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Carpenters union hit hard
  Irish Voice   2001-09-26 00:00:00+01

ON the morning of September 11, 21-year-old Brian Monaghan and Martin Coughlan, 53, were on top the world - literally.

Monaghan, who had lived in the old Manhattan Irish stronghold of Inwood, and Coughlan, a Tipperary native, were two of 150 carpenters working on the highest floors of both Twin Towers.

Then, of course, the world collapsed around them. While the numbers of missing and dead for the city's rescue workers are staggering, heavily-Irish unions such as Carpenter's Local 608, also lost many brothers in the lower Manhattan carnage.

Like Monaghan, many had spent their lives in New York's Irish enclaves. Others such as Coughlan had come to America to raise children - Coughlan had four - and make a better life. Terror was never in the plans.

But as of last Tuesday, some 16 union carpenters alone are missing or dead as a result of the terrorist attack.

A memorial mass will be held on October 3 at St. Patrick's Cathedral, for all buildings and trades workers who were lost.

"This has been a tragic loss to our union and their families," John Greaney, president and business manager of Local 608, told the Irish Voice on Tuesday.

Earlier that day Greaney made the dismal trek to a packed Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church, at Broadway and Isham Street, Inwood, for Monaghan's funeral Mass.

Bagpipes from the Transit Authority band blared. The Monaghan family was forced to search for silver linings on this cloudy day.

"What they have that others don't have is closure. They're thankful that at least they have someone to bury," added Greaney.

Coughlan's burial mass was also held earlier this week, in Bayside, Queens. Another Irish American carpenter, 36-year-old Patrick Woods, was buried on Staten Island last Friday.

The remaining Local 608 carpenters are still characterized as missing, so union officials are not discussing them until families can be officially notified.

There are other missing carpenters from New York Locals 157 and 2287. The extensive loss of life has resulted in a drive asking the roughly 600,000 union carpenters nationwide to donate at least one hour's pay to a new charity fund set up to help victims' families.

Given the many ongoing jobs at the World Trade Center on September 11, union officials say that the number of dead carpenters could actually have been higher.

"We had 150 men working in the complex at the time (of the attack). In a way we consider ourselves lucky," said Greaney.

Of course, the number could rise if contractors come forward and reveal that there were large numbers of undocumented Irish working at the Trade Center.

This would make for a sad addition to the many deceased Irish cops and firefighters. Like the FDNY and NYPD, the carpenters have always been a heavily Irish bunch.

"Local 608 was predominately Irish at one time, it was the place to come if you were an Irish immigrant," said Greaney. "It still is Irish, but we are very diverse as well."

In the first days following the tragedy, hundred of carpenters assisted in the search for victims. Now, they hold out the slimmest hope that maybe just one or two survivors can be pulled from the rubble.

"Even today (Tuesday, September 25) there was a sense that there could be a minor miracle down there," said Greaney.

Of his days digging through the rubble, a shaken Greaney added, "It's something I wish I never had to do. We're construction workers. We're not trained to see what we saw down there."

To contribute to the Carpenter's Relief and Charity Memorial Fund, mail checks to 505 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018, or call 212-643-1070.

Irish Voice

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