A former Cork county senior hurler and his cousin were placed in chains and forced to spend a night in a maximum security US prison in Boston after being refused permission to enter the country last month, the Sunday Tribune has learned.
Jonathon O'Callaghan (31) and his cousin Adrian O'Callaghan (23) were made to wear orange prison jumpsuits and were put in hand and ankle cuffs before being transferred in a sheriff's car to Suffolk County Jail.
This followed what they claim was a hugely "intimidatory" three- to four-hour interrogation by US immigration officials on 4 June last, during which they were repeatedly shouted at and "treated like terrorists". They shared a cell with a number of other prisoners before being transferred in a prison vehicle to Boston airport for deportation the following afternoon.
Jonathon O'Callaghan, a talented hurler who has represented Cork at senior level, said their problems began after they flew to Boston on 4 June with Air France from Shannon via Paris. He said they chose this route after finding the cheapest flights available.
They intended to visit their uncle, who is a US citizen and was celebrating his 50th birthday.
While he had previously been refused permission to enter the country to participate in a hurling final, O'Callaghan said he has since returned to the USA on numerous occasions without any problems. It was his cousin Adrian's first trip there.
"We had passed customs when border control pulled us aside and separated us out for interviews," he said.
"The guy interrogating me was really intimidating, and he kept almost bragging about the fact he wasn't going to let me in."
"I actually thought when Adrian told me we're going to prison that he was pulling my leg. I had my wallet with a photo of my daughter in it... To be honest I was terrified. I was wondering when is the next time I'm going to see my daughter?"
Adrian O'Callaghan said their interrogation was "extremely intimidating".
"They were standing up, banging on the table, shouting in my face, about four inches away," he said. "At the prison, they brought us in and searched us, gave us orange jumpsuits, and we had our mugshots taken. Then we were thrown into a jail cell. We were just in shock at that stage.
"We were escorted to the plane handcuffed the next day, and taken in a paddywagon straight onto our Air France flight. It was like something out of [the movie] Con Air.
Irish immigration officials were criticised recently after they refused to allow three young Texan backpackers into the country earlier this month.
The men have since returned here having been offered free flights, accommodation and spending money by a Dublin hotel group.
By comparison the O'Callaghans, who both work in construction, say they now fear they will be "blacklisted" from ever entering the USA again. They hope the record of their refusal can be expunged as a gesture of goodwill.
A spokesman for the US embassy in Dublin said its Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has "sole authority to determine at port of entry whether a visitor to the US is eligible for admission".
"In most cases, visitors who are found ineligible are returned to their own country. This sounds like what happened with Messrs O'Callaghan," he said.
"It is regrettable that Messrs O'Callaghan believe they were treated inappropriately by CBP upon their arrival in Boston. Millions of visitors come to the United States every year without problem."
The spokesman said the O'Callaghans can lodge a formal complaint with the CBP, which the men say they intend to do.