Belfast Telegraph

TV tribute to the New York cop who took kids away from NI’s violence

New documentary tells of unique peacebuilding scheme in darkest days of Troubles

By Aine Fox

A former New York bomb squad detective credited with saving countless children's lives during the Troubles, and hailed by former President Bill Clinton as a symbol for the peace process, is the subject of a new documentary.

Denis Mulcahy founded Project Children during the darkest days of violence, bringing young people from both sides of the divide to the United States for peaceful summers.

During the course of 40 years, more than 20,000 children from some of the worst-hit areas of Belfast and Londonderry spent six-week stints with American host families far from bomb blasts and riots.

The tale of how Cork native Mr Mulcahy launched Project Children with willing family and friends in 1975 is told in the feature film How to Defuse A Bomb: The Project Children Story, narrated by Ballymena-born actor Liam Neeson.

President Clinton, who took Mr Mulcahy to Northern Ireland as part of his official delegation for a historic visit in 1995, described the father-of-four as "a good man doing a good thing".

He said: "He knew then that if he did it enough he'd not only save some individual lives and create some different futures, but it might move the country."

On meeting him and hearing about his efforts, he added: "I thought that he symbolised so much the hope that I had for the peace process, for what could happen."

The documentary, which has contributions from many of the children, now grown up, has been selected for the United Nations Association Film Festival and will have its premiere at the Irish Film Festival on Sunday.

Having started out with an idea and just 50 dollars in the pot, Mr Mulcahy said he never thought of the scheme lasting four decades, but added that its remarkably simple premise helped it work.

The 72-year-old, who emigrated from Ireland to New York aged 17, explained: "The secret to our programme was putting kids into families and treating them just like another member and living in a neighbourhood where you had people from all backgrounds."

The two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who was awarded an OBE last year, said the documentary was a tough watch in parts, but reminded viewers of the bleak reality of the times.

Director Des Henderson said he was inspired to spread the word about the "extraordinary" actions of Mr Mulcahy and other volunteers within the charity.

"Denis's programme didn't have a grand scheme when they started - they were ordinary people compelled to do something, and to a great extent they didn't know what they were doing, they just wanted to help, in any way they could," he added.

  • How To Defuse A Bomb: The Project Children Story is part-funded by the BBC and is due to be broadcast later this year

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