“What is there to be said?” Said the man who is nearly dead.
Would search long and plenty
“What is there to be said?” Said the man who is nearly dead.
The Auld Irishtown trilogy is three historical novels by author Eamon Loingsigh taking place between October, 1915 to March, 1920 and is set in Brooklyn, New York. The bildungsroman is told in the voice of William “Liam” Garrity looking back on his life with the Brooklyn, Irish-American gang known as The White Hand, although the story is in the traditional Irish present tense. Loingsigh (pronounced “Lynch”) has stated in interviews that the trilogy is a possible Irish answer to Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather” books, but the style of writing combines both the traditional Irish oral storytelling method along with Loingsigh’s French Symbolist poetry influences.
The first in the trilogy is called Light of the Diddicoy (Three Rooms Press) and takes place between October, 1915 to April, 1916, was given high marks by reviewers and literary magazines and sold to a large audience. It drew attention for its many allusions to Irish and literary history and for its strong sense of voice and language and of the culture of the Irish that had settled the waterfront area in Brooklyn which had isolated itself from the rest of the city. The trilogy also uses the actual names of Irish and Italian gang members of the time, Brooklyn patrolmen, owners of businesses and chronicles historically accurate events such as the Easter Rising, the sabotage of Black Tom’s Island, longshoremen union strikes and various arrests and murders.
Light of the Diddicoy (Spring, 2014) opens with an allusion to the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and covers the narrator Liam Garrity’s experience emigrating from the family farm in his native County Clare, Ireland, the trip across the Atlantic Ocean in a steamship and his arrival in Brooklyn. There, the fourteen year-old Garrity works with his uncle as a longshoreman on the docks of what was once called “Irishtown” (known as the neighborhood Vinegar Hill/DUMBO now). After a falling out with his uncle, Garrity becomes homeless and is taken by a gang member immediately to the wake of a popular White Hand Gang dockboss. There, he meets the leader of the Irish-American gang and his future mentor, Dennis “Dinny” Meehan. Garrity is brought into the home of Meehan and cared for by his wife, Sadie. Meehan then reveals that he is caring for Garrity in order to get access to Garrity’s uncle, a union recruiter. At the same time, businesses such as the New York Dock Company, the International Longshoremen’s Association, local police efforts, Italians from South Brooklyn and a revolt from within the gang by “Wild” Bill Lovett all want to take the lucrative dock and labor racket away from Meehan’s Irishmen. With all of these elements bearing down on the gang, which Garrity is now closely involved with, it is revealed that Meehan’s plan to take back power on the docks and to keep it in the hands of the Irish gang is a violent, all-encompassing and ingenious scheme. As Meehan juggles his many responsibilities, Garrity watches and becomes known as a “thief of pencils,” an allusion to his one day retelling the story of Meehan and the Brooklyn waterfront Irish gang known as The White Hand.
Exile on Bridge Street (Three Rooms Press, Fall, 2016) has not yet been released, but covers the much broader time frame of April, 1916 to February, 1919. It chronicles Garrity’s continued coming-of-age within the White Hand Gang and his desperation in getting his mother and sisters out of Ireland during World War I and the fallout of Ireland’s Easter Rising while many elements in New York attempt to crush the gang and their old streetwise and Irish-influenced ways.
The last book in the trilogy, expected to be named Divide the Dawn, will be released sometime after Exile on Bridge Street. The culmination of the trilogy is expected to be particularly violent with many of the gang’s members meeting their end.
“My eyes have been wet with the tears of children.”
As we round the corner toward the centennial celebrations of the 1916 Easter Rising, the beginning of Ireland’s fight for independence from Britain and the release of EXILE ON BRIDGE STREET (March, 2016, THREE ROOMS PRESS), one name stands above all the rest: Pádraig Anraí Mac Piarais, more commonly known by his anglicized name, Patrick Pearse (1879-1916).
Pearse was the mind behind the Easter Rising. A teacher and writer, he brought together different factions in Irish society before the Rising. A monumental task in an inherently divided people. And after he was executed by British authorities, brought the entire country into balance. In the words of one of his famous poems which foresaw the independence movement,
“I say to my people that they are holy,
that they are august,
despite their chains…
That they have but need of courage.”
No better literary foreshadowing could ever have been laid out.
Although Pearse is famous in Ireland as a poet and a leader, he is virtually unknown outside the island nation. This, I believe, is a grave mistake. The world should know and celebrate Pearse as a great poet. One of the world’s greatest.
There are a few reasons why Pearse is not considered a poet outside of Ireland. I will attempt to outline them, but in doing so I believe the reasons he is excluded are at the same time, reasons he should be included.
He chose sides – Unlike Seamus Heaney, one of Ireland’s greatest poets or W.B. Yeats, Pearse took a very clear stance against the British as his people’s greatest oppressor. Both Heaney and Yeats were on the side of Ireland, there is no mistaking that, but Pearse took an active role. This turns him into much more than just a poet, which leads to the second point.
The Rebel – I have already referenced Pearse’s poem The Rebel, which to me is his best and most definitive work. Pearse took this label to a very bloody culmination. Why rebels are never considered famous poets is a topic for another story, but Pearse would have to be one of its main references. Traditional society requests the poet to stand back and watch with an objective eye. Pearse was anything but objective. He wanted to give his blood to start a revolution. Then he did give up his blood, and the revolution soon followed. This makes him a rebel, which is to say a believer in anti-establishment. But considering what Britain had been doing to Ireland for seven hundred years (again, a topic for another story), to fight as a rebel for his people against an establishment that was based on the repression of religion, language and culture made legal by the laws of invaders is, to my point, the greatest and most patriotic lover of establishmentarianism. But it’d be quite a task to convince a British citizen of this, and since Britain has a long history of making and breaking those who carry the label of “poet,” Pearse won’t soon be considered. He broke the law, it can be argued. This makes him a criminal or a member of a secret society or, even worse, a Fenian. Therefore, Pearse will remain a mere rebel in the establishment’s perspective.
Other works – Pearse not only wrote poetry and other works of art, he also wrote Ireland’s Proclamation of Independence and read it aloud to bewildered passersby one April afternoon after he and some 1,200 militant rebels quietly overtook strategic points in Dublin while British colonial forces were at the races. This is not the work of a poet, one might say. But Ireland’s call for independence, in the form of this proclamation, is in itself ground breaking and thoroughly poetic. Irish people are known for their love of words, and in this work of art Pearse did not let down. Phrases such as “august destiny” and the summoning of God and “the dead generations” who fought for freedom against Britain in the past, along with references to the diaspora in American cities as “Exiled children in America,” this independence movement was not just demanded, it was inspired by the work of a poet. Pearse also became famous for a fiery speech he gave at the funeral of an old Irish rebel (O’Donovan Rossa) that had been banished from Ireland and organized Fenian strikes and secret organizations from New York City. Again, these are not the actions of a traditional poet.
There are a number of people I believe should be considered poets, but because they were a rebel or a socialist, a felon or even a rock singer, they won’t be entered into the vaunted, saintly category of poet due to their means.
As you come across news reports in the coming months concerning Ireland’s Easter Rising, you will undoubtedly hear the name Patrick Pearse along with James Connolly, Thomas Clarke and others, please think of the poet, Patrick Pearse. A poet who took action against terrible wrongs and organized cruelty, instead of retiring to a desk and complaining through academic, feeble poetic “plaints.” Pearse was a man who injected life into his words. A poet of vigorous soul.
What else but a poet could understand the powerful use of symbolism than he who chooses Easter, the Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of god’s son from the dead, as the time of year for a rebellion?
Below I have attached a Youtube video of Ronnie Drew, the famous Irish singer from The Dubliners reciting Patrick Pearse’s poem, The Rebel. The actual poem is copied below.
I am come of the seed of the people, the people that sorrow,
That have no treasure but hope,
No riches laid up but a memory
Of an Ancient glory.
My mother bore me in bondage, in bondage my mother was born,
I am of the blood of serfs;
The children with whom I have played, the men and women with whom I have eaten,
Have had masters over them, have been under the lash of masters,
And, though gentle, have served churls;
The hands that have touched mine, the dear hands whose touch is familiar to me,
Have worn shameful manacles, have been bitten at the wrist by manacles,
Have grown hard with the manacles and the task-work of strangers,
I am flesh of the flesh of these lowly, I am bone of their bone,
I that have never submitted;
I that have a soul greater than the souls of my people’s masters,
I that have vision and prophecy and the gift of fiery speech,
I that have spoken with God on the top of His holy hill.
And because I am of the people, I understand the people,
I am sorrowful with their sorrow, I am hungry with their desire:
My heart has been heavy with the grief of mothers,
My eyes have been wet with the tears of children,
I have yearned with old wistful men,
And laughed or cursed with young men;
Their shame is my shame, and I have reddened for it,
Reddened for that they have served, they who should be free,
Reddened for that they have gone in want, while others have been full,
Reddened for that they have walked in fear of lawyers and of their jailors
With their writs of summons and their handcuffs,
Men mean and cruel!
I could have borne stripes on my body rather than this shame of my people.
And now I speak, being full of vision;
I speak to my people, and I speak in my people’s name to the masters of my people.
I say to my people that they are holy, that they are august, despite their chains,
That they are greater than those that hold them, and stronger and purer,
That they have but need of courage, and to call on the name of their God,
God the unforgetting, the dear God that loves the peoples
For whom He died naked, suffering shame.
And I say to my people’s masters: Beware,
Beware of the thing that is coming, beware of the risen people,
Who shall take what ye would not give.
Did ye think to conquer the people,
Or that Law is stronger than life and than men’s desire to be free?
We will try it out with you, ye that have harried and held,
Ye that have bullied and bribed, tyrants, hypocrites, liars!
As I am becoming pigeonholed as a writer, the stronger I feel about ruining that perception. Over the last couple of years, I have been called a writer of historical fiction. Of gangs. A crime writer. A writer of Irish background. A writer of Brooklyn and New York City.
All of these things are fine, but I openly admit to feeling frustrated at being branded.
I do think it’s important not to simply rebel against being branded, because then you’re just rebelling. The key is to write what you love, and in the process you ruin the branding. To love what you’re writing.
Therefore, I am starting a new project. A very exciting one. Exciting for me, that is. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you won’t. But I know I will.
In March of 2016, EXILE ON BRIDGE STREET will be published by Three Rooms Press. It is the second book in the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy of historical novels. The third book will come out sometime afterward. In the meantime however, I have started writing something a little closer to the first book I had published, AN AFFAIR OF CONCOCTIONS (2009).
Although this new project was begun a few weeks ago, I’ve long thought of what other writing projects I wanted to do. I have even come up with titles, story lines, detailed characters, settings, allusions, plot twists and more.
The fact remained though, it was still fiction. It’s made up! I mean it’s all based on real events and experiences, but it’s not as tangible, or palpable as I want the next project to be.
While listening to a new and very cute couple speak to each other in a coffee shop recently (yes, I eavesdrop, I’m a writer/reporter without guilt) a few weeks ago, they were explaining to each other how big a role lies play in people’s everyday lives. But, if they wanted to stay together, they had to vow to always be honest with each other.
It was so cute hearing them make that promise. He kissed her from across the table, they held pinkies tightly and looked excitedly into each other’s faces.
“Honesty is sexy,” the guy said.
“The only thing sexier than honesty, is honesty in a thong,” she said.
The funniest thing about this? … It’s a lie. I just made it up. The conversation did happen, but I didn’t want to tell the story the way it actually happened. I wanted you to hear it a certain way. A writer tells stories, right? I mean you already knew that.
In any case, this new writing project I started is about honesty. There will be many lies and stories told within it, but the story itself is based on being truthful. So truthful, that it will lack the arch and conclusions fictional stories possess. There will be no didactic center, no meaningful allusions, no editorializing, no characters that represent immortal truths and no beginning, exposition and end.
In short, it’ll be like real life. Without conclusion, unless you make your own. Free-spirited and open to interpretation. And I like that.
A little idea of its contents? … Honesty, Paul Verlaine & Woman.
We’ve gone over honesty, so let’s attack the second part: Paul Verlaine! The bald-headed, absinthe drinking, French Parnassian/Symbolist poet who had a most famous homosexual relationship with a teenaged Arthur Rimbaud has long been one of my favorite “lives of the poets” story. He is kind of a narrator in this new project, but that’s about all I’m willing to say about it now.
The last part is “Woman.” Yes, just plain woman. Growing up with a single mother and a younger sister, I feel I have a closeness to women. I also feel like the world would be a safer place if women were to rule it. Women are still cursed, it cannot be denied, but they are on the rise. And it’s beautiful to see. Here in New York City you can see it more than in other places, I think. Hard working, career-minded, strong personalities in smart and colorful dresses, whip-like intelligence, unapologetic and yet genuinely feminine to the core.
Let’s do this!
“I’ll send you my reports, as long as you promise to read them with your senses.”
~LOVE AND MALADIES (2010)
A great new bar & restaurant has opened in Manhattan, and it’s closely related to the Auld Irishtown trilogy. (I’ve only written one review of a bar before, so you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t use the right terminology).
Based on the real life West Side gangster Thomas “Tanner” Smith (1887-1919), who is also a character in the trilogy, the new establishment mixes classic early 20th Century charm with an elegant modern touch.
Tanner Smith’s, Located in the Theatre District on 55th street between 7th & Broadway (N, Q, R trains @ 57th St. station), is a perfect place to land after a show and share a cocktail with your group.
The food is great quality as well. The “Small Plates” section of the menu is perfect for groups and friends to share a communal meal. The Lamb Sliders and the Buffalo Chicken Spring Rolls were excellent. Of note also was the Artichoke Sun-dried Tomato Dip, a tasty Cheese Board, Duck Confit Spring Rolls and the House-Prepared Beef Jerky. All of the food is very fresh and five-star quality.
The staff is loads of fun. Albert, our bartender, an Irishman from Kildare is a handsome fella with a perma-grin who brings a charm and positivity that is infectious. There were lots of girls and their friends lined up along the bar who seemingly came just to spend time with him.
All in all, the atmosphere was positive and everyone seemed generally excited. But speaking of the atmosphere, what you’ll notice first about Tanner Smith’s is the old-world charm and the new world cleanliness, haha. Along one wall is the classic old NYC brick facade with extra seating and the other is lamp-lit with a clean-lined modern style.
The lighting is fantastic, especially at night. As a big fan of dark Irish bars, Tanner Smith’s does not disappoint. But there is classic and romantic gas-light styled lighting in remote and centrally located spots everywhere, including a stairwell to a semi-private back room, or what was termed during the early 20th Century, the “rear-room” where thugs used to play cards (Tanner Smith was shot and killed playing cards).
The flooring is old-styled and classic and the booths and seating, as well as the wallpaper brings you back to pre-prohibition times.
The drinks, however, were quite possibly the best part of the experience. Albert concocted for a friend and myself an incredibly tasty and interesting “smoked” cocktail called the “Winona.” Mixing bourbon with orange peel and a few other ingredients, then smoking it in a separate, enclosed bottle and allowing us to pour it into a rocks glass on our own, which had one large round ice-cube in it.
After enjoying the Winona, I had my favorite drink Jameson & Ginger Ale with a lime, then washed the food down with an ale.
The next time you’re visiting New York City, or going on a date or looking for a cool spot before or after a show in the Theatre District, check out Tanner Smith’s. You can thank me later.
Below is a link to an interview I had with Boston University’s literary magazine, CLARION.
An excerpt from:
EXILE ON BRIDGE STREET (March 2016)
by Eamon Loingsigh
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 gales, 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
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 the 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.