RTE Television

The Ashes of 9/11

Sean Tallon, FDNY

An RT documentary to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

September 11, 2001 was a day that changed the world. On the morning of September 11, 2001, two hijacked commercial airline planes crashed into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Centre. Almost 3,000 people were killed in the combined disasters that marked that day. Although six who died were Irish born, it is estimated that a further 1,000 had Irish connections. This is the story of that tragic day as seen by some of the Irish caught up in the day: the rescue workers, journalists and families who lost a loved one.

Ron Clifford, from Cork, is one such eye-witness. He was in the South Tower lobby of the Trade Centre's Marriott Hotel when the first plane hit the North Tower. Within minutes a woman blazing from the spill of jet fuel was running towards him. As Ron helped Jennianne Maffeo, a second plane hit the south tower high above them. Little did Ron know that his much loved sister, Ruth and her four year old daughter Julianna, were passengers on the hijacked jet.

Martin Coughlan, a carpenter from Cappawhite, Tipperary, was refurbishing offices above the 90th floor of the South Tower when the first plane hit. He left a message on his home phone telling his wife Catherine that he was leaving the building and would see them later that day. But soon afterwards, some of the South Tower workers were told they were out of danger and could resume duties. Martin's last message was recorded after the second jet hit, trapping Martin in the floors above.

Eileen Tallon from Cork was at work when planes hit the Twin Towers. Immediately she was concerned about her son, probationary fire-fighter Sean Tallon, who was based at the World Trade Centre's dedicated fire station. The last time Sean was seen was on the 31st floor of the North Tower, still climbing with fifty pounds of equipment on his back, still hoping to rescue those trapped in the fire above. With fire-fighter's walkie-talkies not working, Sean was probably unaware of the first tower's collapse or the fate that awaited his tower. Eileen's daughter and Sean's sister, Rosaleen, has since become an activist in the cause of 9/11 families.

On 9/11, Rescue Fireman, Sean Cummins from Finglas in Dublin, swapped two twelve hour shifts with two colleagues so he could drop his mother to the airport for her Aer Lingus flight home. He could see the first tower burning from his rooftop and immediately headed into Manhattan. He and colleagues entered burning debris to pull out the trapped and injured. On the day Sean lost 87 colleagues-including the two men he swapped shifts with. To help ease the guilt he joined the US Army Medical Corps during the war in Iraq.

Anthony Curtin from Listowel in Kerry was an NYPD homicide detective on September 11th. Like many police, fire and rescue colleagues, he drove towards Ground Zero after the towers were hit. He spent weeks digging through apocalyptic rubble and months assessing crime scene debris. During that time he breathed toxic dust and fumes and still doesn't know the health legacy.

And journalists Niall O'Dowd and Conor O'Clery, who both reported from Manhattan on 9/11, had the job of melding personal experience with the day's big story. In 'The Ashes of 9/11', they and the other Irish interviewees reflect on the day itself and how the world and they have changed in the decade since.

The Ashes of 9/11
  • RT One, Sunday 11 September 2011, 9.30pm