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…

View original 4,920 more words

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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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Auld Irishtown Characters

There are many characters in Light of the Diddicoy and the forthcoming second/third books in the Auld Irishtown trilogy. Within the books, I have purposely attempted to make them as brief, yet distinct as possible. Avoiding confusion is very important to me, yet inevitable with so many different personalities and roles. Therefore, I wanted to keep a list that readers can regularly look at while reading the books. I’ll keep this blog up so it can be referenced. Hopefully it’ll help sort through any confusion.

It’s important to remember that only eight of the many characters mentioned here are fictional. Liam Garrity, the narrator is the most visible fictional character, others have very small roles such as NY Dock Company’s Silverman, the Gang lawyer Dead Reilly and Liam’s uncle Joseph. All of the remaining characters were real people with real Irish American surnames that mostly retain their original nicknames and monikers, such as The Swede, whose real name was James Finnigan and Cute Charlie Red Donnolly, which is exactly what people used to call him.

I did have to change a couple characters’ names for the simple fact that, back then, so many men’s first names were James, Patrick, Eddie, Frank or John. Bartender Paddy Keenan, for instance, is based on a real life man named Patrick Howlett. James Healy changed to Sean Healy. Frank Seaman changed to Jidge Seaman, “Jidge” being an old way of saying “George.” And in maybe the most dramatic case, a guy who was originally named Frank Madden was changed to Thos Carmody (Thos being short for Thomas). Retaining Frank Madden would only confuse smart readers, who would automatically believe him related to the famous gangster of that time Owney Madden, who he was not related to.

Good luck, Eamon

Gang Leaders:
Liam Garrity – Narrator, teenager
Dinny Meehan – White Hand Gang Leader
The Swede – Fighter, Dinny’s protectorate
Vincent Maher – Masher, Dinny’s protectorate
Tommy Tuohey – Irish traveler, Dinny’s protectorate
Lumpy Gilchrist – Numbers guy, Dinny’s accountant
Richie Pegleg Lonergan – Youngster, leader of Lonergan crew

Dockbosses:
Wild Bill Lovett – Red Hook, old Jay Street Gang leader
Cinders Connolly – Jay & Fulton street terminals
Harry the Shiv Reynolds – Atlantic Avenue Terminal
Cute Charlie Red Donnolly – Navy Yard
John Gibney the Lark – Baltic Street Terminal

Other Gang Members:
Big Dick Morissey – Gibney’s righthand, muscle
Philip Large – Connolly’s righthand, Fool-mute
Mickey Kane – Dinny Meehan’s cousin
Paddy Keenan – bartender & Minister of Education
Dance Gillen – Half black, half Irish, King of the Pan Dance
Chisel McGuire – Craps King of Ballyhoo
Needles Ferry – Drug addict
Ragtime Howard – Dock Loaders’ Club stalwart
Dago Tom Montague – Half Italian, half Irish
Non Connors – Lovett’s righthand
Darby Leighton – Banished from White Hand Gang, Lovett follower
Pickles Leighton – In Sing Sing, framed by Dinny Meehan in 1913
Frankie Byrne – Lovett follower, old Frankie Byrne Gang leader
Jidge Seaman – Frankie Byrne/Lovett follower
Sean Healy – Frankie Byrne/Lovett follower
Garry Barry – Old Red Onion Gang leader, psychotic
James Hart – Truck driver
McGowan – Former righthand of Dinny Meehan, killed in Sing Sing by Pickles Leighton
Beat McGarry – Old timer, storyteller before William, after The Gas Drip Bard

Lonergan Crew (teens):
Abe Harms – German Jew, Richie’s righthand
Petey Behan – Thug, feuds with Liam Garrity
Matty Martin – Follower, loves Anna Lonergan
Timothy Quilty – Follower, boxer

Others:
Sadie Meehan – Wife of Dinny Meehan
William Brosnan – Poplar Street policeman
Mary Lonergan – Mother of Richie Lonergan
Anna Lonergan – Sister of Richie Lonergan
Tanner Smith – Greenwich Village dockboss, Meehan associate
King Joe Ryan – ILA leader in NYC
Thos Carmody – ILA recruiter (Manhattan)
Joey Behan – Older brother of Petey Behan
James Quilty – Older brother of Tim Quilty (best friend of Joey Behan)
Henry Browne – ILA leader in the Navy Yard
Frankie Yale – Brooklyn Italian mafia leader
Jonathan G. Wolcott VI – VP of Wage & Labor, NY Dock Co
Silverman – NY Dock Co muscle
Joseph Garrity – Liam’s uncle (Brooklyn)
The Gas Drip Bard – Irishtown storyteller, Old timer
Dead Reilly – Gang lawyer
Il Maschio – Yale follower
Thomas Burke – Lives below Liam
Christie Maroney – Bartender, gang leader of many gangs circa 1900-1912
Coohoo Cosgrave – Original leader of White Hand Gang
Father Larkin – Priest at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church

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

If you’ve made it this far I commend you, but there are many other minor characters:
Other Gang Members:
Mick Gilligan – Low end White Hand follower
Eddie Hughes – White Hand Gang member
Freddie Cuneen – White Hand Gang member
The Simpson brothers, Whitey & Baron – White Hand Gang members, WWI soldiers
Joseph Flynn – Drunkard, childhood friend of Lovett’s, WWI soldier
Johnny Mullen – White Hand Gang member, WWI soldier
Happy Maloney – White Hand Gang member, WWI soldier
Quiet Higgins – White Hand Gang member, WWI soldier
Gimpy Kafferty – White Hand Gang member, WWI soldier
Fred Honeybeck – White Hand Gang member, WWI soldier
Peter th’ Buck – Northern Ireland refugee

Obscures and Extras:
Mr. Lynch – Greenwich Village saloon owner, Hibernian societies
Mrs. McGowan – Mother of McGowan
Emma McGowan – Sister of McGowan
Patrolman Culkin – Brosnan’s son-in-law
Patrolman Ferris – Another patrolman
Rose Leighton – Sadie’s mother
Frank Leighton – Oldest Leighton brother, manager at Kirkman Soap Factory
Willie Lonergan – Lonergan child
Tiny Thomas Lonergan – Lonergan child
Ms. Gilligan – wife of Mick Gilligan
Sammy de Angelo – Italian hit man
Vandeleurs – Land lord
Edward Thime – Leader of the Third Avenue Board of Trade
Daniel Meehan – Dinny’s father
Seamus “Red Shay” Meehan – Dinny’s uncle
Manning the Elder – Irishtown poet before The Gas Drip Bard
T.V. O’Connor – ILA President (King Joe’s boss)
Sister Reynolds – Harry Reynolds’ adoptive nun
Lefty & Costello – Two followers of Tanner Smith
James Cleary – Garry Barry follower
Strickland – Pierhouse Super
Catherine Knack – Sthroller, drug addict, witness to a murder
Margaret Carroll – Sthroller, drug addict, witness to a murder
Silent Charlie – Leader of Tammany Hall
Paul Vaccarelli – Old leader of Five Points Gang, ILA executive
Red Mike – Mayor of New York City
Jack “Stickem” Stabile – Italian, owner of Adonis Social Club

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July Update

Light of the Diddicoy continues to gain momentum, and so I wanted to take a moment and update everyone on some recent events.

The Irish Voice, an Irish print newspaper in New York City published a very nice piece on Light of the Diddicoy in June. It was recently added to Irish Central‘s website here:
http://www.irishcentral.com/news/irishvoice/The-Irish-in-Brooklyn-then-and-now.html

Amazingly, it sites two books about the Irish in Brooklyn, one of them is Light of the Diddicoy while the other is from the famous Irish writer Colm Toibin and his book, which is currently being filmed in Coney Island named, appropriately, Brooklyn.

Light of the Diddicoy vividly reminds us of how the Irish shaped Brooklyn and vice versa,” writer Tom Deignan wrote. Brooklyn workers

“Eamon Loingsigh… just published an excellent, deeply authentic novel of gritty Irish Brooklyn,” the article goes on to say and has many quotes from myself as well.

Also, another popular writer, Andrew Cotto wrote a very positive review here:
http://www.6sqft.com/before-dumbo-had-a-dumb-name-eamon-loingsighs-new-novel-references-the-neighborhoods-seamy-past/

Light of the Diddicoy is an exquisitely-crafted narrative that evokes immense empathy. There are no good characters or bad ones, simply people trying to survive in a place that knows no mercy, a place that is constantly in flux and uninformed by justice. This is a story of how men and women and children survived down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass when no one in Brooklyn or beyond cared about those who lived there.”

Also, my publisher Three Rooms Press and I recently hosted an event at McGee’s, an old Manhattan restaurant/bar where we were graced with the presence of more famous authors, such as Pquinnipiac2eter Quinn (Banished Children of Eve), Malachy McCourt (Amongst Women, I mean A Monk Swimming), Kevin Baker (Paradise Alley), Mary Pat Kelly (Galway Bay) and crime writers Terrence McCaulley and Seamus Scanlon.

A couple days after that I had a wonderful reading at Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum, located at Quinnipiac University, and sold loads of copies too!

Don’t forget to get yours at the link below, where there are 15 more reviews to sift through:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00IHGVF2Q/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-3&pf_rd_r=18FQZ6AP13T74PT1NRNN&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200422&pf_rd_i=507846

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