Hope and Gerry Cooney

“Cranford is only four square miles,” Joe’s son said in the kitchen.

I sipped the coffee.

“Everyone kind of knows everyone,” Joe said in his matter-of-fact tone.

Joe and I stepped outside his home and we both smelled the April air, felt the warm wind with only a slight bite left to it.

“It was a long winter,” Joe said. “Never seen it so cold for so long.”

After driving from Florida, I needed to have the car checked since it was running hot the last 400 miles. He drove me across town to hang out at a coffee shop until my car was looked at and offered me two spots “the big coffee chain or the local spot. The big one is new to town. Big news around here.”

“I’ll take the local spot.”Image

“Good choice,” Joe said, then sped off to work after dropping me off.

I could see the cheerful look on the Cranford faces. Freed of hats and scarves and long-collared coats, the men rolled up their sleeves and women wore their favorite shoes again.

One of the five chairs that were set up in a semi-circle were open, so I sat, plugged in the computer and sipped from the wide cup among three 40ish men who were talking animatedly with each other and a lone woman in her early thirties.

After ten minutes of overhearing the men talk about home renovations, local taxes and the current state of the Garden State Parkway, an old man waddled in.

“Hi Hal,” one of the men said.

Hal’s face lit up, “Oh, uh…”

“Michael,” Michael reminded Hal of his name. “Sit here, we were just leaving.”

“Oh uh,” Hal was confused, wanted to say two things at once, yet nothing could be heard accept “uh, oh I’m uh…”

“Don’t worry, Hal,” Michael said. “It’s all you, we were just leaving, right guys?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

And out they went before Hal got a chance to say hello or goodbye.

Sitting next to me, I could smell that Hal carried the musty aroma of a man who didn’t often change his clothes. The perspiration in his shirt and sweatpants from many months of continual use. The scent of the homeless.

“I can’t remember your name,” he said to the woman in the corner chair.

“Janette,” she responded.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said dejectedly. “I can’t seem to remember names anymore. I think it’s the depression, really. It’s just turning me inside out.”

I smiled inside and felt sorry for him at the same time, then peeked at the woman who was cordially grinning, but didn’t respond.

“Janet was it?” Hal asked a few minutes later.

“Janette,” she said simply.

“Oh yeah.”

Through the corner of my eye I could see Hal felt let down that he couldn’t coax Janette into talking with him. He then looked at me deliberately, turned himself in the chair.

“Do I know you?”

“No sir,” I said with a little grin, half cordial, half amused.

“Oh,” he said, looking down.

I went back to my computer.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Well, I was born in Long Island, New York but I…”

“I’ve known many people from there,” he interrupted, then stopped himself to ask another question. “Why are you here?”

“Well, I did a reading at the local library last night where…”

“A reading?”

“Yes.”

“Are you a writer?”

“Yes.”

“What do you write?”

“I wrote a book about the Irish in…”

“When I think about the Irish, I think about the potato famine that happened,” he said.

“Yeah, that was a big event,” I agreed, keeping my sentences shorter than I wanted.

“I was an orphan in Jersey City, you know.”

I could hear a slight sigh from Janette, “Oh really?” I asked.

“I was a kicker for USC in college too.”

“Really?”

“Yes, but I only kicked three field goals in two years as a player.”

Two men walked in and one touched Hal on the arm as he was passing by and said hello.

In a delayed reaction, Hal looked to the side but the man was behind him already.

“Who was that?” Hal asked me.

Amused, I shrugged. Janette sat quietly without contribution.

Sitting up in his seat, he attempted to turn his neck but couldn’t quite get it all the way around and eventually quit, awaiting the man’s return.

“I forgot your name again, is it Janice?”

“Janette,” she responded without looking up from her computer.

“Yes, yes.”

“I remember when you were a child, now you’re taller than most men.”

Janette smiled.

Watching a girl walk passed him, he commented, “You know, I don’t like these tights that girls wear today, they’re not becoming.”

“Well, they are called leggings and I’m wearing them now,” Janette said.

“Oh! That’s different.”

She laughed.

“I mean… you look good in them.”

She rolled her eyes and smiled sarcastically, “thanks.”

The two men came back around with to-go cups of coffee when Hal noticed one of them, “John!”

John stopped in the doorway, slowly turned around.

“Was that you that said hello to me?”

“Yeah Hal,” the man said. “My name is James though.”

“Oh, this guy is a writer,” Hal told him, pointing at me.

Unimpressed, the man nodded at me. I nodded back somewhat embarrassed.

“Uh…” Hal thought, turning to me. “What is the name of your book?”

“It’s called…”

“What is your name?” Hal fired another question as James waited in the doorway. “Did I already ask you that?”

“Well I gotta go Hal, good seein’ ya.”

“Oh no,” Hal said. “Well uh… have a good…”

James had walked out the door already.

Hal looked down, then suddenly remembered he had a coffee and turned to grab it with both hands and sipped on it to make sure it wasn’t too hot. Then gulped half of it down. Looking over at me, “Did I ask you your name already?”

“Eamon.”

“Eamon?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t remember names, so I’m sorry… Eamon?”

“Yes.”

“I have this depression and it gets me all… Eamon?”

I smiled and nodded.

“The only thing I ever think about, with this depression is… death,” he announced with both hands in the air.

I didn’t say anything, but wanted to.

“I used to be able to run. I was a great athlete, I played football for USC, you know. It happened when I turned 80. I couldn’t run anymore.”

“Did you hurt your knee or have a surgery or something?” I asked.

“What? No, I just couldn’t run anymore. It hurt too much. Before that, I ran everyday until I just couldn’t.”

I thought about the terror of having the ability to do something for eighty years, then quickly losing it from one day to the next.

“Aaron?”

“Eamon.”

“I’m sorry, did you say something about… What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh yeah, yeah… What do you write? Books?”

“Yes,” I handed him a copy of my current book.

“Wow,” Hal said holding it in his hand. “This is amazing.”

I smiled at the thought of someone still thinking it a great accomplishment to write a book.

“I can’t even read anymore,” Hal said squinting at the words. “How much does it cost?”

“Oh, well it retails at sixteen dollars.”

“Oh,” he looked down dejectedly, then said under his breath. “I bet Gerry Cooney would love this book.”

“Gerry Cooney? The boxer?”

“Yes, nobody never said a bad word about the man. Gentlest man you’ve ever met,” Hal explained to me with the book in his left hand, eyes ablaze in wonder. “I talk to him quite a bit. He calls me on my birthday every year.”

I nodded an impressed nod.

“He’s from Long Island too you know, but he lives around here now… And he’s Irish too… Boy he had a left hook.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“He had Holmes on the run,” he assured me. “I remember it to this day. Cooney got knocked down once, I think it was the third, but after that Cooney was all over him. The belt was coming home, we all shouted. It was the time of my life, that fight was. Never forget it. Gone to history, but I’ll never forget it.”

A minute later and I pulled the video of the fight up on my computer and showed him.

“Oh my God!” Hal guffawed. “How did you do that?”

Janette snickered.

Watching the video, I said, “at least he got the chance.”

Hal then looked at me seriously, “Have you ever seen the movie On the Waterfront?”

Janette sighed.

“I have.”

“Listen,” Hal said, putting my book down on the table and clearing his throat. “‘It wasn’t him, Cha’ley, it was you. Rememba that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and ya said, ‘Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.’ You rememba that? ‘This ain’t your night’! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brotha, Cha’ley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money… Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money…. You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contenda. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Cha’ley.’”

I smiled all the way through the dialogue and in the middle of the local coffee shop, I applauded Hal when he finished. Janette tried as best she could to keep her eyes on the computer and the baristas and patrons gave simple, polite smiles.

“Now that was amazing, Hal,” I said. “Spot on.”

“Andy?”

“Eamon.”

“Eamon, yes,” he said, fixing himself in his chair. “Can you look me up on that thing?”

“The computer? Sure, what’s your last name?”

“Kitchna, Hal Kitchna. That’s not my real name, you know. I was an orphan in Jersey City, but look up me up, I was a player at USC on the football team.”

I did a search and quickly found his name mentioned in a book covering the 1959 USC game versus Notre Dame where in the third quarter, Hal Kitchna converted an extra point. I showed him.

“Wow, I’m in a book?”

“You sure are.”

“You know, if I had a better childhood, I coulda been somebody. I was lucky to get in at USC, you know. Everyone was smarter than me though. Well, not really smarter, because I was very smart, but, I don’t know, raised better, I guess. Nothing can replace a mother’s love.”

“I think you turned out just fine, Hal,” I said.

“I’m going to get somebody here to buy your book for me, then I’m going to give it to Gerry Cooney,” Hal said, and before I could laugh or remark, he turned to a man that walked in the door. “Jeff Deerfield, come here.”

The man seemed surprised, “This guy is an author.”

Jeff Deerfield smiled and kept walking.

“Don Smith,” Hal said to the next man walking in. “He’s an author, he has a book.”

Don Smith congratulated me, and walked on.

Meanwhile, my phone rang. It was the mechanic working on my car. My attention was pulled away from Hal. The car was finished and ready for me, so I then called Joe, who said he’d be over in twenty minutes or so to take me to the auto repair shop.

“Here he is, here he is,” Hal said pointing at me.

A short man stood in front of me but did not shake my hand, “You’re the author?”

I smiled, “Yes.”

“You write about the Irish?”

“Yes.”

“I went to Ireland once,” Hal seemed happy sitting next to me as the man spoke. “It was the best trip I ever took. The people there are so nice. I went to the Guinness Brewery also. You know, it tastes better there then anywhere else in the world, because that’s where they make it.”

“Yes, they do.”

“Okay, I gotta go,” the man said.

“Steve,” Hal said. “Do you want to buy his book?”

“Goodbye,” Steve said smiling as he backed his way out the door.

Hal put his hand on his forehead and looked as though he might cry. “It’s time for me to catch my bus now,” he said downcast.

“My ride is on the way too,” I said.

We shared a quiet moment together as Janette had entirely blocked us out by now.

“Everyone deserves a chance,” Hal mumbled under his breath.

A few minutes later and we were both waiting outside in the April sun on the curb. I hadn’t realized how bad his legs were until we walked out the door together. Hal shuffled and apologized. He told me again about his depression and how he used to be able to run.

“The only thing I ever think about is death,” he said.

“All we really need is hope in this life, I think,” said I.

“It really is.”

“I want you to have this, Hal,” I handed him my book.

“But I can’t pay for it.”

“It’s a present from me, can you give it to Gerry Cooney?”

“He’ll love it!” Hal said. “He knows a lot of people, you know. Everyone loves Gerry Cooney, nobody never said a bad word about the man. Do you believe me, that I’ll get it to him?”

“I know you will.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan

Note: Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan is a character in the historical novel Light of the Diddicoy. Get your copy here.

Brooklyn, 1925 – On Christmas night just south of the Gowanus Canal at 154 20th Street, the bodies of three young men were found at a ramshackle saloon known as The Adonis Social Club. One of them had been dragged outside, evidenced by the long blood streaks on the sidewalk, and left in the gutter.

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Mugshot of Richard Lonergan

The three young men were well known Irish gangsters from the northern part of the Brooklyn waterfront up toward the bridges. It took an Irish detective from the Poplar Street Station (located at the abutment to the Brooklyn Bridge) to identify them. They were Aaron “Abe” Harms, Cornelius “Needles” Ferry and twenty four year-old Richard “Pegleg” Lonergan, leader of Irishtown’s old White Hand Gang. Lonergan, the newspapers reported, still had a “fresh toothpick” lodged in the corner of his mouth.

James Hart, another Whitehander, was found at the Cumberland Street Hospital not far from the Adonis Social Club with a gunshot wound to the leg. Per Det. Brosnan’s request, two other Irish gangsters were arrested for questioning and said to have been at the Italian club during the shooting. They were Patrick “Happy” Maloney and Joseph “Ragtime” Howard.

A “hat check girl,” a female “entertainer” and another female guest were taken into custody also. Although all three had noticeable Irish surnames, they were working at the Adonis Social Club at the time, or were a guest. The only Italians arrested that were at the scene of the triple murder were the following, Sylvester Agoglia, bartender Anthony Desso and one Alphonse Capone.

Capone mug

Al Capone, arrested for the murder of three White Hand members.

Rumors had it that the Whitehanders, led by Lonergan, commented to the girls to “come back with white men, for chrissake.” One can only wonder if it was the girls that brought the Irish gangsters to the Italian neighborhood, but one thing was for sure, since the death of former leader Dinny Meehan in 1920, then of “Wild Bill” Lovett in 1923, the White Hand Gang was loosing territory to the Italians. Lonergan, it’s been said, wanted a final stand off to the death.

At the Lonergan wake on Dec. 30, which was held at the tenement where the Lonergans lived on Johnson Street, two other members of the White Hand Gang were arrested for threatening reporters not to take pictures. They were Matthew “Matty” Martin and Frank Gervasio.

Eventually Capone was let go by police for lack of witnesses (even though the bar was full, no shots were heard. Even by the upstairs residents). But it was this event that brought full circle what started seven years earlier when a young Capone was forced from his hometown of Brooklyn in 1918 to Chicago because, as the famous Irishtown native Willie Sutton said, “the Irish mob played too rough.”

Richard Lonergan was born into royal gang blood. His mother was Mary Brady, most likely the sister of Lower East Side Irish gang leader Yake Brady (or Yakey Yake Brady). Mary married John Lonergan, who was a failed bare-knuckle prize fighter and mid-level tough for the Yake Brady Gang. Together, they had 15 children. They might have had more, if Mary hadn’t murdered John after he punched their daughter Anna in the face one day in 1922.

Anna was known as the “Queen of the Irishtown Docks.” By all accounts, she was beautiful and was quickly courted by none other than William “Wild Bill” Lovett, who had gained a strong reputation after killing Dinny Meehan and a few others. The

William "Wild Bill" Lovett

William “Wild Bill” Lovett

Lovetts and the Lonergans were family friends before both families moved to Brooklyn from the Lower East Side.

When Richie (his family called him “Richie,” not Pegleg), was eight years old, his mother Mary sent him for a loaf of bread, so the story goes. Along the way, the boy was run over by a trolley which severed his leg at the knee. Soon enough, Richie had his own gang of young teenagers and after Lovett decided to join his Jay Street Gang with Dinny Meehan’s White Hand Gang umbrella organization, Lonergan soon followed suit.

Richie quickly gained a reputation as a brisk fist fighter, wooden leg or not. He was arrested a number of times for fighting and drinking and at one point, while working at his bicycle shop, killed an Italian boy who was attempting to force Richie to sell drugs out of it. Richie was arrested, but soon let go for the usual reason: no witnesses.

It was right around this time that Al Capone’s wife, Mary “Mae” Coughlin (an Irish girl) gave birth to their son, Sonny. Capone was by this time considered the future of Italian organized crime. As a safety precaution, since the White Hand Gang was regularly threatening to kill him, Johnny Torrio and Frankie Yale decided to send Scarface Al to Chicago. Not only because big money was available there, but it was safer as he was not as well-known among the wild Irish like he was in Brooklyn. So, it was the White Hand Gang that forced Al Capone out of Brooklyn. But as we know, he gets his revenge.

After Meehan was murdered in 1920, a war for the seat of power within the White Hand Gang broke out. Lovett fled to Chicago, leaving Richie temporarily in charge of the gang. Over a period of eight months, close to 15 bodies were found of the followers of Lovett/Lonergan and the followers of the dead Meehan.

After Lovett came back, Richie naturally stood aside for his elder’s experience, but in 1923, Lovett quit the gang for suburban life with Anna Lonergan, moving to New Jersey. Eventually Lovett was murdered that same year, and the gang was in Lonergan’s hands.

Lovett, dead on the floor on a Bridge Street saloon.

Lovett, dead on the floor on a Bridge Street saloon.

Although Richie was now the leader, the White Hand Gang was a shell of its former self. Many things had changed and it was the Italian groups that had best organized the rumrunning and illegal importation of liquor during Prohibition that weakened the old Irish grip on power along the docks of Brooklyn. The Italians thought big, while Richie and the Irishers still had a street-by-street mentality. From the Navy Yard down to Red Hook, the gang still ran the tribute racket of longshoremen, but the Albany lawmakers and the googoo Protestants who believed in Progressivism were changing the way politics treated the poor, giving them more opportunities instead of ignoring them altogether (which strengthened the street gang lifestyle).

The White Hand Gang was in disarray and many within it still didn’t see Richie as the true leader. This disorganization was used and encouraged by the Italians. Richie, a known alcoholic, was angered at the declining state of the gang he had been a member of since he was only 15 years old. Now 24 and the leader, he wanted a final showdown.

The piers under the Brooklyn Bridge.

The piers under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Speculatively, when Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan learned about the three Irish girls working at the Italian place that Al Capone was going to be in, Richie gathered five or six of his men, made sure they were armed, and headed for death at the Adonis Social Club.

Al Capone, as we know, went back to Chicago after his son’s surgery in Brooklyn and made it into the history books. Richie Lonergan into Cavalry Cemetery.

In the historical novel Light of the Diddicoy, Richie Lonergan is a 15 year old who is courted by gang leader Dinny Meehan. Meehan uses the fact that Lovett, Richie’s childhood friend, has already submitted to give tribute to his gang and offers to help the Lonergan family open a bicycle shop. The young Lonergan refuses, then leaves.

On the way out of the saloon at the White Hand Gang’s headquarters, one of Dinny’s dock bosses pokes fun at the teenage Final Diddicoy coverLonergan, who stops and stares the man down, then challenges him to a fight. The man weighs sixty pounds more than the kid, but Richie is not concerned. Within minutes, the entire gang surrounds the two in the ancient fighter’s circle and places bets on who they think will win, and this is how Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan joined the White Hand Gang.

Go get your copy here.

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Big Momentum

Light of the Diddicoy, the historical novel about Brooklyn’s Empire Storeswaterfront gangs as told by a 14 year-old Irish emigrant, is continuing to surprise the book industry and gain momentum. New interest is popping up in different areas, including Europe as the Amazon.co.uk release happened recently. Dublin continues to be a hotspot and, surprisingly, London as well.

Thanks to you, our readers, this book is breaking new ground and turning heads all over the place. Recently, Declan Burke, who runs the most popular Crime blog, called Crime Always Pays, recently featured Light of the Diddicoy here. Apparently, we all thought Light of the Diddicoy was just a “Historical Novel,” but a whole new genre has picked it up and called this book its own in the Crime/Thriller/Mystery circles. Who knew?

Also recently, a film crew followed me around the locations in Brooklyn where the book takes place, such as 25 Bridge Street, which was the White Hand Gang’s headquarters under the Manhattan Bridge and the historic Empire Stores warehousing units (see picture above) in-between the bridges where ships WBAI at Rocky'sbrought in coffee and tobacco that were unloaded by the gang’s longshoremen and housed up in those iron-shutter windows. Earlier in the day, WBAI Radio-NYC host John McDonough interviewed me down at Rocky Sullivan’s in Red Hook about the book and the Irish Republican and New York history featured in it. Afterward, the camera crew and many others followed us to sell copies of the book at Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers up on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.

Finally, we are closing in on readings at Quinnipiac University-Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum and in Hartford, CT, Oceanside, New York (where I was born!) as well as a few in the Mid-Atlantic regions and in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida.

But first, I am honored to be reading with Terry Golway, an established writer and Kean University professor, historian and author of the great non-fiction book that was recently released called Machine Made which redefines Tammany Hall’s role in New York City politics. Golway & Loingsigh

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For more information about Light of the Diddicoy, or to request interviews and schedule readings/appearances, please contact Three Rooms Press at info@threeroomspress.com.

Get your copy at a local bookstore, or go here at amazon or here at Barnes & Noble.

 

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Excerpt from Ch. 6 – McGowan’s Wake

At the bottom of this post is a link to a SoundCloud file from Chapter 6 of Light of the Diddicoy.

I don’t believe in long, boring readings where you have to pay close attention to the droning, monotone voice, so I always do my best to keep a listener involved and interested. Trust me when I say you will be shook by this excerpt.

The Tenement Wake – A tenement wake was commonplace in mid-to-late1800s and early 1900s New York City. Too poor to afford a regular funeral home, or, unwilling to trust others with the body of their dead (including the church), people who lived in tenements often had their wake right in their own living room (or “parlor” as it was known then), as is the case in this scene from Chapter 6 of Light of the Diddicoy, which takes place in December, 1915 in a tenement/waterfront neighborhood south of what is called Brooklyn Heights, north of Cobble Hill.

Characters in this excerpt:
Liam Garrity – Narrator, 14 year-old boy from Ireland, taken in by the White Hand Gang.
Dinny Meehan – Leader of the White Hand Gang
Gang Members – The Swede, Vincent Maher, Harry Reynolds, Cinders Connolly
Mother – The mother of McGowan, who was murdered in Sing Sing.

Click here and enjoy

You can find the book here.

 

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Diddicoy Tour & Sales

Quinn, Loingsigh, Kilkenny

On the left is Peter Quinn, quite possibly the most decorated and recognized Irish-American writer alive today. On the right is Irish Consular General to New York Noel Kilkenny holding Light of the Diddicoy. And then myself in the middle. (photo by Vera Hoar)

Well, there has been non-stop action the past couple of weeks. Light of the Diddicoy has been released to the public and we are getting feedback from people all over the country receiving their pre-ordered copies from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. On March 25, all e-books and Kindle versions will be out as well.

Bookstores everywhere are carrying it too. Here in New York City, copies have been placed “face out” in the front of huge bookstores like The Strand, McNally Jackson, Book Court and Spoonbill & Sugartown. Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and other national chains are carrying it in your neighborhood too and even at Moe’s Bookstore in Berkeley, California and Seattle, Michigan and all over the Mid-Atlantic.

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This copy just arrived at Tracy & Keith Kellogg-Brodeur’s home in Wilmington, NC.

Sales have been impressive for a book whose author does not have an established name (yet!). All over the country we are hearing that copies are being bought.  If you have been following the progress of Light of the Diddicoy for a while, now is the time to consider spending a bit (less than $16 everywhere) to get your copy. It does not take long and the links on this page will take you right there. Go to your local bookstore and support them and if they don’t have it, ask them to order for you. I don’t enjoy this side of the business, asking for you to go to the store and buy a copy of the book, so I won’t spend much time doing it. But, the hour has arrived. Please, if you would, consider reaching out for a copy. Do it. Thank you.

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The 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade from the corner of 5th Avenue and 44th Street.

I was lucky enough to have taken part in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade as we all braved the cold weather. Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of reading at the Irish American Writers & Artists Inc. Salon at The Cell Theatre. As a member, I was very excited to meet some pretty wonderful people. Larry Kirwin, lead singer of the Irish trad-rock band Black 47 and an officer in the IAW&A was there the night after performing on the Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon! Mr. Kirwin gave a rousing and supportive speech. Also in attendance was Honor Molloy, the playwright and author of the award winning book Smarty Girl: Dublin Savage. Recent book deals from Carmel Harrington and Kathleen Donohoe show that the Irish are still a very valued ethnic writing group.

The next night, I was lucky enough to attend the Irish Heritage and Culture bash at City Hall in New York City. Two great Irishmen were honored that night and I was lucky enough to have shared the stage with them, if only for a moment. The proceedings were handled with such care and grace that one has to remember that the Irish hold a very dear place in the heart of all New Yorkers. Especially this time of year! St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated with music, dance and corn beef, cabbage and, of course, potatoes.

signing

Here I am signing copies at the big launch in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks west of the saloon my family owned from 1906-1978. (photo Marie Flaherty)

After that, I jumped on the train for a reading of Light of the Diddicoy at Jimmy’s No. 43, a hip spot for poets and authors on the Lower East Side of the city at the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series. I can tell I am getting better at my readings. Not only from the reaction of the crowds, but for the fact that I don’t really get nervous any longer! I always try to make my reading as entertaining as possible (I mean let’s face it, readings can be boring), so I read from Chapter 6, which was about an Irish “tenement wake” in Brooklyn circa 1915. The crowd listened intently as I read and I actually got some “oohs” and “aaacchhhs!” when I read the part about the dead gangster boy’s mother drinking his blood. It was great!!!

Tomorrow (Saturday March 22) is the next big gig, however. If any of you can make it, please do! We will be hitting multiple spots in Brooklyn while a March 22film crew (doing a documentary on me) will be following. First we are at the famous Irish bar Rocky Sullivan’s where I will be doing a live broadcast for WBAI Radio-NYC with host John McDonough. Afterward we will go to the gang’s headquarters in Irishtown at 25 Bridge Street, then over to the Empire Stores between the Bridges. Finally, we will be selling books at Spoonbill & Sugartown bookstore in Williamsburg. It should be a blast and hopefully we’ll sell loads of books.

Again though, if you would, go to your local bookstore and order a copy of Light of the Diddicoy. If they don’t have it, ask them to order it. Otherwise, use the links below to order online. Now is the time!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

The Strand

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Diddicoy Release Party

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From left to right T.J. English, Eamon Loingsigh, John Duddy, John McDonough and host Peter Carlaftes pointing the way.

We had a great time at the Light of the Diddicoy release! And sold loads of books too. Le Poisson Rouge, in Greenwich Village was an excellent host and it was a full house, filled with Richard Vetere’s friends and lovers of his new release The Writers Afterlife and lots of Diddicoy folks too.

T.J. English, the famous journalist and author of Paddy Release2Whacked and The Westies, kicked the night off by talking about the impact Light of the Diddicoy had on him and why gangs were a result of a lack of a social safety net in New York during the era.

Afterward, I spoke for a bit about the book, made my “thank yous” and read from the book for a bit. Then WBAI Radio-NYC host of the show Radio Free Eireann and I spoke about what was happening in 1916 Brooklyn, when the book took place Release1and the Irish historical connections in Light of the Diddicoy.

John Duddy, the Middle Weight Champion boxer and actor starring in a film called “Hands of Stone” (December 2014 release) next to Robert De Niro, read from the book.

Release4

Co-Director of Three Rooms Press, Peter Carlaftes and myself as we sold copies of Light of the Diddicoy after the show.

Afterward, it was book signing time.

Light of the Diddicoy also got a great mention in Declan Burke’s blog Crime Always Pays, here:

http://crimealwayspays.blogspot.ie/2014/03/a-trilogy-grows-up-in-brooklyn.html

And my local newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times ran a piece on the book as well here.
http://www.tampabay.com/features/books/whats-eamon-loingsigh-reading/2169844

Lots of reviews will be popping up soon as well, including The Guardian US, Brooklyn Rail and many others. Heck, there’s even a review at Amazon.com already!

http://www.amazon.com/Light-Diddicoy-Eamon-Loingsigh/product-reviews/0988400898/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?showViewpoints=1

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“Wild Bill” Lovett, Diddicoy Bad Guy

No true Irish story is complete without treachery from within. The White Hand Gang, featured in Light of the Diddicoy, has many outside forces putting pressure on them, but the biggest source of tension comes from it’s own members. In this story, William “Wild Bill” Lovett personifies this classic Irish dilemma.

wild-bill-spot

At the scene of Lovett’s murder, a reporter took this shot.

In November 1923, a body was found inside a longshoremen’s warehousing unit/bar at 25 Bridge Street in Brooklyn’s old Irishtown section. It was once the famed saloon and headquarters for the White Hand Gang that had been closed, in all probability, due to Prohibition. The body had blunt trauma to the head and two bullets in the neck. It also had older bullet wounds in the scalp, aged entrance and exit wounds in the chest, abdomen and legs. A veteran of the Brooklyn police force, one William Brosnan identified the body as that of William “Wild Bill” Lovett (1894-1923).

Reporters showed up as soon as word got out and snap shots of the body surrounded by detectives ran in the afternoon editions. Detective Brosnan had been quoted in the newspapers for many years about the gang being the scourge of Brooklyn. When Lovett’s body was being carted to the ambulance car, a reporter overheard Brosnan say, between puffs on his Irish cigar, “Here comes the bride.”

Over the next few days, the sensational life and bloody death of “Wild Bill” sold many copies in the city, upstate in Albany and Rochester and even in newspapers as far away as Michigan and California. The New York Times ran a full page obituary.

“BROOKLYN GANGSTER, COULDN’T ESCAPE FATE”

It was the conclusion to the story of the most popular Irish-American gangster Brooklyn had ever known. For years, newspapers featured him and his antics, from when he shot a man for “pulling a cat’s tail” (apparently he was a cat lover), to when he killed an Italian named Samuel de Angelo, and, probably most notoriously, when he was suspected in the murder of Dinny Meehan to all the other gun charges, fist fights, gang beatings and dead bodies that appeared in vacant lots and underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. No matter how many times the police arrested him, the charges never stuck. And in a place like Irishtown, beating the system was enough to make you a legend. And a legend he was, even if we don’t know much about him today.

Bill Lovett

William “Wild Bill” Lovett in a mug shot circa 1921.

He wasn’t always the leader of the White Hand Gang, but in 1918 when he came back from fighting with the 13th Machine Gun Battalion, 77th Infantry Division during World War I and won a medal for Distinguished Service for bravery at the age of 24, he was seen in a new light by the Bridge District “boyos.” The young men in the gang saw him now as a fierce leader who enjoyed killing. For Dinny Meehan, the leader of the gang, Lovett’s being seen as a hero was troubling.

Lovett also began courting Anna Lonergan, who was known as the “Queen of the Irishtown Docks.” By all accounts, Anna was the most beautiful girl Brooklyn had ever known. Her long strawberry blond hair and pretty features endeared her to all the young men in Irishtown and the fact that she only went out with Lovett (eventually marrying him) brought even more greatness upon his reputation.

Not only was Anna beautiful and sought after, but she came from royal dock-gang blood. Her parents originally came from the Lower East Side Irish enclaves. John Lonergan, her father, was a popular bare-knuckle prize fighter in his day and was also known as the muscle behind the Yake Brady Gang, a fierce group who ruled Catherine Street. Mary Lonergan nee Brady was (although difficult to confirm) more than likely the sister of Yake Brady, the gang’s infamous leader.

Richie

Richard “Pegleg” Lonergan in a Brooklyn mug shot. Apparently wounded.

When Lovett came back from the war, one of the youngest members of Brooklyn’s White Hand Gang was none other than Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan (18 years old in 1918), Anna’s older brother. Lovett and Pegleg were childhood friends, in fact and rumor had it that Lovett was there the day a Brooklyn trolley ran over the eight year old Lonergan, severing his leg at the knee.

With all of this, Lovett had positioned himself as the main challenger to Dinny Meehan, who had ruled the White Hand Gang since 1912 and brought it to great prominence with territory stretching from the Navy Yard all the way down to Red Hook.

These two violent Irish-American young men of the Brooklyn docks, Lovett and Meehan, were at this time chest to chest. On the verge of war for control of the valuable dock “tribute” racket.  Lovett had his own followers, about 20 men in the Jay Street Gang. A block over was the White Hand Gang’s headquarters at 25 Bridge Street, though they had more like 100 men, plus an entrenched group of others loyal to Meehan and the Whitehanders.

Somehow they came to an agreement. Lovett’s Jay Street Gang was to pay a weekly tribute to Meehan’s Whitehanders, most eyewitnesses say, though Lovett had his eye on the prize: taking over the leadership of the much larger White Hand Gang.

Bill_Lovett

Lovett was never known as a handsome man, in fact some described his ears as being “fawn like” and he had the expression of a demented leprechaun. He was also short and slight of stature, though was known as a powerful fist fighter and quick to the gun like a western gun slinger.

Although Lovett has become known as a ferociously violent gangster who shot men on a whim when drunk (like when someone pulled the cat’s tail), he was quite intelligent when sober and a born leader. Using violence and intimidation on his side in the Brooklyn neighborhoods that were described by the New York Times as being “where life is held as cheaply as anywhere on earth.” But, bowing to the White Hand Gang’s leader for a while was a smart tactic. Especially when a childhood friend of his, Pegleg Lonergan (brother of his intended), was already in the White Hand fold.  

Eventually Lovett married Anna and began turning people against Meehan within the gang. Then on March 31, 1920, while Meehan lay in his bed with his wife Sadie, five men walked into his Warren Street brownstone, pushed Meehan’s young son to the side and opened the bedroom door unloading a barrage of bullets into the White Hand Gang leader and wounding his wife in the shoulder.

The police wanted to speak with Lovett about the murder, but he had gone on the lam to Chicago. Some people have speculated that Frankie Yale’s “Black Hand” organization was behind the murder of Meehan (others suspected it was payback for Meehan signing up 100 of his men as scabs during a union walkout on the Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen docks), but most reputable sources say it was a result of the gang’s infighting. Of note, the famous journalist Meyer Berger wrote in an interview with Anna Lonergan in the 1930s that Anna herself admitted that her late husband Lovett was behind the murder.

Bill in street

Lovett being escorted by police to the Adams Street Court in 1922.

As a result, Lovett eventually came back from Chicago, beat the rap on the Meehan murder and became the most famous leader of the White Hand Gang, taking up residence above the saloon at 25 Bridge Street that overlooked the pier neighborhood of Irishtown underneath the Manhattan Bridge.

A period of tit-for-tat war then took hold amongst those still loyal to the dead Meehan and Lovett’s men. Many young longshoremen gangsters fell dead in its wake. Yet no one ratted the others out to the police.

Lovett’s infamous binge drinking and alcoholism then takes hold, and when the pressure of being a gang leader reached its height, he promised Anna that he’d quit. So he did, moving to a Ridgefield Park, New Jersey suburb. Leaving the gang’s leadership to his brother-in-law Pegleg Lonergan, it seemed Lovett was ready to sober up and become a settled person.

But one day as he was about to go on a job interview, he instead took the train back to the old Brooklyn dock neighborhoods and went on a binge at the old headquarters at 25 Bridge Street in Irishtown with a one-armed, fellow-World War I veteran named Thomas Flynn. The next morning he was found dead.

In Light of the Diddicoy, the first book in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, Bill Lovett is only 21 years old and has yet to head off to the war. His Jay Street Gang is paying tribute to Meehan and the Whitehanders while they run the Red Hook terminal by the New Final Diddicoy coverYork Dock Company down by the Buttermilk Channel. It is the hardest terminal to run as the neighborhoods inland of Red Hook are jammed with immigrant Italians who want to work on the docks too. Frankie Yale, who runs Brooklyn’s Black Hand organizations, are entrenched in Southern Brooklyn below Red Hook in Gowanus, Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst and Coney Island.

This makes Red Hook the border with the rising Italian organized crime syndicates, a dangerous place where only the meanest leader would suffice to protect the old docks that have been in the hands of the Irish since The Great Hunger sent thousands of Irish peasants to live along the waterfront of Brooklyn. In 1915 and 1916, when Light of the Diddicoy takes place, Red Hook is a war zone where battles occur between Irish and Italians. In this environment, Lovett is at his best.

But the tension mounts between Lovett’s Jay Street Gang and Meehan’s Whitehanders, who he pays tribute too. In between is the teenage Pegleg Lonergan, who feels loyalty toward Meehan for helping his family open a bicycle shop on Bridge Street. But Lovett’s long connection to the family and Anna’s attention force Pegleg to reconsider his loyalties.

A murderous brawl between Lovett’s and Meehan’s followers is on the horizon and the old Irishtown neighborhoods and their plentiful dock rackets are at stake.

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