highs and stows | 

Legendary Dublin stowaway reveals his life of hell since famous New York trip

Noel Murray talks in detail about battle with drug addiction and criminality. On the other hand, fellow stowaway Keith Byrne tells how he ended up with a good job, nice home and family
Keith Byrne (left) and Noel Murray

Keith Byrne (left) and Noel Murray

Former police officers Kenneth White and Carl Harrison

Former police officers Kenneth White and Carl Harrison

A young Keith Byrne

A young Keith Byrne

Eugene MastersonSunday World

One of the two legendary young stowaways who ended up in New York after telling their mothers in Dublin they wouldn’t go far when they left the house, has revealed his life of hell since their famous getaway.

Noel Murray talks in detail about his battle with drug addiction and how it led him into criminality. On the other hand, his fellow stowaway Keith Byrne tells how he ended up with a good job, nice home and partner, and two lovely kids.

Both were the centre of worldwide media frenzy back in 1985 when the boys – then aged just 10 and 13 – left their home in Darndale in north Dublin and managed to bunk on a ferry to Wales, catch a train to London and then sneak onboard a flight from Heathrow to New York.

Now as adults the men admit that when they were tearaway kids who used regularly shoplift and rob.

While Keith (47) settled down after school, Noel’s youth was spent in children’s homes and also in court.

The 50-year-old admits he had more than 30 years of a life full of crime and drugs, which he now hopes is behind him having turned his life around.

Noel recalls his troubled youth after his New York adventure in a new 30-minute documentary, Nothing to Declare, which will be shown on RTÉ One on Tuesday.

“I had warrants for shoplifting and committing crime,” he explains. “They brought me to court, and they tried to put me in Trinity House, a boy’s home. My solicitor told me that if they caught me after 8pm I’d be put in Mountjoy.”

Former police officers Kenneth White and Carl Harrison

Former police officers Kenneth White and Carl Harrison

Noel says he did not see Keith for a few years as his friend went to boarding school in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, and Keith was bouncing from job to job afterwards.

“After New York, I ended up in a children’s home out in Finglas. It was just me when I was young, nobody could tell me what to do. I just did what I had to do.

“From there on I ended up on drugs, I was a drug addict for 30-odd years, committing crimes, spending 30 years in and out of jails and taking drugs.”

His own family was also ravaged by drugs.

“Most of my family were on drugs as well, all of them are dead; seven of them are dead, they are all in the graveyard now from taking drugs.

“So, I just want to stop taking them. I have stopped taking them, I’m going to stay stopped, I just can’t go back living like that man. No,’ it’s not a life.”

Noel now lives in his own self-contained accommodation in a recovery house.

“I didn’t know how to use a washing machine at the start,” he admits. “I don’t know how to cook, well I do now. I’m just learning now. I didn’t know what I wanted in life. Now I’m sort of figuring out what I really want.”

He also promises “no more robbing”.

“I’m clean now nearly 17 months and doing really well,” he stresses. “I’m doing really well. I’m in the recovery house now, in a day programme. It’s a narcotics programme. Everyone calls me New York Noely!”

A young Keith Byrne

A young Keith Byrne

Keith meanwhile explained how life is “very good” for him now as he detailed the trouble he got into as a youth.

“I have a nice partner, that I’m with 20 years; two beautiful kids,” he says. “I have a great job, a nice secure job, so everything is fine for me at the moment. Life is good, very good. A big change from how I grew up.”

Keith recollects his growing life back when he was young.

“Growing up in Coolock in the Eighties wasn’t great, there wasn’t money in the country. A lot of unemployment, a high unemployment rate,” he notes.

“A lot of people from the inner city and the flats complexes, all just thrown into this housing estate. All left to fend to themselves. Basically, a breeding ground for trouble, crime, anti-social behaviour, which most of us fell into.

“Stealing food, bunking off, taking the coins from the fountain in the Ilac Centre. We used to mitch from school a lot.”

Noel said his area of Dublin was very troubled.

“Darndale, it was a bit rough; a lot of joyriding and a lot of crime. There was a load of drugs in the area. Me and the lads, Keith and the other boys, used to stick together.

“Me and Keith used to travel the length and breadth of Ireland on buses and trains and coaches. We’d head off and nobody knows where we are, you could end up wherever. We’d end up in Kerry, we’d end up in Galway, we’d end up in Donegal. When me and Keith got a few bob, we’d buy trainers and tracksuits.”

Keith adds: “A bunk is travel on public transport, any type of transport free. Going around the place, causing trouble. Gardaí being called up on us; being sent home, being brought home by gardaí.”

Two retired New York Port Authority police officers, Sgt Kenneth White and Sgt Carl Harrison, nabbed the two Dublin boys outside John F Kennedy Airport, in New York, after they enquired how to get into the city.

The story had started on a Thursday when Keith’s mother had sent him to the shops to buy some potatoes. On his way back he met up with his friend Noel.

Keith recalls in the film: “So, we dropped the spuds off in the... house, and me ma says, ‘Don’t go too far, your dinner’s nearly ready’. ‘Yep, Ma, no bother.’ And we just set off.”

After leaving Byrne’s home in Darndale, they “bunked” on a train that took them to the ferry in Dún Laoghaire.

After landing at Holyhead in Wales, the police caught them and sent them back on the return ferry, and called Gardaí. On the Friday morning, however, the boys gave them the slip and stayed aboard for the next trip back to Holyhead.

They followed the passengers and ended up on a train, minus any tickets, heading for London.

They ended up in central London, and took a bus after buying tickets this time and went to Heathrow Airport, where they stole some food at self-serve restaurants.

Neither of them had ever flown before but when someone pointed out a plane that was going to New York, they thought it was a chance to go and meet their hero, the famous ‘Mr T’ of the A-Team.

Following the crowd and telling the ticket agent their “ma was right behind them,” they slipped aboard an Air India 747 jumbo jet.

The two stowaways then managed to get through Customs until they were out of the terminal and walking for the exit at JFK.

It was then they were spotted by the two Port Authority officers.

“A lot of people had egg on their face,” Harrison said, reflecting on the many security agents who were at a loss to explain how the pair got right past them.

Harrison said the youngest boy was the “ringleader”. The boys thought this was all a joke and weren’t giving straight answers, but Harrison read them the “riot act” and told them the seriousness of the situation.

He reminded them that they had people who cared for them, loved them and wanted them home safely.

Harrison said he asked the mother of the younger boy, Murray, ‘How much do you love your son?’ when she expressed surprise to hear where they had ended up.

Sgt. White, in the film, stated, “As soon as I heard the brogue, I said, ‘You know these kids didn’t just come from the Bronx.’”

Officers in the police station gave them money and food before bringing them on a sightseeing trip around the city.

They were then put up in a suite in a five-star hotel and later flown home to Dublin on a Aer Lingus plane, where the waiting media feted them as international stars.

  • Nothing To Declare RTÉ1 Tuesday 10.30pm

Today's Headlines

More Irish News

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices