Ireland House Oral History Collection

Captain Brian A. McAllister

Brian A. McAllister, circa 2005. Courtesy of McAllister Towing Incorporated.


7 November 2005

1 hour, 40 minutes

Preferred Citation:

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

Biographical Note:

Brian A. McAllister was born in 1932 in Brooklyn, New York, the eighth child of Anthony J. (1899-1984) and Marjorie McAllister. He is the great-grandson of James P. McAllister who emigrated from Cushendall, Co. Antrim and in 1864 founded a lighterage (1) company in New York harbor. This family-owned business, now called McAllister Towing Incorporated, is one of the last surviving tugboat operations in New York City waters today. It has seventy tugboats at nine ports on the east coast, as well as twelve barges; in addition, it owns and operates three ferry vessels running from Port Jefferson, New York to Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Raised in his grandfather’s house at 1510 Albemarle Road in the Prospect Park South section of Brooklyn, Brian McAllister was educated at Holy Innocents grammar school and Brooklyn Preparatory High School. In 1956 he graduated with a B.Sc. from the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in the Throg’s Neck section of the Bronx, with several licenses including Third Assistant Engineer. After two years with the United States Navy and several on merchant marine vessels, McAllister traded his below-deck engineering experiences to captain McAllister tugboats, lighters and ferries for his father. In the early 1970s he moved into office operations in the company headquarters at 17 Battery Place and in 1974 succeeded his father as president of McAllister Towing.

Towing in New York City’s harbor declined steadily during the twentieth century – from a high of eight hundred tugboats in 1929 – as changes in railroad transport, trucking and containerization affected the number of ships entering and leaving the port. Tugboats “tug” much larger and heavier vessels for a variety of reasons, by attaching one or more towlines, depending on the latest technology. The Depression hit the industry very hard and many towing companies were put out of business during the 1930s. Oil barges became a lifeline until the prices of oil skyrocketed in the 1970s and 1980s, forcing McAllister Towing to diversify and to expand operations to other east coast ports and even Saudi Arabia in order to survive. McAllister Towing and its nearest competitor, Moran Towing Corporation, are the two principal companies remaining in the industry; they have reached a give-and-take balance that benefits both and enables them to continue to make New York harbor their base of operations.

Being Catholic rather than being Irish was more central to the identity of the family when Brian McAllister was growing up in Brooklyn. Nevertheless, McAllister’s grandfather, James P. McAllister (1869-1935, known as “Captain Jim” and “Dean of the Harbor”) appears to have been connected to important Irish nationalists in New York City (2). In June 1919 he sent his son, Anthony, to the Hoboken, New Jersey piers to bring Eamon de Valera into New York City on a McAllister tugboat. De Valera, President of the nascent Irish Republic, had just escaped from Lincoln prison in England and traveled aboard a German ocean liner to the United States, where he would spend the next eighteen months fundraising for an independent Ireland.

In January 1967 Brian McAllister married Rosemary Owens, who taught mathematics at the United Nations International School in New York. At the time of this interview, their sons, Brian Buckley McAllister and Eric Michael McAllister (General Counsel and Treasurer respectively), were Vice Presidents for McAllister Towing.

Click on image to enlarge.

  1. The “Stacy McAllister” in New York Harbor, circa 2005. Courtesy of McAllister Towing.
  2. Captain Brian McAllister on the “Justine McAllister,” circa 2005. Courtesy of McAllister Towing.


Photo Credit:

  1. Brian A. McAllister, circa 2005. Courtesy of McAllister Towing Incorporated.
  2. The Stacy McAllister in New York Harbor, circa 2005. Courtesy of McAllister Towing.
  3. Captain Brian McAllister on the Justine McAllister, circa 2005. Courtesy of McAllister Towing.


  1. A lighter carries cargo from ship to shore.
  2. James P. McAllister’s obituary says he was born in Ireland and brought to New York when less than one year old. At the time of his death, he was an honorary chieftain of the Knights of St. Patrick. See “James M’Allister, Shipping Man, Dies,” New York Times, 15 November 1935, p. 23.
  3. 17 Battery Place, Suite 1200, New York, New York.
  4. A Columbia Coastal Transport, LLC vessel.
  5. Reinauer, specializing in petroleum transportation.
  6. Weeks Marine, Inc., a New Jersey-based tugboat company.
  7. Bouchard Transport Co., Inc., an oil barging company.
  8. Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company.
  9. Moran Towing Corporation, a New York-based tugboat company.
  10. Howland Hook Marine Terminal, near the Goethals Bridge in Staten Island, New York.
  11. The Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in the City of New York holds its annual banquet on March 17th.
  12. Holy Innocents Roman Catholic Church, 279 East Seventeenth Street, Brooklyn, New York.
  13. Brooklyn Preparatory High School in Crown Heights.
  14. Shorthand for ensign, a commissioned officer in the Navy ranking next below a Lieutenant junior grade.
  15. Eamon de Valera (1882–1975), a major figure in modern Irish politics, who served as both prime minister and president of Ireland.
  16. McAllister’s son, Brian Buckley McAllister, VP and General Counsel for the company, was in the room at the time this story was told.
  17. June 1919.
  18. Michael Collins (1890–1922), a colleague and political rival of de Valera, assassinated during the Irish Civil War.
  19. North German Lloyd and the Hamburg-American Line both docked their ocean liners on the west side of the Hudson River at Hoboken in New Jersey.
  20. Probably no later than 1954.
  21. De Valera was Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland) between 1951 and 1954.
  22. Michael Collins (Dir. Neil Jordan, Warner Bros., 1996).