A Closer Look At John Kehoe

Who was John Kehoe? How did one man generate such intense feeling, both for him and against him?

Martin Ritt’s 1970 film The Molly Maguires sharpened the question for Anne Flaherty’s family, especially when Ritt brought in Sean Connery to play Kehoe. The family also knew something of James McParlan, the undercover Pinkerton detective played by Richard Harris. And they knew of Franklin Gowen, the railroad president and attorney who orchestrated the trials that sent twenty-one Irish Catholic men from five counties to the gallows.

Ritt’s film, based on Walter Bernstein’s screenplay, did not accord with family recollections. Bernstein based his screenplay on the Arthur Lewis book Lament for the Molly Maguires, a work heavily influenced by the Pinkerton chronicling of events. The family’s recollections flowed directly from Kehoe’s eldest daughter Margaret. The film’s release prompted Marion Foy, Margaret’s daughter, Kehoe’s granddaughter, and Flaherty’s great-aunt, to place a call Lewis.

Around the time of the film’s release, a letter written by Kehoe from Pottsville Jail in early spring 1878 made the family rounds.