There are many characters in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, quite a few of them are female, and of great importance, such as Sadie Meehan (nee Leighton), Emma McGowan and Mary & Anna Lonergan.
Mary is mother of Anna and Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan, a leader of a teenage gang in Brooklyn’s Irishtown during World War I. Mary is in the terrible position of needing to feed her large family, since her husband is mostly a drunk, and wanting to do the right thing. With fifteen children, however, her need outweighs her want.
Quote from Light of the Diddicoy:
“Best chance we got, the gangs. Always has been fer our like.” ~Mary Lonergan
(Listen to: The Story of Irishtown)
Mary, being wise of the violent ego of gangsters, cautions Richie not to choose sides. Young Anna on the other hand, beautiful and sought after, decides on her own that Lovett is who her brother should follow. Not because Lovett is a good man or that he would help pull the Lonergan family out of the poverty they seem stuck in, but because she sees and recognizes in him a terrible cruelty. A cruelty for which she is all too aware of, living in Brooklyn during World War I. That he is a dealer in cruelties, not a recipient, is what most influences her hard pragmatism for which she foresees that one day he’ll lead the gang.
Mary, however, is striving to live a legitimate life and wants to open a bicycle shop on Bridge Street with all the bikes Richie has stolen. One day when Richie is about to fistfight a White Hand Gang member, Meehan sees an opportunity and offers to pay for the opening of the bicycle shop if Richie wins the fight.
Lovett, who grew up close to the Lonergan family, can only stand by and watch.
Daughter Anna may be young and beautiful, but she does not possess the innocence, shame and naiveté of a teenage girl in an Edna O’Brien novel. Although, she is a victim of the “terrible curse” of being yet another sacrificial female in a time of unacknowledged sexism. But Anna is as cruel as she is attractive. And with a viper’s tongue, a strong opinion that won’t be ignored or chalked up as emotionalism, she is a force to be reckoned with.
Mother Mary, having lost multiple children to malnutrition and the Spanish Influenza, as well as a victim of her husband’s drunken abuse, does all she can as her children are sucked into the world of Irish-American gangs. Though it’s not her fault, since there are no other options, she is tormented just the same.
Watch a video trailer of Exile on Bridge Street: