By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
Siobhan Browne adored her life as a stockbroker in Boca Raton. At 34 years old, she drove a new silver Mercedes, had a personal trainer, rented a 2000-square-foot apartment close to the beach, vacationed in Cancún and Aspen, and regularly visited her beloved beauty parlor. Such high living was a far cry from her youth as a farmer's daughter in the tiny Irish seaside town of Youghal, where she had grown up in a little house with 13 brothers and sisters.
During the spring of 1999, however, three revolutionaries, or "terrorists," as the United States government would later call them, moved into her fourth-floor apartment across the street from the posh Boca Raton Hotel and Resort. And Browne soon found that living with militant rebels could be a huge pain in the arse.
First came Anthony Smyth, a former volunteer for the Irish Republican Army. Browne was smitten with the 42-year-old Smyth, who'd left Ireland 21 years before they met. He worked as an independent used-car salesman but rarely made deals. Instead Smyth spent his days and nights carousing in bars and drinking copious quantities of beer, hard cider, and liquor. Browne and Smyth often argued, but Browne's love -- and fondness for partying -- helped her overlook Smyth's flaws.
Smyth brought in 26-year-old Conor Claxton, who had come from Belfast on a secret mission to buy guns for the Provisional IRA. Claxton ate Browne's food and had a habit of taking her Mercedes when she wasn't around, forcing her to drive his beat-up, $1500 Geo Prizm. Claxton also had a violent temper, which was a manifestation, she believes, of a Napoleon complex. When Smyth and Claxton got together, problems arose. They'd drink late into the night and loudly sing songs about the boys back home. Neighbors complained, and Browne's landlord threatened to evict them all. Claxton, despite all the talk of silence and honor among IRA soldiers, was as loud and obnoxious as could be.
He also constantly chased women. Belfast men, Claxton often said, need sex three times a day to relieve the tension caused by living under the thumb of the British. One of his many girlfriends was Idoia Elorriaga, a young and attractive Spaniard who also moved into Browne's apartment soon after arriving in South Florida. Elorriaga was a member of an IRA-aligned terrorist group called ETA, which is on a bloody campaign to create an independent Basque country. Elorriaga served as Claxton's "sex machine," says Browne, who nicknamed her "Annoya" and considered her just another fiery, idealistic freeloader. Elorriaga never paid for food or rent and always seemed to be on the Internet commiserating with her Basque brethren, forcing Browne to use her cell phone to call the beauty parlor.
Browne's memories of those times are laced with a bitterness that still spills out. She's not a violent person, she says, but if she were to bump into Smyth and Claxton on the street, she's not sure what she would do. She blames them for her miserable time behind bars and for ruining the Boca life she loved. Browne was sucked into Claxton's gunrunning mission and in July 1999 was indicted along with Smyth, Claxton, and another IRA volunteer, Martin Mullan, on charges of illegal exportation of weapons, terrorism, and conspiracy to maim and murder. The case of the "Florida Four," as their supporters called them, sent shock waves through Northern Ireland's fragile peace talks and threatened the 1997 Good Friday pact, which serves as the power-sharing plan between Protestants and Catholics.
While her codefendants were die-hard Provos, as IRA devotees are known, Browne was an unlikely accused terrorist, a seemingly apolitical and ambitious woman who'd suddenly leaped into the underground world of gunrunning and revolution. FBI agents suggested she was a "sleeper" and had likely been a secret IRA mole all along. Not true, says Browne, who is now out of prison and agreed to talk with New Times for her first-ever published interview. She insists she never cared a whit about the movement. "I'm devoted to my own cause -- getting my nails and hair done," she says in a light Irish accent. "I don't give a shit about the IRA and never have."
Browne asserts it was her alcohol-fueled romance with Smyth that led her to buy guns for the IRA, and her account brings to light a subterranean world of Provo operatives in South Florida led by Claxton. The mission, as she describes it, was a bumbling affair -- full of money lust, death threats, manicures, buffoonery, and betrayal. And while this low drama unfolded on South Florida's Gold Coast, President Clinton's administration was trying to unite Northern Ireland on the Emerald Isle. The White House disregarded clear evidence that the IRA was responsible for Claxton's mission, Browne believes, in an attempt to save a peace process that her regrettable adventures prove was a fraud all along.
Riots recently broke out in Belfast, and hopes of peace teeter on the edge of collapse, at least in small part due to the ragtag troop that lived in Browne's apartment. When asked her prediction for Northern Ireland, Browne says only one word: "War."