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The Baron of Broadway

In the early 1900's, John J Hanley, a young Limerick man left for New York to later gentrify his persona to the 'Baron of Broadway'. He became hugely rich and focused on Irish reunification. So he tried to purchase Northern Ireland (2019)

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4.2/5 (79 ratings)

Documentary maker: Joe Kearney

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Documentary maker: Liam O'Brien

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The Baron of Broadway

During the ‘Roaring Twenties’ in New York City a young man, short in stature but round in girth, decided to gentrify his persona. He named himself The Baron of Broadway, a moniker he would cultivate for the remainder of his eccentric and colourful life.

John J Hanley ,who would later be known as Baron Hanley, was born into humble beginnings near the village of Strand just outside Newcastle West in County Limerick. But he quickly developed wanderlust and in the early 1900’s arrived in New York City. Prohibition, a ban on the sale and distribution of alcoholic liquor was soon to be put into law. John Hanley saw an opening that would make him rich and opened up a speakeasy that sold bootleg booze. He survived brushes with the law, racketeers, the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression and emerged a very rich man.

The Baron Hanley was rarely seen without his signature diamond tipped walking cane and a silk hat. No one ever saw him behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle yet he was obsessed with cars. In one newspaper item he boasted having a stable-full of Pontiacs and Packards, each with its own chauffeur.

Another of the Baron’s obsessions was the cause of Irish reunification. From the 1920’s up until the mid-1950’s he was a regular visitor to Ireland. On each occasion he shipped over one of his luxury automobiles and, on landing, recruited a chauffeur for the duration of his stay.

In the 1940’s American based organisations such as The United Irish Counties Society began highlighting what they believed was the plight of a divided Ireland. Their anti-partition campaign hoped to embarrass Britain into allowing the re-establishment of a thirty-two county republic. Baron Hanley, a prominent member of this organisation, was an ideal candidate to participate in the ‘embarrassment’ drive. He began painting his big motorcars in green, white and orange, painting shamrocks on the doors and flying both the Papal and Irish flags from the bonnet.

On multiple occasions he crossed the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland and announced himself in both Belfast and Stormont as a potential purchaser for the 6 counties . Over the years his offer is reported to have varied between 6 and 32 million US dollars. None of his offers were taken seriously by the authorities. However in September of 1955 his impatience got the better of him and The Baron of Broadway called his chauffeur and ordered that he go directly to Britain. They would take their offer to the steps of No10 Downing Street and make the British Prime Minister an offer that he could surely never refuse.

This is the story of the Baron of Broadway, one that proves sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday 20th July, 2019 @1pm

RTÉ Radio 1 Sunday 21st July, 2019 @7pm

Narrated by Joe Kearney

Readers included Patrick Dunne, John Reidy and Roger Gregg

Produced by Joe Kearney & Liam O'Brien

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries

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