Excerpt: Exile on Bridge Street

An excerpt from:
EXILE ON BRIDGE STREET (March 2016)
by Eamon Loingsigh

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Scalpeen Memories
or The Death of a Gypsy

January 1917 and the bite is murderous. The whipping wind whistles off the water where under the bridges we bundle, hands covering ears. The sky is as hard-looking as the cement under our feet, and the same color too. Broken only by the Brooklyn Bridge above us, that sky over the city is as mean and thoughtless as some of the men that show hungry on the docks looking for a day’s wage. Same look in the gray eyes of them.

From inside the tenement walls come skirling flue pipes wheezing in the gales2146 new york old days boy preparatory drawing, and glims of light flash through crevices as if the tenements whelmed with many families were out to sea rudderless. Children bunch in front of the coal fire and the pot belly stove, if they have it. In memories, and the bones of our memories where reside the unconscious thoughts and recognitions in the marrow is a feeling where remembrances are signaled when our bellies rattle with the hunger and when the weather attacks the skin. It is a silent song that voices rarely dare to share, and no one cares to disturb the silence of it, for it is no more than a cognizance in our blood. But we all know it as it truly is; the past speaking to us. Coming out in our eyes and our need for fight. We know, even as most stories were withheld us due to the shame of our caste, we know of and are haunted in the mind’s eye of our fathers and our mothers and theirs, the elements hard on our bodies and the hollow yearn for alimentation. Evicted from the land. Evicted from our community and the closeness for which our people so long had found strength.

Remember in us the scalps dug in the onset of winter under some stray hill a few miles from the icy Shannon. And the scalpeens and lean-tos of the shanty emigrants of Jackson Hollow south of the Navy Yard here in Brooklyn. The seasons of cholera and yellow fever that swept through Irishtown from the human cargo dumped on the shoreline, amassed there. And those shoeless and gaunt in Darby’s Patch before Warren street was ever paved and before Dinny Meehan, our leader, had come to it.

Unsaid. Simply known, we work in the wintry conditions and the empty air that strips the body to a barrenness where survival is top of mind. Just how we like it. I am sixteen years of age and with two bailhooks, I dig into the work. Piercing wheat sacks. Picking them up with my back and legs and thrusting them up into a traincar shadowed by the long torso of a transport steamer. Dinny Meehan working right alongside us, watching over us and reminding us that in this work we live. Down here. Below the Anglo ascendency and his laws, forever. Forever reminding us where we come from. Forever living by the underbellies of ships, outside in the weather, with memories remembered only in the distance of our blood.

After a word with Dinny, the pavee fighter Tommy Tuohey heads south alone. A man of any and all weather, Tommy strides down Columbia Street. Down Furman Street where to the right is the shit-green New York Harbor, left and above him is the bluff that separates the Brooklyn waterfront from the old Dutch and English mansions of another time, now divided and subdivided for the peasants and the newly arrived. He walks. Passed the old Penny Bridge on Montague street that now brings the workingmen from the street grade above to the warehouse and pierhouse roofs below to the blacked out area where the ships let off and the gangs that take to their ways there.

Of course, Tommy knows nothing of such histories for he lives only in the weather on his skin. A free man who lives in the love of the company of others and in the contests of will

The piers under the Brooklyn Bridge.

The piers under the Brooklyn Bridge.

and individual struggle, ignorant by nature and by choice of the constructs of the settled people and seeks only work for his next meal and drink and talk. Tommy Tuohey is walking toward his death now, and turns on Imlay Street in the morning air, an emissary for the gang run by Dinny Meehan from Bridge street in old Irishtown, The White Hand. He is going to die, for Bill Lovett and his followers have decided on the dawning of this day to take Red Hook and to strike out on their own.

A late-night drizzle had turned much of the sidewalks to sheets of ice and men walk gingerly with their legs opened, hands on wood fences and brick walls for balance along the two giant masonry buildings owned by the New York Dock Company. Not many of the men in Red Hook own gloves or winter-wear in general and instead stand round donning the same coats they wore at summer, but with long underwear underneath and vest and hat, hopping in place. The breath that come out of their mass gives them the appearance of ranging cattle and heads of beef. Awaiting the line to be called for to pick men to unload, they stand shoulder-to-shoulder patting down their own upper arms like cows swatting away flies dumbly.

Walking through their gaggle, Tommy Tuohey looks up and points at the barge just dragged up off the Imlay bulkhead, “Who dat spakin’ widda captain?”

“Darby Leighton,” says a man Tommy doesn’t recognize.

A tug driver and his son look to Tommy, then turn their backs. The father rushing his son back onboard with a hand under his elbow and quick he is to the throttle and the river.

“Dat right?” Tommy says looking up to Leighton who’d been banished from the gang since 1913.

“Ya scared?” says another man.

“Scared o’ what?”

“Scared? Are ya scared?”

“I’m not scared of a damn thing. Kinda question’s this, ye feckin’ sausage?”

Among the horseshoe shape of longshoremen gathered underneath the ship on the Red Hook docks Bill Lovett turns round, his ears red and splayed off his head, cheeks rosy in RH picthe biting wind. Many others turn toward Tommy Tuohey too as he approaches. Next to Lovett is the teenager Richie Lonergan who leans on his one good leg, the peg of his other is there for balance only.

“Da hell goin’ on here Bill?” Tommy says, the big gray motile sky churning like the current of the bottom of the ocean, swaying the obscure clouds. And moaning like great dinosaurs in the waterway distance are barge horns, and the hoo-hooing of tug whistles mingles with the ca-click, ca-click, ca-click of elevated trains inland. As Tuohey stands over Lovett, the labormen envelop them in the fighter’s circle

Lovett reaches behind him and pulls from the back of his trousers a .45 and puts it on the chest of Lonergan, who looks at the gun in his hand and pulls back the hammer as naturally as a boy and his toy. And from the cold morning comes a sharp clapping blast that would divide the soldiers of the dawn into two factions just as the Anglo above them all had hoped, conquering the natives again. Starving out their communal ways so as to splice their souls and throw their ethnic bonds and ancient codes into a great and inner strife.

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Press Release: Exile on Bridge Street to be Published

I am very happy to announce that a contract has been signed and an agreement struck between myself and Three Rooms Press for the second book in the Auld Irishtown trilogy: Exile on Bridge Street16364_101636159865060_3533431_n

The friendship between author and publisher began with the publication of Light of the Diddicoy in March of 2014. Strong sales and positive reviews helped the two sides to decide to move forward with the second book.

Publication of Exile on Bridge Street is slated for March, 2016 to coincide with the centenary celebrations of Ireland’s Easter Rising. In April of 1916, Irish rebels took control of locations in Dublin. The rebels were executed by British authorities, which inspired a countrywide revolution over the next few years.The Proclamation of Independence, written by rebel leader and poet Padraig Pearse, came to fruition years later.

Light of the Diddicoy took place from October 1915 to April 1916. Exile on Bridge Street takes up where it left off, covering the time frame of April 1916 to February 1919.

Three Rooms PressIn the Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods, the story of the teenage Irish immigrant William “Liam” Garrity who was taken in by the waterfront, Irish-American gang known as The White Hand continues.

For me, Three Rooms Press and the Auld Irishtown trilogy is a perfect marriage. I am very proud to be associated with a gritty publisher of Dada Poetry, punk rock memoirs, NYC poets and, of course, historical novels of the Irish in Brooklyn.

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Sitcom from Purgatory

On January 1st of this year, myself and many others were shocked of news that a British television outlet (Channel 4) is funding a sitcom about the “famine in Ireland.” Hugh Great Hunger 1Travers, an Irish writer is behind it, was quoted as describing it, ““we’re kind of thinking of it as Shameless in famine Ireland.” (Showtime’s series called Shameless chronicles the comic tribulations with a family led by a drunken father of six).

I wasn’t planning on writing this topic as I’m deep into writing the second book in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, but the controversy hasn’t gone away. When I heard the writer behind the Irish show Father Ted, Graham Linehan, was supporting the British network’s plans, I tweeted my opinion to him after he tweeted about “the idiots protesting the famine sitcom.”

In response, he tweeted back:

For which I tweeted back again:

Not that the world is concerned about my opinion, but I would like to say just a few words. First off, describing this as a sitcom about a “famine” in Ireland is very quickly offending many people. There was a blight on the potato in Ireland in the 1840s, yes, but there was not a famine on food in general in Ireland. In fact, it is extremely well-chronicled by mainstream writers all over the world that England, who used Ireland as one of its colonies, exported millions of dollars worth of grain, beeves of cattle, ham, oat, provisions and much more during the worst years of what the Irish have come to call The Great Hunger, or An Gorta Mor.

Here is a video of Christy Moore, a famous Irish musician listing off the British exports on the day of September 14, 1847.

It due to this Great Hunger that so many Irish came to port cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other countries such as Canada, Australia and more. Boney, starved, sick from more than a month-long journey in the worst ships in the British empire owned by profiteers that sought to make money from the catastrophe. These horrid vessels became known as Coffin Ships because so many Irish died in the hulls (30% mortality rate) or, being left on the deck to the elements of the sea, died on the way to America and were dumped overboard unceremoniously. Some ships even sunk on the way. Great Hunger 2

Worse off were those that were stuck in Ireland. More than a million having died a very slow and horrifying death due to hunger and related diseases such as yellow fever, cholera and typhus. To add shame on top of these shames, many were evicted, often during the winter and left to die on roadsides alone. Children were the most vulnerable and died in the worst poverty Europe had known in centuries. Drawings of women gaunt and crying for their babies, themselves dying not long afterward. Homeless and despised.

The Acts of Union, forced upon Ireland by the English in 1800, clearly outline that Ireland was part of the British Empire and therefore responsible for the welfare of its people. But the British mercantilists, closely associated with the English Parliamentarians, strictly believed in the economic philosophy of Laissez Faire. Or, most agree, at the very least abused this “hands off” economic approach to the benefit of the landlords and to the detriment of the subjects. Irish tenant-farming peasants renting English-owned lands (within Ireland’s proper border) did not procure the type of profit grazing cattle would, and so the landlords lobbied against helping the starved and dying and got their cattle fields.

Those in power also used God against the peasants in Ireland, stating that the famine was a divine intervention, and sited His Providence as a reason the Irish suffered because of their supposed laziness, feckless nature.

During this time period, the British Parliament made half-hearted attempts to help with schemes such as road building. Though many died working on these roads that didn’t payGreat Hunger 3 enough to feed families in any case. Workhouses were supposed to be places to shelter the evicted and the starved, but instead came to be nothing more than a covered area to die in. There were also the soup kitchens, some of which became famous because of the requirement of the starved and dying to renounce their Catholicism for Britain’s Protestantism in exchange for the soup.

During this time period, some of the more well-off Irish took advantage of the situation and gave food loans out to the desperate and needy at ruinous interest rates. These Irish became known as gombeens and were reviled by the survivors in Ireland for generations.

These are all true stories. Even the English do not deny their truth. And cannot deny it. But still to this day, the Great Hunger is mostly ignored and oftentimes made fun of by some rude and overly-entitled English. It is, without being divisive or polarizing, a horrible chapter in world history as reprehensible as the enslaving of Africans or a Holocaust against Jews. And for the Irish (and even some Americans like myself), it is still as inflammatory.

Can you imagine it? A British television outlet funding a COMEDY about the Great Hunger? Wait though, can you imagine a British television outlet funding a comedy about the Great Hunger WRITTEN BY AN IRISHMAN? There could be nothing more inflammatory than going through with this, unless of course Germany planned to fund a comedy about the Holocaust written by a self-hating Jew. Or if Americans fund a sitcom about slavery, written by an Uncle Tom because writing a comedy about the Great Hunger by a gombeen will cause great and very divisive chaos.

I believe it is my right, and yours too, to voice my opinion about this idea, which I believe  is in very bad taste. I do not feel as though I am restricting someone else’s right to free speech. In fact, I am exercising my right to free speech in speaking out against it. Of course, being a believer in free speech means that if this really, really bad idea does come to fruition, I will allow it without any action against it. Accept for my right to protest it.

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Interview: Portraits of Faith

Here is an interview done back in March on location in Brooklyn. The sit-down part of the interview is at Rocky Sullivan’s bar in Red Hook. The poem about Irishtown is read right in front of the gang’s headquarters at 25 Bridge Street, the old “Dock Loaders’ Club.” Other shots are taken on Plymouth Street in DUMBO where the old freight rails are dug into the rough cobblestone streets and in front of the Empire Stores under the bridges. The last shots are at Spoonbill & Sugartown Booksellers in Williamsburg.

I had a great time doing this interview and special thanks goes out to a lot of people in their efforts in getting this together, but Three Rooms Press had a particularly powerful vision and really succeeded here. Terence Donnellan and his film crew were exceptional, as well Kevin Davitt and many more.

Check it out! The Brooklyn Irish in focus via Light of the Diddicoy.

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A Night of Pete Hamill

Hamill

Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Pete Hamill.

I had a great time last night at Irish American Writers & Artists Inc.’s Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award.

This year’s honoree is the legendary writer of fiction and New York Post columnist Pete Hamill. The man who defined, with wonderful words, the Brooklyn childhood of my parents and grandparents’ time was honored by many speakers, planned or unplanned.

One of my favorite New York Irish personalities Malachy McCourt said kind things about Mr. Hamill and promptly broke into a Northern Ireland song (where Mr. Hamill’s parents malachy_mccourtwere born) of Will Ye Go, Lassie, Go?.

Martin Scorsese autobiographer and famous writer of books like Galway Bay, Mary Pat Kelly came to the stage and honored all the great work of the women in the Irish arts and beyond.

The New York Times’ Dan Barry gave a wonderfully symbolic speech called “Scones for Pete Hamill,” about the time many years ago Mr. Hamill asked for a scone, which sent the young Barry on a frantic search.

IAW&A president Larry Kirwin, who is also the legendary frontman of the Irish rock/punk band Black ’47 also gave a nice and very typically Irish/NYC speech about how wonderful it is to be a liberal, and how hard it is to be a writer due to the commercialization of the arts.

Cuomo

Governor Andrew Cuomo was a surprise guest-speaker.

Then, out of nowhere came Governor Andrew Cuomo! Governor Cuomo swooped in to say a few words for Pete Hamill who so influenced his thoughts as a young man.

Then! Legendary Irish actor Brian Dennehy came up to the podium and read from Mr. Hamill’s work, causing everyone in the crowd to grab a tissue.

Finally, famous sportswriter Mike Lupica introduced Mr. Hamill with more praising. When Mr. Hamill was finally brought up to the stage, he grabbed the microphone and in typical Irish-NYC black humor, says:

“All these nice words and there’s no corpse in the room?”

Classic night.

For me, I will always remember Pete Hamill’s book The Gift. A young man coming back to Brooklyn after bootcamp with only two wishes, to marry the girl he loves and to be loved by his father. Both ignore him throughout the book, but when his father recognizes and shows love toward the young man, the gift is given sweetly.

Pete Hamill is a man who has defined what it is to be a writer for me. When I received my degree in journalism and wanted to be a novelist and to write about the Irish in New York, I was following Mr. Hamill’s path who was very popular in my Irish-American, New York household.

Thank you to the Irish American Writers and Artists Inc. for a great night of Pete Hamill.

Eamon

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Dependents: Portraits of 50 Irish People in New York Poorhouses, 1861-1865

eamonblog:

Really interesting breakdown by historian Damian Shiels of Irish immigrants in New York Poor Houses in the 1860s. Lots of Irish counties and surnames.

Originally posted on Irish in the American Civil War:

On 4th August 1865, an Irish emigrant woman from Cork City gave birth to a baby girl in New York. The child -Mary- had been dealt a tough start to life. Her mother was a pauper, and Mary had entered the world in Richmond County Poor House. Mary’s brother and sister were also paupers, and her mother was described as ‘intemperate’- there were no details regarding her father. Circumstances allowed Mary to be discharged from the Poor House on 12th May 1868, but by 3rd November 1871 she was back in her birthplace. At least she was being given some education, as by 1875 she was able to read. Poor House staff noted that ‘she will soon have to go to service’ and remarked that ‘this child bids fair to be a good servant she is being taught all the requirements of the institution.’

Underground lodgings for the poor of New York around 1869. Many people who ultimately ended up in Poor Houses would have been familiar with such scenes (Library of Congress) Underground lodgings for the poor of…

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Black Tom Explosion, 1916

Most historians directly associate the explosion that occurred on Black Tom’s Island on July 30, 1916 with German saboteurs. Which is accurate, but history has all but erased any connection between this German plot and the Irish Republican movement in the United States, which at the Black Tomtime was a very powerful lobby. Particularly in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston. Also, it seems improbable to this writer that such an undertaking could have been taken without the Irish-dominated dock gangs and longshoremen unions knowing, accepting or benefiting from it.

Most are well aware of Germany’s secret missions of sabotage in the United States during World War I in order to keep the U.S. from entering the war on the side of England. In 1915, Germany attempted to agitate a fight between the U.S. and Mexico and also offered longshoremen unions over $1 million along the East Coast to go on strike, which would succeed in stopping munitions and war supplies from reaching Germany’s enemy, England.

At the time, the International Longshoremen’s Association was headed by an Irishman named T.V. O’Connor, whose second in command was famous Irish-American thug “King Joe” Ryan. These men ruled the longshoremen underworld at the time and certainly had a soft side for Ireland’s freedom from England’s yoke.

"King Joe" Ryan, who became President of the ILA and famous for being the face of longshoremen union racketeering in Malcolm Johnson's Pulitzer Prize winning reportage in the 1940s. Which then inspired the making of "On the Waterfront" with Marlon Brando.

“King Joe” Ryan, who became President of the ILA and famous for being the face of longshoremen union racketeering in Malcolm Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winning reportage in the 1940s. Which then inspired the making of “On the Waterfront” with Marlon Brando.

 

This brings us to a very popular Irish slogan during World War I: “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s Opportunity.” At the outbreak of the war, Ireland’s Home Rule bill was again put to the side. Still under England’s rule, Irish Republicans were determined to move forward and with England busy at war on the European continent, it was a ripe time for an Irish rebellion. But it couldn’t be done alone and the Irish Republican Brotherhood found its greatest ally in Imperial Germany, which helped them with guns for the Easter Rising of 1916, although Roger Casement’s attempt was scuttled.

In the U.S., the Irish Republican movement was very strong. Particularly in providing money to support Irish freedom and rebellion through Clan na Gael, headed by famous Irish rebel John Devoy.

In saloons across the big U.S. cities, including my great-grandfather’s in Greenwich Village where the docks were only a block away and the Irish longshoremen were known to “pass the hat for Irish freedom,” were many discussions about Ireland. What did the Irish and Irish Americans care if England won World War I? Well, they didn’t. And in fact, Clan na Gael’s influence on the 1916 election was heavy. Irish Americans supported Woodrow Wilson because he promised to keep the U.S. out of World War I and support Ireland’s right to rule its own land. But it was in places like Lynches Tavern at 463 Hudson Street where the three parties all came together: Imperial Germany, Irish-Americans who supported Irish Republicanism and longshoremen.

Although Clan na Gael was investigated by the Directorate of Naval Intelligence and links were found, it was Imperial Germany that has taken the brunt of blame in history for blowing up the munitions storing and warehouses units that caused such an incredibly huge explosion, damaging the Statue of Liberty forever (the torch is still closed to this day because of the Black Tom explosion).

John Devoy in a mug shot in the 1870s while a young man, before being sent banished to Australia.

John Devoy in a mug shot in the 1870s while a young man, before being banished to Australia.

To me, it is impossible for something underhanded like this to have occurred without the explicit help or, at the very least, a wink and a nod from both the Irish Republican movement in the U.S. and the longshoremen’s union, which was so heavily populated by the Irish-American working class back then.

For these reasons, a scene in the second book in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, which includes the actual explosion, intimates complicity between the Irish gangs and the unions working in cahoots with Imperial Germany to undermine American shipments of munitions to England during World War I.

 

 

 

 

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