John A. Costelloe (1961-2008)

John A. Costelloe aged 47 died at his home in Brooklyn, New York on December 18, 2008. 

He was an active member of Cumann Na Saoirse Náisiúnta (National Irish freedom Committee)  and the Ó Donavon Rossa Society. 

John was a retired New York City firefighter and a member of the ‘Screen Actors Guild’.  He had a number of credits to his name and became well known for his appearances on the hit show The Sopranos, especially the crucial four-episode arc in 2006, playing a short-order cook and Soprano's Hunk, Jim "Johnny Cakes" Witowski.  John’s credits also included an episode of Law & Order, as well as roles in such films as Kiss of Death with Nicolas Cage; Woody Alan's Manhattan Murder Mystery; Die Hard 2 and, most recently, the current Oscar-bait release ‘Doubt’ starring Meryl Streep.  At the time of his death he was performing as a hustler in a New York theater production of “Gang of Seven”. 

John rarely missed a Cumann Na Saoirse Naisiunta event in the tri-State area where he read the speeches of famous Irish Republican Orators.  His favorite and most revered oration which he last delivered in October of this year at the 2008 Flannery Commemoration was Pádraic Mac Piarais’s Oration’ given at the grave of Ó Donavon Rossa on August 1, 1915 in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.  

He was known to those who attended commemorative events as an amiable engaging and social individual.  He attended all recent ‘Michael Flannery Testimonial Award Dinners’ and could be found at the first available table inside the door engrossed in conversation and known to all as a most welcome member of the committee.  His warm and humble response to the many fans of his Sopranos Fame was remarkable.    

John was well versed in the culture of Ireland, had a great affinity for the people and was proud to be of Irish stock.  He expressed an interest in Gaeilge (Irish) and the prospect of learning the language did not seem to faze him.  At an early age he was drawn to Irish Republicanism and the ongoing struggle for Irish freedom.  He was familiar with its heroic figures and believed  that the "ordinary people behind the scenes" who endured great hardships for their beliefs should not be forgotten.  John was one of the first to visit the six occupied counties with the NORAID Tours.  

John was very knowledgeable of all aspects of the Cause including the ‘departures’ as he called the splits and did not hesitate to join Cumann Na Saoirse Náisiúnta because he believed that its guiding principles were on the right track.  All those who knew him found him to be a most compassionate person and it was no wonder that he consistently supported the families of Irish Political Prisoners through the IRPAS Sustainer program.  His most recent contribution was for 32nd Annual Cabhair Christmas Swim held on Christmas Day 2008, in Dublin. 

The outpouring of sympathy and grief at his wakes and funeral held in his local parish in Brooklyn was very moving.  It seemed that all of New York City firefighters were in attendance.  The Uniformed Firefighters of NYC maintained a Guard of Honor throughout the mourning period. 

A Requiem Mass was held for John at St. Michael’s Church, in Brooklyn.  His very close friend Joe Di Piatro delivered a most moving and passionate eulogy.  

Joe Di Piatro will be a live guest on the Radio Free Erin Program on WBAI 99.5 fm 1:30 PM Saturday Dec. 27, 2008.  During the program he will redeliver parts of his exceptional eulogy for John Costelloe.  John McDonagh who will host the program was also a very close friend of John Costelloe.  The full text should be available and will be posted on this website shortly. 

John A. Costelloe was laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery in his native Brooklyn, the scene of many future commemorations for Fenians and Irish activists where John would have read another great speech.  John always said that it was very important to do this commemoration for Fenians and others because their memories and their cause would never die. 

Cumann Na Saoirse Náisiúnta wishes to extend our deepest condolences to John Costello’s family and friends.  

 A commemoration will be held for the late Seán Ó Coisdealbha (John Costelloe) at Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY on Sunday Dec. 20, 2009.  

 Ar dheis láimh Dé go raibh anam uasal

 May he rest at the right hand of God

Eulogy for John Costelloe

Delivered by :

Joe Di Pietro  - 12/12/08

St. Michaels Church, Brooklyn, N.Y.


I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been saying today ever since I’ve heard the news of John’s tragic passing. Somehow deep inside I knew it was going to be me who would be doing this.  I’ve decided to truly honor my best friend, partner, and occasional bane of my existence, was to give it just as he would have wanted it.  So, in his spirit and memory a few ground rules before we begin.   

I plan on rambling this morning as long as I damn well please and I can only promise you that I will be finished as soon as I am done speaking, and not one moment longer.   

There will be occasions when some of you may not understand what I am saying.  Unfortunately, that’s a problem you’ll have to deal with on your own. Take notes and ask questions later on.   

Finally, if for effect, I feel the need I’ll reserve the right to chain smoke camels; or for no apparent reason storm out of here in disgust.  But I’ll try not to stay too true to form.  

Today we celebrate a life as well as mourn a passing and sadly, with that passing, every human being on the planet at long last possess an e mail address and the last known functioning rabbit ear TV antennae is now the stuff of legend. 

There is also the passing of my best friend, my confidante, almost ironically: my rock; and I’m furious with him right now because I feel cheated. I want to kill him, but he’s even managed to screw that up for me. 

In these past days of mourning I have sensed the tremendous out pouring of emotion that seemed to affect every person at the wake. I spoke with many of you and I somehow came away feeling that aside from the obvious sadness and shock that comes with the tragedy of a sudden death, it was betrayal and anger and a sense of abandonment that most expressed.  John Costelloe had no acquaintances – only friendships. That’s because he profoundly touched everyone he met. And now he’s gone and every one of us will have to manage something, whatever that something may be, without him in their life. John lived one speed: full throttle on fumes - living, loving, and working.  And yet anyone who truly knew him also knew that despite his unbridled compassion, he was careful to only allow you to get so close, but no closer. I think now, it was because he could never really surrender that part of himself that would render him that emotionally vulnerable. He was far too sensitive and intensely compassionate to put himself in that position.   

Many of us are aware of the relationship I personally had with John. Above all else, John gave me the most important gift anyone can give. I owe him my life, as I know it.   While he never dragged me out of a burning apartment, my 15-year friendship with him enabled me to discover the person I truly am.  To wake me up after 40 plus years of creative hibernation and show me that I am a writer, an artist and a lover of life.  He had more of a profound effect on my life then anyone including my parents.  He is and always will be my role model.  And the lessons he taught me from a life lived by uncompromising principle and compassion each and every waking moment of his life. I will never betray those lessons.  If ever a man walked the walk….. 

I’ll miss the late night phone calls. The ones I’d make when there was no one else I’d imagine could help me.  The times I needed to know I wasn’t out of my mind.  I’ll always remember that he was there for me at some of my lowest moments, and got me through.

Many of you have told me that I was always there for him, that I stuck by him through thick and thin and I appreciate it but I tell you this now - it was always John who took better care of me then I did of him.  But then again, wasn’t that just like him?   

What I’ll miss most are the countless hours writing.  They were some of the most precious, fulfilling, painful, exasperating, and euphoric hours of my life. I’ll say this about our writing process, if I brought the heart of a scene to the table, John would never fail to sprinkle his stardust on it and give it soul. 

Last night I mustered up the strength to page through a screenplay we co-wrote.  It was very difficult because I could hear him talking to me again, yet despite my sadness it gave me great solace to know that when I need his voice it will always be there to get me through.  I’d like to share that voice with you.  It’s a scene that was written by him and I think it says a lot about whom he was and his take on the senselessness of death. 

( Weissgarten pp 94.95.) 

I remember once some time back John and I were having a discussion about the acting profession.  It was while driving relief supplies down to the hurricane ravaged Gulf region back in ‘05. I commented that it must be a great charge for an actor to get an opportunity through film to experience the adventures of characters both fictional and real and have the opportunity to be a Musketeer or a super hero. He said something to me I’ll never forget.  And I’ll leave this with you.  John said, “it’s one thing to be in a movie but it’s an entirely different thing to LIVE A MOVIE”. That, he said was true exhilaration.  And now I realize that’s exactly what John did every day of his life, whether in is his work ethic, his art, or his beloved political causes, with unbridled passion. 

 So where do we go from here? How do we make sense of such a tragic loss? For one, I believe we can heal somewhat by making it count. First off, we have to stay connected. We can take more time to care about each other and above all we should never forget a man who lived his principles unconditionally.  

We would always kid each other. John would say I was his Kerouac. And he my Cassady.  And I’d like to close with a passage that sheds a lot of light on who John was:

The following are excerpts from a poem written by Katrina Plotz and is inspired by the following lines from Jack Kerouac:


The Mad Ones
by Katrina Plotz (written 11/12/05)

“The only people for me are the mad ones,  

The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved,     

The ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, 

but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles  

exploding like spiders across the stars.”

The only people for me are the mad ones
the ones who are mad to speak, mad to give, mad to be alive
the ones who never turn their heads or shrug their shoulders
but burn, burn, burn an unquenchable fire
love leaping like flames across the dark
the ones who give until nothing left
then find more love, more truth
a deeper desire that unfolds the soul from the inside out
and says we shall be free
no longer slaves to institutions, inquisitions, insecurities
but relax release the pain, anger, desire

The only people for me are the rebels, the saints of resistance
the heroes and martyrs for justice and love
how sacred and blessed it is
to reclaim the self and the soul of humanity
from the masters of misery and deception

Oh Lord, let me be among the ones
who bring healing to the broken places
love to the hateful places
justice to the places of oppression and despair
let me be one with the mad ones, the unafraid
the willing ones who sacrifice and live on courage

Teach me to listen, breathe in the wind and the water and the light
be one with the creatures of nature, the day the night
the mad ones, the ones who are mad to be one
with the Spirit that sustains, guides, moves through and among us
the singers, the dancers, the lovers, the poets, the artists
the Believers in Love
the mad ones, the sad ones
the ones who ache and cry out
the ones mad to shout
to give voice to the voiceless and sight to the blind
amplify for the deaf
those indifferent and numb to a world
teeming with hope and triumph,
death, destruction, laughter, tears, and questions

The only people for me are the mad ones
the lovers and livers of life to the extreme
the mad ones, extremists for love
high on passion, high on the holy energy of love and spirit
the gifts of the Creator and the created,
the mad ones, the holy ones,
the one I long to be and the ones touched by me


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