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Irish ex-pat carried sadness; in death, it follows him

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / October 12, 2011

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Ciaran Conneely arrived in Boston a dozen years ago, and his accent was as thick and as impenetrable as the rocky, russet land he left on the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland.

He introduced himself to an American in Dorchester, leaning in to say his name. The Yank looked up with utter incomprehension, shook his head and said, “We’ll just call you Kiwi.’’

The nickname stuck.

We are what we carry, and 36-year-old Kiwi Conneely carried a shy smile and a certain sadness. Not long after he arrived in this country, his brother, Michael, was swept off the pier on their native Inis Meáin by a huge wave that drowned Michael and killed a little bit of Kiwi.

He was a friendly guy, not a big talker, and so no one can imagine it was anybody but a stranger who shot Kiwi Conneely either late Sunday night or early Monday morning. The police are keeping an open mind, but it looks like somebody tried to rob him. There was cash, untouched, in his pockets, but the police say the robber might have fired and ran off after Kiwi resisted. Some who know Kiwi said he may have intervened in a robbery, marking him for retribution.

The killing of a quiet man on quiet Nahant Avenue, near Adams Corner, sent shock waves through more than one community. The neighborhood is considered safe. And in a town where Irish immigrants are not exactly rare, Conneely was the first Irish immigrant killed in the city in at least 16 years.

Like many ex-pats, Kiwi Conneely spent Sunday at the Irish Heritage Festival in Adams Corner. He enjoyed the music and the banter, and later he retired to the Old Dorchester American Legion Post on Gallivan Boulevard, in the bar that everybody in the neighborhood calls The Bunker.

Some of his friends said he left to walk home, up Adams Street, sometime after 10:30 p.m. It was around that time that a woman told police she was robbed, at gunpoint, of her pocketbook on Ashmont Street, which runs parallel to Nahant Avenue, off Adams.

Mark Folan, an off-duty firefighter and neighbor of Conneely, got out of a taxi around 1 a.m. and found Kiwi lying on his back, on the sidewalk, in front of the condo complex where he lived.

“I checked his pulse,’’ Folan said, “but there was none. He was cold.’’

The image haunts Folan.

“He was such a nice, quiet guy,’’ he said.

Like a lot of the undocumented Irish in Boston, Kiwi Conneely worked in construction, a specialist in underpinning foundations, some of the most labor intensive work there is. He worked hard, paid taxes, but was frustrated that there was no way to legalize his residency status. That limbo kept him from visiting his family, lest he risk not being allowed to reenter the United States. He hadn’t been back home for 10 years.

Last month, a gypsy taxi driver tried to rob Kiwi during a dispute over a fare, and when Kiwi resisted, the guy slashed him with a razor, nearly severing his ear. Kiwi went to the Carney and got stitched up, but he didn’t call the police. He feared he’d be deported.

Kiwi’s sister, Deirdre, lives here and spent the last two days calling family back home and making arrangements. Michael Lonergan, Ireland’s consul general in Boston, offered his help.

“It’s a very tragic case,’’ he said.

Rich Gormley, the funeral director in West Roxbury, is handling the arrangements.

They’ll wake him today at Gormley’s. Then Father Dan Finn and Father John McCarthy, two good priests who, like Kiwi, came here from Ireland, will preside over his funeral Mass at St. Mark’s in Dorchester tomorrow. After the funeral, Gormley will bring the body to Logan Airport, get on a plane, and bring Kiwi Conneely home to his parents on Inis Meáin.

“We’ll have another wake, on the island,’’ Rich Gormley said. “We’ll do it up right.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.