This story of 2 young Dubliners who stowed away on a plane to NYC needs to be a movie
Have you ever heard the one about the boys who ran away from home on a 747? Don’t worry, up until recently, I hadn’t either. But it’s quite the story, so settle in and get comfortable.
The subject of a new short film by Garret Daly, Nothing to Declare tells the tale of two Irishmen and their hunger for adventure. Reminiscing about one of their greatest escapades to date, the clip recalls how they once stowed away on an international flight to NYC… even getting themselves a personal guided tour of the city upon arrival.
Things sort of came together very organically for the young boys who met up one fine summer evening back in 1985. Warned “not to go too far” by his mother, 10-year-old Keith Byrne nodded a gracious ‘yeah, sure mam’ before going to meet 13-year-old Noel Murray somewhere in Dublin. Once together, the two hopped on a train (without buying tickets) and decided to see where it would take them. A ferry and another train ride later and the two were then boarding an international Air India 747 flight from London to New York.
Except they weren’t boarding it as paying passengers, but as stowaways. They may not have bought tickets, but that didn’t save them much anyway and all they had for spending money was a few coins they had stolen from some public fountains. Their parents had no clue where they were (the “don’t go far” comment had gone in one ear and out the other) but it wasn’t long before they were caught up after the youngsters’ adventure made international headlines around the world.
Filmmaker Gary Daly was amongst those to have read about the story some years later. Intrigued by how the duo managed to pull off such a feat, he reached out to the two men, and thus Nothing to Declare was born. A mix of “grainy archival footage” and more recent interviews with the men, both now “middle-aged and grey-haired” as The New Yorker puts it, the short film endeavours to recreate the twosome’s journey from Dublin to NYC.
Combing through endless newspaper clippings, YouTube videos, and old Irish interviews, Daly admitted that “it was a big challenge to do the archive and find everything that matched”. “But, once we did, I suppose that was kind of illuminating, because then it suddenly became a very lively, engaging piece that sparked all the memories of all parts of the journey.”
What happened when the boys arrived at JFK airport that fateful day? Well, keen for their journey to continue (they’d made it that far already after all), they tried to bypass security as best they could. “Our ma’s just behind us,” they assured officials, who suspected otherwise, but the two ran hell for leather once he had turned his head. First spending a few hours wandering around the airport, they then decided to venture outside where a policeman, Kenneth White, stopped them to ask where they were going.
Lying and saying that they were meeting their mother “in town”, they soon admitted that they were actually alone when pressed further and White radioed for his supervisor, Sergeant Carl Harrison, to come assist. Many more questions later and they found themselves in the back of an NYPD car where they were driven to a precinct and held in a room for several hours – eventually confessing their sins.
According to The New Yorker, the policemen then called overseas jurisdictions and the boys’ parents before feeding them “chips and soda” and giving them their unloaded guns to play around with (because of course they did).
“Air India put Byrne and Murray up in a gigantic suite at a five-star hotel and plied them with McDonald’s and movies,” the article continues. VERY Kevin McCallister “I’m eating junk and watching rubbish” vibes. “I was never in a hotel before, so it was brilliant,” Murray says in the short film. The same security guards were tasked with supervising the boys for the next few days. Asking them why they had come all this way, Byrne and Murray said it was because they wanted to meet the character B. A. Baracus from The A-Team. To which the guards’ response was to bring them on a sightseeing tour of the city, give them some cash and buy them “I love New York” t-shirts.
The guards then brought the boys on sightseeing tours throughout the boroughs, gave them some cash, and bought them “I Love New York” T-shirts. Naturally.
Things took an even more bogus turn when Air India began investigating the two boys. Unbeknownst to them, a different Air India plane had blown up just weeks prior to their trip, killing all those on board. “The officials wanted to know if the boys had terroristic intent or if they were attempting to smuggle things into the U.S,” the New Yorker reports. They were just boys who wanted their mammies though. Other people they had come in contact with throughout their travels verified their story and they were put back on a plane to Ireland.
Strutting off with their tourist tees in hand, a media frenzy ensued and the two boys were positively famous. Even Margaret Thatcher was in disbelief over the story, apparently airing her doubts over the whole thing on a live radio show. “But we did it, Maggie,” Murray now joked in response.
It goes without saying that they’d never pull it off nowadays – people probably thought that back then too, but the 80s were a different time and kids had more freedom than they knew what to do with. “1985, when you were that age, was far freer than it is now,” Daly told journalist Vivian Cheng. The dynamic duo’s mischievous friendship was also partly to thank. “Their relationship together – they hadn’t seen each other in years when we brought them together, and it was like that. They just clicked.”
Byrne was subsequently sent to boarding school, and Murray, who had a few petty crime warrants against him at the time, was almost put in a boys’ home. The judge let him off but the two drifted apart as years went by. Byrne now lives with his long-term partner and their children while Murray has since overcome 30 years of drug addiction and was 17-months sober during filming. “Maybe someday I’ll go back, but I’ll pay on the plane this time,” Murray laughs.
The whole thing reads like the plot of a movie… except you’d probably watch it, leave the cinema and think, ‘Nah, that was all just a bit too unrealistic for my liking.’ Only two Dublin young lads could swindle a private tour of NYC before being deported. I know it’s a cliché but “the luck of the Irish” phrase seems appropriate here.
Imagery via Unsplash