own right. He didn’t need me. He could take care of himself on the streets.”

The Man Who Was Never Knocked Down – The Life of Boxer Seán Mannion by Rónán Mac Con Iomaire is published by Rowman and Littlefield.

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Aoife Barry

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