John Furlong biography omits secret past in Burns Lake
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Along with the customs-agent story, Furlong often repeats the story of his cousin Siobhan Roice’s tragic death in Dublin in a terror bombing in May 1974 that killed 26 people. Siobhan, only 19, was walking to the Dublin train station on her way home to Wexford, 130 kilometres away, on a Friday after work.
In Patriot Hearts, Furlong writes about the anguish the Roices experienced when Siobhan did not arrive at the Wexford station. He says “that task [of identifying Siobhan’s body] was too much” for her parents, so his father, Jack, went to the temporary morgue. “Body parts were stuffed in bags. It was a ring on a finger that helped identify Siobhan.”
Furlong continues: “My cousin’s funeral was difficult to sit through.…My aunt and uncle were broken and almost unrecognizable in their grief. So was my father….He was never able to shake the feelings he was left with after having to see his niece’s body torn asunder….Less than a month later, on June 4, my father was felled by a heart attack.” Jack Furlong died the next day.
Furlong’s cousin Jim Roice tells the tragedy quite differently. When Siobhan did not arrive home, they were in despair. The next morning, her father, Ned, his son-in-law, and brother-in-law boarded the train to Dublin. “My father, distraught as he was—no one could have stopped him from getting on that train,” 60-year-old Jim Roice told the Georgia Straight by phone from Ireland. Roice learned the details of the bombing from his family when he returned home the week after it happened; he had been at sea, in the merchant marine. “Uncle Jack was a lovely man, but he did not identify my sister’s body.”
A 2003 feature in the Irish Independent quoted Ned Roice, Siobhan’s father: “When it came to my turn, I didn’t know what to expect. I said I wanted someone else to come in with me in case I made a mistake and identified the wrong person.” The newspaper continued: “He need not have worried about that. He spotted his daughter immediately, her body mercifully intact. ‘The minute I went in, I recognised her right away. It was as if she had called me,’ he says. ‘She was lying there perfect. It’s 29 years ago, but it’s the same as if it only happened yesterday.’ ”
“It was my father’s mother’s wedding ring on Siobhan’s finger, but she was perfect; there wasn’t a mark on her,” Jim Roice told the Straight. Records from an inquiry into the investigation of the bombing list Siobhan Roice as a victim. In the paperwork relating to it, Ned Roice is listed; Jack Furlong is not.
Furlong uses the story as the jumping-off point for why he came to Canada in 1974—ostensibly for the first time—saying, in his book and in interviews, that the death of his cousin and father had left him “feeling a little empty, and open to new adventures….I decided to take the [athletic director] position, thinking I would return to Ireland in a few years.”
Except it seems that, for whatever reason, he already had done that.
Furlong was actually going back to Prince George College (described in Patriot Hearts only as “a high school in Prince George”) and taking the position he’d already held. He disappeared from the school’s yearbooks after 1976, but he appeared in the Prince George phone book that year and again in ’77. In his book, he says that he became the director of Prince George’s parks and recreation department after “a couple of years”. The City of Prince George will not confirm his employment, directing the Straight to submit a freedom-of-information request.
By 1978, he’s gone from the phone book and “M. Furlong” appears. Some of his former students and friends of his children say he left his wife, Margaret, and their children. Furlong writes in Patriot Hearts that “shortly after” Prince George hosted the Northern B.C. Winter Games in 1978, he was asked to take on the job of regional director of Nanaimo parks and recreation and moved to Vancouver Island.
Inside his book’s inside dust jacket, Furlong is described as “a born storyteller”. And in his addresses as a motivational speaker, he likes to give “lessons” for life. He lists the following values as essential: respect, accountability and inclusion, trust, integrity, honesty, fairness, and compassion.
Some of his former students wish he would come back to Burns Lake. They want to discuss what these lessons really mean to him.