Ireland House Oral History Collection

Peter T. King

Congressman Peter T. King, 28 November 2005. Photo by Marion R. Casey.

Created/Published:

28 November 2005

2 Hours, 9 Minutes

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

Peter Thomas King, a Republican Congressman from Long Island, New York since 1992 and one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process, was born in Manhattan, New York in 1944. His paternal grandparents, whose native language was Irish, both hailed from the small island of Inishbofin, off the coast of Co. Galway. After emigrating to New York City sometime in the 1920s, they married and settled in St. Teresa of Avila parish in Brooklyn’s 9th Ward. King’s maternal grandmother came from a Limerick City family with strong Irish republican sympathies: Margaret (Maggie) McNamara emigrated to New York City and worked as a domestic until she married a Welsh man named Ellis and settled in St. Agnes’ parish on the east side of midtown Manhattan.

The son of New York City police officer Peter E. King, a World War II Army veteran, Peter T. King grew up in Sunnyside, Queens. He had a Catholic education, beginning in local parochial schools (St. Teresa’s in Woodside and, from the age of eleven, St. Pascal Baylonin St. Alban’s), then Brooklyn Preparatory High School. He worked his way through St. Francis College on Remsen Street in Brooklyn, from which he graduated in 1965, with a job at the Railway Express Agency in Manhattan. King obtained a law degree in 1968 from the University of Notre Dame, working summers in Richard Nixon’s law firm alongside Rudolph Giuliani.

The King family, originally Democrats, voted Republican in national elections after the Korean War and supported American involvement in Vietnam. Following in his father’s footsteps, King served as a specialist with the New York National Guard (69th Infantry) from 1968–1973. For four years he worked for the Nassau County government on Long Island, first as a Deputy Nassau County Attorney and then as an Executive Assistant. In 1977 King was General Counsel for Nassau Off-Track Betting, the same year he was elected to his first public office on the Hempstead Town Council. Three years later, he was elected Nassau County Comptroller and made his first trip to Ireland.

During the 1980s, Peter King actively sought to use his position as an elected official in a strongly Irish-American constituency to influence the tense political situation in Northern Ireland. His work in this area, including often controversial support for Sinn Fein and the Irish Northern Aid Committee,(1) was recognized in 1985 when King was selected as the Grand Marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade.(2) King’s perspective on the Troubles is encapsulated in his first novel Terrible Beauty (Roberts Rinehart, 1999), written from the point-of-view of a family with ties to the Irish Republican Army.

After a dozen years as Nassau County Comptroller, Peter King was elected from New York’s Third Congressional District to the United States House of Representatives in 1992. There his interest in Ireland continued and he served as a member of the Congressional Ad Hoc Committee for Irish Affairs. In 1994 King crossed party lines to support President Bill Clinton’s historic decision to grant Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams, whom King had known since 1981, a visa to travel to the United States. Thereafter King served as an important liaison between the Irish republicans and the British government. Although he was Gerry Adams’ American host on several occasions and strongly supported Adams in the American press, King publicly advocated disarmament and denounced the IRA when it broke a 1994 ceasefire. King accompanied Clinton on his 1995 and 1998 trips to Northern Ireland during the peace process that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement (10 April 1998), fictionalizing his experiences in two semi-autobiographical novels, Deliver Us From Evil (Roberts Rinehart, 2002) and Vale of Tears (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004).

King met his wife, Rosemary Wiedl, in 1965 while at the University of Notre Dame Law School. They raised two children, Sean and Erin, in Seaford, New York. At the time of this interview, King was a leading Republican Congressman, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, “a strong supporter of the war against international terrorism, both at home and abroad,” and “co-author of the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R 4437)” which, according to King’s official website, “is the most comprehensive legislation against illegal immigration to pass the House in two decades.”(3)

Click on image to enlarge.

  1. Gerry Adams, Peter King, and Danny Morrison in Belfast, Northern Ireland, January 1984. King was Comptroller of Nassau County (Long Island, New York) at the time. Photo by Pacemaker Press, Belfast; courtesy of Congressman Peter T. King.
  2. December 2005 constituent newsletter from the office of Congressman Peter T. King. Courtesy of Marion R. Casey.

Interviewers:

Photo Credit:

  1. Congressman Peter T. King, 28 November 2005. Photo by Marion R. Casey.
  2. Gerry Adams, Peter King, and Danny Morrison in Belfast, Northern Ireland, January 1984. King was Comptroller of Nassau County (Long Island, New York) at the time. Photo by Pacemaker Press, Belfast; courtesy of Congressman Peter T. King.
  3. December 2005 constituent newsletter from the office of Congressman Peter T. King. Courtesy of Marion R. Casey.

Notes:

  1. Sinn Fein is the political party for the Irish republican movement in Ireland and the Irish Northern Aid Committee is an American support group for Irish republican families.
  2. King’s selection also ended Dorothy Hayden Cudahy’s bid that same year to be the first woman Grand Marshal of the historic New York City parade.
  3. See Biography at United States Congressman Pete King (http://peteking.house.gov/), accessed 16 April 2007.
  4. The Easter Rising in Ireland occurred 24-30 April 1916.
  5. Man of Aran (dir. Robert Flaherty, 1934).
  6. Eamon de Valera (1882-1975), a major figure in modern Irish politics, who served as both prime minister and president of Ireland.
  7. Michael Collins (1890-1922), a colleague and political rival of de Valera, assassinated during the Irish Civil War.
  8. Girls Commercial High School, now Prospect Heights High School, located on Classon Avenue and Union Street in Brooklyn, New York.
  9. Julia Richmond High School located on 2nd Avenue and 67th Street in Manhattan, New York.
  10. Cathedral High School, an all girl Catholic college preparatory high school, located on East 56th Street in Manhattan, New York.
  11. Peter T. King was Chairman of the United States House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security (http://homeland.house.gov/) for the 109th Congress.
  12. The Railway Express Agency was “Yesterday’s Federal Express.” Trains Magazine, 5 June 2006.
  13. Garret FitzGerald (b. 1926) was Taoiseach of Ireland 1982-1987.
  14. John Cardinal O’Connor (1920-2000) was the eighth Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York.
  15. Terence Cardinal Cooke (1920-1983) was Cardinal O’Connor’s predecessor.
  16. Michael Flannery (1902-1994) had helped to found the Irish Northern Aid Committee in 1970. His election as Grand Marshal was controversial because Flannery was an open supporter of the Irish Republican Army. Cooke did in fact meet with Flannery but not on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral as is traditional when the St. Patrick’s Day Parade passes it. See Martin Gottlieb, “Politics and Tradition Mix as Irish March,” New York Times, 18 March 1983, p. B2
  17. Gerry Adams (b. 1948) and Martin McGuinness (b. 1950) are both Irish republican politicians. Adams is President of Sinn Fein and McGuinness is the Sinn Fein MP for Mid-Ulster.
  18. O’Lunney’s is an Irish pub restaurant on West 45th Street in Manhattan. In 1985 it was on West 46th Street.