When We Were Immigrants

Boro Hall SpeechOn St. Patrick’s Day, 2017, I was invited to speak at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall with Borough President Eric Adams at the traditional Al O’Hagan breakfast. Below is the speech given. 

St. Patrick’s Day has become a day of green top-hats, orange beards.
For many, an excuse to over-drink.
For some, it is still a day to honor the saint himself, who brought Catholicism to Ireland.
For most of us here today, it is a celebration of the Irish in the United States, particularly New York.
So, with my historian cap on.
On the only day when everyone is considered Irish, I wanted to talk about when we were immigrants.

When we were immigrants, things were different.
Mmm, not really.

After the Irish rebellion of 1798, The Acts of Union of 1800 enveloped Ireland into Great Britain.
By then, Britain’s flag the “Union Jack” was colloquially deemed by Irish women and men as “The Butcher’s Apron.”
Soon, life would become untenable at home when the blight of the potato came to Ireland in 1845.
Worse were the economic policies that came from London in response to widespread reports of starvation in Ireland.

Here in Brooklyn, the vast majority of its population was the Dutch and Anglo-Ascendency.
Almost no Irish, certainly not Catholic Irish.
In fact, less than 1% were Irish-born.

borough hallTen years later, in the census of 1855 after Ireland’s greatest tragedy had mostly resolved, there were over 56,000 Irish-born that had settled, mostly along the waterfront area of Brooklyn.
This comprised an incredible 27.5% of Brooklyn’s population.

Historians have often debated what was more difficult: Living on the tenant farms in Ireland during that time period? Or crossing the Atlantic Ocean?
We are the result of those who survived both.
Now, there are 40 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry.

But if I could ask you to do anything today, it is this: Please try and imagine the conflict that would’ve arose from the Dutch & Anglo gentry and the Irish immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s Brooklyn.

This Dutch and Anglo ascendency though, can you picture them with the top hats and tails, some wearing high knee-socks and the funny-looking slippers? The white wigs and the fluffy collars?
People who saw themselves as “high-born” or “well-bred” and “genteel.”

Now imagine the Irish that had just been dumped on the waterfront: Shoeless, wearing patched-up rags, strewn with lice, weakened by cholera, yellow fever and dissentery, gaunt and starving, only about half spoke English, all of them though had that terrible, hated Irish accent.

We take for granted that the Irish accent is so loveable. Back then though, it was a sign of extremely low caste. And worst of all, they were Catholic! The hated religion that their English forebears had so boldly rebelled against!

One of the most difficult things for us to do is to reconcile the past. But we must remember that at every second of every moment, we are creating a new history. Therefore we have to remember that so many of us Irish are the offspring of refugees.

We come from “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. . . the wretched refuse. . . the homeless, tempest-tost” for whom Emma Lazarus wrote her famous poem, describing how the United States lifted its “lamp beside the golden door.”

In this very neighborhood where we sit today. Right here, is where those Irish settled. Not in brownstones or apartments or duplexes. Not even in tenements.
No.
They squatted in empty lots.

Back in Ireland during the Great Hunger, known widely if not falsely as the “Potato Famine,” after being evicted, families had to dig holes in the ground and covered the entrances with sticks and brush. They called these “scalps” or even worse, “scalpeens,” which were the smallest, most rudimentary dwellings.

In fact, there is evidence that the same thing happened in this neighborhood, particularly over by Fort Greene Park, where our ancestors holed-up like the most desperate of refugees we see on television today on the news.

A New York Times article described the area in 1848 – I’ll quote from it, but I’d like to point out the perspective of the writer, which was that of disgust toward these homeless and starved people:

“There was an extensive colony of Irish people who had settled on the vacant lots of Fort Greene, which… from the number of pigs and dogs there, was known as ‘Young Dublin.’”

The article then rudely describes how the police made a concerted attack upon this “pigdem” which “rooted” out the Irish living there.
The comparison of Irish to pigs and dogs is palpably described in the article.

With nowhere to go, the Irish refugees then moved to Jackson’s Hollow, an area consisting of empty lots and hills at this time between Flushing and Gates avenues east of Fort Greene Park.

The same New York Times article said of the makeshift dwellings there, “Nine out of ten of these shanties have only one room… which does not average over twelve feet square” and “the cradle is seldom empty.”

In a Dec. 18, 1863 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jackson’s Hollow was described thusly

“Lying in the very heart of the city, and given over to hogs and cows, and to the squatter sovereigns who have erected wretched shanties upon it.”

From these humiliating and loathsome origins grew a culture, extraordinarily similar to the gypsy and rebellious subcultures of Ireland.
What sprung up from these scalpeens and shanties were hundreds of the original murderous Brooklyn gangs.

I have argued for a few years now that these gangs were not created out of some love of crime or a result of alcoholism, but that these gangs were formed solely for the purpose of feeding families. Pooling resources. Combatting poverty and oppression. And how else to do that?
Dominating labor.

The next generation of young Irish of the 1860s through the 1890s roamed Brooklyn in big numbers before unions came to power.

They built buildings, and bridges, loaded and unloaded ships on the waterfront, manufactured sugar, coffee, shoes and soap. The working class Irish. Wearing boots, working hard, playing harder.

The word “gang” as we know it in Brooklyn originated in the different types of longshoreman groups that worked together, such as “deck gangs” that stacked goods in a net on the deck.

“Hatch gangs” that lowered the goods into the ship. And “Hull gangs” that worked inside the ship and organized the goods inside.
Eventually, the word “gang” came to describe the longshoremen in general, who violently protected their jobs from the owning class and other ethnic groups.

For instance, there are many reports of ships being burned from Wallabout Bay down to the Erie Basin because the shipping company did not go through the right channels in procuring a labor force.
They’d never make that mistake again.
I mean, who were they going to complain to, the police? The predominantly Irish police force?

Now, I won’t take up much more of your time but, if you hadn’t already heard what I am about to tell you, then I’m very proud to introduce you to it.

Brooklyn’s old Fifth Ward, which is now known generally as DUMBO and the Vinegar Hill area, was once commonly referred to as “Irishtown.”

There were many enclaves that were originally settled by Irish Catholic immigrants in Brooklyn from Greenpoint down to Gowanus, but Irishtown became the most famous.
Why?
Because of its refusal to assimilate into Anglo-American culture.

Irishtown had a cast of comical characters that retained their Irishness to the core and collectively, they had an incredibly deep sense of distrust toward law, itself. Particularly English law (since it was English law that starved them in Ireland, evicted them and forced them to emigrate).

But in New York at the time, the people of Irishtown would have certainly seen law as once again hostile toward them and their ways.
Therefore, gangs of young ruffians in Irishtown (working class men) kept policemen out, or paid them not to do their job.

In the 1870s things began to slowly change. The Civil War took many young men out of Irishtown for cannon fodder.
More importantly, the US government was not getting taxes from the lucrative black market inside Irishtown, the distillation and sale of whiskey and poitin.

Long before Prohibition, there was the Whiskey Wars that took place in Brooklyn’s Irishtown between the police and Irish gangs that kept them out.
In 1873 though, police, federal agents and marines invaded Irishtown through the Navy Yard. And this time, they had the numbers and had rations. They were going to occupy Irishtown until every last whiskey still was thrown into the East River.
The battle had begun.

As usual, the people of Irishtown took to the rooftops and threw bricks and paving stones down on the cops and soldiers, (better known as Irish confetti).
Women opened their kitchen windows and with a child in one arm, threw more Irish confetti on the “invaders”,

Eventually they left, having arrested and beaten back the dominant Irishtown gang of that era, a gang known as the “Velvet Caps of Irishtown”
But over time the steady flow of locally distilled liquor came to a trickle.

By 1900, Italians, Jews, Poles, African-Americans and Russians began living in the area and the legends of Irishtown began to fade, but many of the attributes remained and one last Irish-American gang from Irishtown took-on those traits as their own, such as:
The Code of Silence
The inherent distrust of law
The domination of longshoreman labor
And a very distinct Irish flavor

With surnames such as Meehan, Lovett, Lonergan, Connolly and Donnelly, the gang became simply known as The White Hand in response to the Italian Black Hand of South Brooklyn.

Willie Sutton was born in Irishtown in 1901. He became famous in the 1930s, and not the good-kind-of-famous either. He was a bank robber and when asked by reporter why he robbed banks. Sutton answered, “That’s where the money was.”
In his very popular memoir, aptly titled “Where the Money Was,” Sutton described Irishtown as having “made him,” and how it was the White Hand Gang that forced Brooklyn’s own Al Capone to move to Chicago,

Quote: “Because the Irish mob played too rough.”

Sutton also described “a code of silence was observed in Irishtown more faithfully than omertà is observed by the Mafia… Nobody ever talked in Irishtown.”

Unfortunately for Irishtown, it’s most famous residents were almost always thugs, corrupt politicians, gangsters, chiselers, skimmers, illegal whiskey distillers, faro and craps dealers, ladies of the evening, refugees and bank robbers.

Sounds like it might make a good book series, doesn’t it?

Over the last few years I’ve fielded emails from hundreds of people wanting to know where to look up information about their Brooklyn Irish ancestors, and if there’s a pattern to what they’ve found out about their great-uncles and great-grandmothers, it’s that they were involved in nefarious, illegal and often surprisingly devious situations.

I’ll say it again.
One of the most difficult things for us to do is to reconcile the past.
But we must accept the truth.
After accepting the truth, it is up to us how to respond.
Remember, we are making history, right now.

Thank you and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

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Snow by the Cemetery

The world is beautiful because of all the horror we’ve seen and know. Without horror, we would not have beauty.

When I looked outside my window and saw it was snowing, I threw on a jacket, boots and my hat and decided I was going to do something that would capture the mood of DIVIDE THE DAWN, the last book in the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy. I walked over to Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn and shot this. Then put some acoustic guitar over it.

I live directly between the Statue of Liberty and a humungous cemetery. Between death and hope. That’s where we all live.

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Escape to America

In support of all immigrants, their dreams and hopes, whether they be African, Mexican, Syrian or Irish, I am posting the first couple chapters of Light of the Diddicoy (2014), the first book in the Auld Irishtown trilogy for free. It details the journey in October, 1915 of Liam Garrity from County Clare, Ireland to Brooklyn, New York.
The Irish started coming to the United States in great numbers after a horrific famine and terrible oppression. In America, their religion was despised, their culture was hated and they came from a tradition of revolt. Although they were white, they were feared and made out to be monkey-like rapists, terrorizers and drunks by Anglo-America. Their mortal struggle surviving in Ireland was as dangerous as the treacherous journey to the United States, where they arrived shoeless, uneducated and faced debilitating discrimination. Here, they were forced to take the worst jobs. But they built America, became soldiers, policemen, firemen, nurses, factory workers, lawyers and eventually politicians.
Today, immigrants face the same difficulties. Oftentimes, the color of their skin compounding the issue. Still, the vast and overwhelming majority of the victims of Donald Trump’s disastrous immigration policies are normal people seeking stability and regular families hoping for a better life for their children that are denied the opportunity afforded to the rest of us. 

 

Light of the Diddicoy

Part One of The Auld Irishtown Trilogy
Eamon Loingsigh

Final Diddicoy cover

~  Glasnevin Rebelpoets   ~

Down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass there once roamed a gang I fell in with. A long time ago it was, when I was young and running. It’s all I had, this life. Just as yours is yours. Don’t let yourself think mine is anything different, anything better. I won’t have it that way. It was just a life, and there you have it. But like so many born on the isle of Ireland, I am to die far from home. Though such a grief has since let me alone, as bitterness only cuts into the bone, I’m at ease with it in my age. But to go ’way with all these memories, well, I rush them out here for you to breathe them in. To read with your senses as I lay here in the brood of the night, broad awake to recite my beads, not so dutifully. Because when dying it’s no longer duty, it’s prayer. So here I am to send a story you true and fair. About blood. And honor. About the code of men, and about empathy too.

This story will both begin and end on a ship as any good run or reel should, but we’ll start you here for good measuring.

Cobh wasn’t called Cobh when I left it. Queenstown, and a great Atlantic crosser allowed myself and far too many others aboard in the swirling mist. Among the high masts two giant round silos breathed into the air above, black exhaust due from the belly of the iron woman’s coal-fired furnaces within. Her long reach a mile wide in black and red faded paint as she sat three-quarters full already from her port in Liverpool on stop to pick up itinerant thirds in the country that made her back in ‘89. Six-inch black iron gun heads reached from what was once a leisurely deck for more distinguished passengers of another era, ghosts now. The Great War changing and altering all of life as we know it. And just above the rusted anchorhold in sea-weathered letters, a degraded font from that bygone time, RMS Teutonic.

Not a day for celebrants, it is the offing of the peasant ceremonial here. Lacking pomp and cheer, instead the heavy request of need and necessity fills their eyes. The hunger of orphans and their low caste beheld in their beams, bony travelers huddling for lands of hope and honey. Desperate for their utopia somewhere far off, they are. A utopia dreamed up by the imaginations of the falling and those without promise. As was true to the time it was the motley beaten Celts, pushed to the western edge of Europe and beyond. Into the sea. Their hopes are as humble as their tattered belongings, with only a meal as their immediate mark. I remember how clear they were to me, standing like statues in my mind, the thin faces with paper passes in palm stand blank and disenchanted with patchy beards and shrunken features and tubular breasts and tumorous growths and black fingernails and crippled feet deformedly ornamented by undermined sandals like a parade of pilgrims crossing the desert if only to summon God himself in the absence of His resources and with a will to survive at least long enough to enter the shrine, America.

The farthest I’d ever traveled previous was to sell peat over in Ennis or through the earth’s skullpate known as The Burren for the horse fair up in Ballinasloe. A long ways as far as I knew. My father had just arrived back from the greatest of graveside orations and the displays of rebelpoets at Glasnevin. And when the dawn is come for change and you know it, you must prepare or be swept in by it. Great change is on the wing. Rebellions among wars.

Da nods his head at my departure up the plank, a simple handshake and I am gone to life by him as he turns back into the land. His eyes narrow under the cap and brow like a man hiding feelings. And I suddenly find that no longer will I follow his long shadow round the farm, the turf-creel on his shoulder, the scent of gorse in the air. Older by a year, brother Timothy tips at me nervously. Mother and two sisters stayed back in Clare having said good-byes there to leave the men for the day’s ride through the country, out in the long hills and stretches of rock-strewn fences where old and forgotten territories are marked like dead dog’s piss in aged farm hay.

“Not to werry. Hardest t’ing he ever had to do, send ye away such. We’ll give to what comes of it,” Mam is tear-smirched in the doorway, sorrowed by the life of things that are far from her control. “May trouble be always a stranger to ye. . . . Whence I gave birth wid’ ye some fourteen year ago, I t’ought den and still do now dat ye’d be one day a man to open the door fer many. Take dis, den. Put it in yer pocket and touch it when ye please. Ye’ll be grand wid it. Safe keepin’, not to werry.”

The Saint Christopher is not much more than a tin imprint and once upon it had a hole where to thread a string to tie round the neck, but since then it’d broken entirely. I place it in my pocket. Feel the imprint of his face on my thumb and forefinger. And that was that, Mam gives my wake with hopes to follow, her teary face blushed with a constant cry from the deaths of her two infant sons, Sean and Colm, born and died before Timothy even. And why does Timothy get the farm and I the Saint Christopher? And I think now that surely it’s because his birth and survival was the answer to Mam’s praying so hard. Mine was much less, but who has the understanding in their early years to ponder on such things except artists or rich people who are so often one in the same. And maybe the old, such as myself typing away here before I go. But little does she even know that emigrating during the Great War is likely another dead son in the wait. Only luck can make it across the sea lanes with the sea wolves dug in for war, where the Lusitania was sent to the dregs just north of Queenstown in Kinsale, just south of five months early upon. Saint Christopher or not, the German has his way on the seas and the war never means to kill a single Irish but then again a dead Irish, incidental or not, won’t change the course of things. The Irish and the sea songs though, they are fraught with the romance of death. Not a song I plan to sing, but what word have I in it? Old songs sung by the stink of peat back famine way. Back when times was worse, true. But why I am to suddenly go, no one is to rightly know. Not I. Not Mam either, but Timothy says for soldiering I’m too young yet and I hate him when all I see are the backs of he and Da walking over the hills for drilling with the Volunteers. My Mam says for traveling it’s Abby and Brigid that are too young yet. So it’s me who goes then.

“When ye can rub yer own two coins togedder, then ye can elect yer destinations,” says my Da, who with one arm pulls down the blackthorn from its chimney home; then he and I and Timothy too go off through the fields for the country train to the port city solemnly. Out from the farm. Out to the world with me.

 

 

 

~ Ship to New York ~

They make all males between the ages of eighteen and forty-one step out of the line to be saved for the conscription. I lean up the plank and onto the Teutonic. Men with the choppy language resembling the landlord’s pay taker corral us like cattle. They are stewards, and they are English, and they shove us down the dark stairwells of the ship with swinging oil lamps by their ears.

“Get along niy, ’urry up niy!” They say with tall ruddy smiles over the rat-haired heads.

“Slime,” one of them counts the passengers by grabbing them by an arm and pushing them toward the stairwell. “Glad to see y’off. Slime. Glad to see y’off. Slime. Glad to see y’off. Slime . . .”

Another young official up ahead of him laughs at his wit and throws an echo down the long hall, “At’s a way Currington. Oi Whatley! See ’ow Currington’s countin’ the ’eads ’ere, would yu! Funny innit?”

“Slime. Glad to see y’off. Slime . . .”

I too am swung by the elbow toward the stairwell and counted, “Slime!” Behind me I hear a man threaten the officials not to touch him and an affray breaks out with a piercing whistle that summons the meanest in the Anglo stewards. They rap the rebel on the head as he stands his ground with a few wild swings he’d been saving for them. A group of women go to yelping as he is dragged back where from he come and out of sight.

There is only one entrance and we are funneled like heads of beef from the planks and thin hallways and through tumbling metal stairwells in the dark to the stern dorm. To the back of the big girl. And as we are last to board, we are not split by gender nor age. It’s the size of a ballroom, lacking the ornaments and chairs and tables and musicians and dancers. Steel walls, iron floors and not a single facility in sight save piss pots. Not even a sheet for a woman’s privacy. By the time we fill the hall with some ninety souls there’s nary enough cots for the amount of us and so I go without and sit instead against the great unpronounced tin wall. By placing my ear on it, I can hear the gentle laps of salt water touching off on the opposite side and wonder how loud the sounds will become when far out and into the deep.

After some great wait, a backfire explodes somewhere below us and toward the bow. I hold the Saint Christopher in my fingers and feel as though my life is in God’s hands as I am such a stranger to this great floating vessel. Little do I know that for the rest of my long life I’d be a stranger in strange places, filled with my green, West Ireland memories of childhood.

Hidden men yell at one another like apes as they stoke a fire in the belly of her. From somewhere, propellers turn over, kicking off the rust and spinning begrudgingly in the salt. A great horn blows above our blindfolded ears outside with a trembling in my chest. Voices above seem to be sarcastically saluting the people of the land as we lurch backward to our staggering. Mothers filled with the ignorance of the Old World and the superstitions against anything mechanical yelp again at the sudden movement and hold on to each other in their fear. Old men too who’ve never seen yet even an automobile in their long lives, now in the hold of a great and mysterious metal monster about whose whim they haven’t a clue. After some thirty minutes of passengers bogging their strange good-byes outside, we must finally give leave of the shore and head south. The waves at the iron wall behind me now spanking and echoing through the chamber dorm.

The sea is hidden. And to us, doesn’t exist. The great expanse of it is nothing more than rivets and squares of iron sheets and slats along the whole of the room like the blank canvas of the art of the forgotten. An old highwayman is gumming a potato he’s hidden in his humble packs. Chewing as lines and muscles in his temple and pate flex like iron cords to crush the tuber in his gnawing gate, leaning off his cot with legs wide out and swaying with the expanse of the ship as if he’d made countless journeys like it in his days.

Eight hours go by, my stomach turns with hunger until a child hardly out of infancy hands me a share of bannock bread, “Me mam says ’tis fer ye,” and runs off among the other steerage crew before even I can thank her. But I say it anyhow for it is only right to give thanks, particularly to those who give when take is in the need.

By now, the fireman’s castle is ablaze at sea and the iron sheets become too hot to lean on. Devils of men bellow out from somewhere we cannot see. “Feed that bitch!” I hear a man proclaim in the tin distance. “Feed ’er! Feed ’er! She’s a hungry one! Shovel ye’re mightiest boys! Feed that bitch and give’r what she wants for the love of ye!”

I peel off my coat and wool sweater and yank down my tie in order to free the sweat that accumulates on my back and chest. Not wholly understanding why there is such a great blaze on board, I tremble with the thought of a ship fire at sea and just when I feel we are all to die by the flame, she moans a great sigh through the pulse of the deep in an abyssal ecstasy. So deep and so long you’d think it’s a mother dragon receiving the bulbous, tyrannical cock of a sex-crazed wandering wyvern bullmale from some arcane and wretched lore. I stare ahead with a crazed look upon me, ears dedicated to defining all the cryptic sounds around us.

Now growing angry, the Teutonic pushes forth through the froth. I can hear the men again feeding and stoking in some mysterious contest, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” We pierce the water at a pace of twenty knots. The width of the sea gulps at us in hopes of devouring our negligible souls for its evil quota. The Atlantic foam sucking at us in its great vaginal drink far worse than could ever be imagined in the old seafaring songs of my peat-fire childhood. Never at rest am I, as the hull of the cruiser staves on, flexing and bobbing and oscillating afloat, incising the folds and rocking through the brine as the ancient deep barely acknowledges our shafting it.

“T’ink dis here’s bad, do ye?” the man with the potato calls. “Ye’d a try it back den when a clipper’s all ye had. The creakin’ o’ swolled wood and the swayin’ fore an’ aft. T’ink dis here’s bad, do ye? Nar! Hell I’d take dis over a coffinship any day.”

Listening intently to the water, I try to distinguish the sounds of a U-boat. I hadn’t a single idea what a U-boat would sound like underwater of course, but any sound that comes to mind brings a flash of anxiety to me anyhow. My palms are so wet I wipe them on my thighs and knees so that my pants have the look of being soiled. My jaw sore from grinding, nails raw from biting. An hour later and I see the potato man with his nose to the air, shaking his head.

“Smell a storm,” says he in my direction.

Sure as anything, we next hear the crack of the cloaked sky above as the Atlantic crosser makes her way into the teeth of it, or so we are led to believe. All of us sit in wait, warbling our eyes up like owl heads to feed our ears. Billowing rippled waves of some imagined proportion lap and lick like holy fires on the stretch of mankind, forcing the vessel’s long genuflecting and seesawing.

Children and drab-dressed women are sent flaying off their backsides with legs and feet asplayed in the air and are sucked into a corner where loose remains gather like storm water sent fleeing for the sewer collect. The floor quickly changes to the color of the inside of our stomachs. Now the pinkish viscid innards spread along the steel bottom and soon enough we all are sliding in it, skittering off the slippery sheet and slamming against the wall, potato man among us. The cots too, as they are not secured to the floor, go flying toward the collects with the open-legged peasant women and clumsy children holding tight on their kin.

Screams of panic echo off the steel faceless walls. When the ship pitches high into the air, the inevitable down-splash of its great tonnage sends the population across the room but with nothing to grab on to. As the diving and swaying becoming longer, the force of ninety humans and their scattered belongings and fifty cots all slam against the uncaring steel with accumulating power. I see a woman completely unconscious with blood lines trailing from her ear and three of her brood holding on tight to her as if they don’t realize she is dreaming a dream from her concussion.

Along with everyone else, I lose track of my bag that holds my life’s worth inside it. As I look around for it and between being sent to opposing sides, I see boys around my same age stick their hands into others’ belongings and pull out coins, stuffing them into their own pockets. Two men begin berating each other and stand in the center of the moving floor gummed with mucus and previous meals. One punches the other and they pull on each other’s clothes for balance and dominance. Fighting and fighting in their beleaguered state like two cats that have been tied by their tales upside down and next to each other, brawling and hissing as if the other is to blame for their condition.

When the lightning finally passes, the swells calm too and soon all are slogging through the half-inch puddle to collect our soiled rags. A week goes by like this and only three times do the doors open with the mean stewards yelping for us to queue up as we grab for our cups. The soup is no more than water and stock, leftovers no doubt. I wait in line looking ahead impatiently and with only three in front of me the ship tilts deep into the sea as I drop my cup. I scramble for it before another can snatch it, but when I return to queue I see that the barrel holding the soup has tipped over and without cleaning the spillage, the stewards double back and lock the doors behind them. Some children around me scoop up the stock mixed with the dried vomit as their mothers cry out at the state of their lot. I look for the sweet child with the thoughtful mother and the bannock shares, but cannot find her. When I come to my place along the wall it is then I see my belongings have disappeared entirely, hungry eyes staring at my dismay like hidden hyenas protecting their earned pilferings.

Without normal sleep nor food and feeling the ship slowing, in a sudden four doors are opened above that I had yet to realize were even there. Appearing from them are the Englishman officials and their yelling.

“Out! Out! Out! Out yu goes!”

“Where are we?” One man calls up to them.

“Out! Get out!”

And so we again funnel obediently toward the single-door exit leaving behind us unclaimed trash, upturned cots never used for sleep, sopping blankets and overturned piss jars and rancid fecal buckets where somehow flies had made their way into the steerage hold or had created life itself from the stink of the third class.

A few hours later, I wait in line but for what I do not know. The ship backs away from us. There is land on either side in the distance of the island house packed with fellow ragged travelers pale with the sea’s nausea and a childhood of peasantry. I give my name. “Liam.”

“Whole name,” he demands.

“William James Garrihy, born 1901, Clare, Ireland.”

“Calling or occupation?”

“Laborer.”

“Name o’ relative or friend ya joinin’?”

“My uncle, Joseph Garrihy.”

He hands me back some papers and that’s when I find out someone misheard me and therefore changed my name. I am Garrity now. They then take my clothes so they can see the whole of me; sunken belly poked, tongue pulled and genitals picked up with a flat stick and my face flushed in embarrassment.

“Where ya off ta den,” Another man says as a matter of occupation.

“Water Street.”

“Brooklyn o’ Manhatt’n?”

I thought of the two words. Brooklyn sounds more familiar.

“On ’at ferry ova dere, g’ahead.”

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The Girl Queen, Anna Lonergan

Spoilers! If you have not read Light of the Diddicoy and Exile on Bridge Street, the first two books in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, you will find out all kinds of secrets below.

anna-prayingMen are animals. There’s no use in romanticizing it.
All he wants is territory, whether that be dominating his place of work, or a woman’s body.
Put it on my gravestone, I don’t care: Men are animals.

Well, I’m eighteen now and I can stand up for myself. And I don’t have to do things the way my mother Mary did.
I mean just look at her, the picture of a defeated woman: scarred from head to toe by a man’s abuse.

My father threw a pan of hot grease on my mother when I was a four years-old.
Now, after giving birth to fifteen of his children, she carries the wounds of man’s ownership like a branded cow.
I will not follow her lead.

From the beginning I was a religious girl.
I prayed to God that he would save us from the poverty of Brooklyn’s Irishtown and I spent almost as much time at St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church as I did caring for my younger siblings.

My older brother Richie though, he is going to be a great man.
When I was seven years old, he was run over by a Brooklyn trolley.
Bill Lovett was there. He pulled off his tie and wrapped it around Richie’s leg so he

Richie

Mugshot: Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan

didn’t bleed to death.
Richie just stared between the trolley tracks where the bottom part of his leg laid there, motionless.
Richie was never the same after that, but he owed his life to Lovett.

One day when I was fifteen, my mother made Richie go see Dinny at the headquarters of the gang that dominated labor on the Brooklyn waterfront, the White Hand, they were called.
I was in the alley with her and my siblings, since women aren’t allowed in there.
When Red Donnelly, the dockboss of the Navy Yard made fun of Richie, Richie beat him into submission in front of everybody.
It was then and there that Dinny and Lovett decided that Richie was the future, and promptly began a war between each other to win him.

Meehan struck first: he opened a bike shop for my mother, but with terms: Richie would work for the gang.
And kill for it, too.

ila-bannerRight around the same time the Easter Rising occurred in Ireland, great changes came to the Brooklyn waterfront as well.
The International Longshoreman’s Association tried recruiting us Irish laborers in the north and the Italians of the south to work together under their banner.

In response, Jonathan G. Wolcott from the New York Dock Company hired the White Hand to kill the recruiter, Thos Carmody.
The fact was, however, that the White Hand Gang was losing power.
So Dinny Meehan took control.

He had Richie kill some worthless piece of garbage.

ny-dock-co

New York Dock Company facilities in Red Hook, Brooklyn

Mick Gilligan was his name.
Gilligan had stepped between Lovett and Meehan and broke the code of silence.
Not only was Meehan taking back control within the gang, but he was also showing everyone that my big brother Richie was loyal to him, along with all the other teenagers that followed him and the many boys in the Lonergan family.

All hell broke lose after that.
Dinny Meehan’s Irish bhoys ran through the old dock neighborhoods beating anyone that was loyal to the Italians or the ILA or the NY Dock Co.
Lovett even helped him do it.
It came to be known as “A Day for Legends,” when the Irish took back the docks.
But Meehan set up Lovett’s righthand man for all the damage that was done.
Non Connors, an old and very loyal friend of Lovett, was jailed.
Although Lovett was weakened, he vowed revenge on Meehan.

As the dockboss of Red Hook, Lovett organized a revolt and proclaimed sovereignty there.
But Meehan is a powerful man, and he manipulated the waterfront winds in his

BK waterfront

Red Hook, Brooklyn

favor.
By making a deal with the Italians (that lived in the Red Hook neighborhood) and the ILA, Meehan allowed an Italian hit man to kill Lovett.
But Lovett is a gamey fellow, and he turned the tables on Sammy de Angelo.
Though Lovett was charged for murder, he plead out by joining the army and heading “over there” to the war in Europe.

With Lovett gone, we Lonergans had no choice but to declare our loyalty to Meehan and the White Hand.
Eventually we learned Lovett was killed in battle. I was crushed by the news.
Meehan then sent a suitor for me to marry our family to the White Hand, but I sent Liam Garrity away against my mother’s wishes.
“Why not consider it, Anna?” My mother pleaded. “They feed us, you know. And times are bad for our like.”
“I won’t marry that Liam Garrity boy because we ain’t no gypsies,” I yelled at her.

The winters were harsh back then, and two of my younger siblings died.
When the men came back from the war, they brought with them some terrible disease that swept through Irishtown and beyond.
With the war over, the waterfront had less shipping contracts and the poverty that always loomed over us intensified.
My mother again begged me to consider marrying the Garrity boy. tiny-thomas
Although times were tough, it was burying babies that broke me once and for all.
Especially Tiny Thomas, who had clung to me as if I was his mother.

All of this drove me back to St. Ann’s where I spent many hours inside the candlelit church praying for my family.
Father Larkin promised to help and talked me through my tears.
More importantly, he cried for me when I said I wanted to kill Meehan with my own hands, which swayed me from doing it.
I had never seen a man cry before.

And then a miracle happened: Bill Lovett rose from the dead.
The man who saved my brother Richie’s life and fought against Meehan had suddenly appeared like a spirit, although he was damaged from the celestial journey.
Right away Lovett wanted Red Hook again and had Richie show him his loyalty by killing Meehan’s cousin, Mickey Kane, who had taken over as dockboss there.

I know that Bill Lovett cares for my family, and although he’s an animal like all other men, I see fate in him. Kindness even. anna-sexy
Well, maybe there isn’t much kindness in him, but at least I know he’ll care for us and he has God on his side.
I can feel it.
I’m going right now down to Red Hook to see him. I’m eighteen now and I know what a man likes, and I’ll give it to him too.
I’ll give him what a queen has, her temple.
After he marries me, of course. I am Catholic after all.

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The Angles of Thos Carmody

Spoilers! If you have not read Light of the Diddicoy and Exile on Bridge Street, the first two books in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, you will find out all kinds of secrets below.

In 1894 my mother said I was born in a place called Dungarvan where the waterfront borders the neighborhoods and the ships bring in goods, just as they do in New York.
Well, I don’t remember any of that.
On the ship manifest they shortened my name from Thomas, to Thos.
Now I’m Thos Carmody, Treasurer, New York. 2146 new york old days boy preparatory drawing

Like other kids on the Chelsea docks, I had to fight to get noticed. But by the time I was ten, I was running envelopes for the Tammany and letting Dick Butler and King Joe Ryan fight over me.
Seems I had a brain that worked good.

Thing is, you don’t really have to fight if you have strong eyes and established men backing you.
On top of that, I had twenty kids on my pay that walked with me throughout the day, from pier to dock giving orders for Silent Charlie of Tammany and King Joe of the longshoremen union.
I was apparently so well-liked that those two big shots weren’t willing to risk the chance of fighting over me.
I sat smiling between them.

One day Owney Madden himself sent a tough named Tanner Smith to get me to pay tribute in his neighborhood.
Two weeks later, Owney was sent up Sing Sing way and I told Tanner Smith to fuck off.
Tanner didn’t like that much.
And I sent my mother to Poughkeepsie for good, just in case.

In the Hudson street saloons, I heard stories about Red Shay Meehan.
The Potashes, they called themselves. Greenwich Village bhoys. A motley bunch o’ West Ireland micks.
A big family, the Meehans, until they weren’t.
The Hudson Dusters had it out for the Meehans and within a year the whole gallop of’em died off except an eleven year-old cousin named Dinny, who crossed the ferry to Brooklyn on a stormy day with his dying father.
Landed on Bridge Street.
Times had changed on’em. And for some, time is a curse.

But what’s the difference between a curse and a prayer anyway?
Depends on the angle, if you ask me.
That’s what I’m good at, angles.
You see, things change and you gotta change with’em to stay on top.
What’s right one day, might be wrong the next.
The truth is a moveable feast in New York.
As long as you remember that.

ila

ILA men

Eventually I traded up from King Joe to T.V. O’Connor, President of the International Longshoremen’s Association. O’Connor noticed me and took me under his wing, showered me with promises.
Promises, that is, that were connected to his big plans for expansion of the ILA.

“I want you to take over Brooklyn, turn them hayseeds into red-blooded, card-holdin’ ILA men,” O’Connor said in his old country burr.

That was 1914, after the war started in Europe, but by the looks of them Brooklyn Irish bhoys, you’d think it was 1714. mugshot
Not a damn one of them had ever seen a lightbulb in his span, damn bunch of diddicoy mucks that named themselves the White Hand.

The Meehan child had grown up and re-appeared as leader of the Irish in the north Brooklyn docks, while Il Maschio, an Italian with a white streak in his hair, who worked for Frankie Yale, ran the Black Hand guinnea south.

I didn’t know where to start, so I went to Red Hook, right in the middle of them both.
Wasn’t long before Jonathan G. Wolcott himself put some big numbers on my head for trying to recruit longshoremen into the ILA.
$500 I heard, impressive.
But the New York Dock Co. has unlimited funds for keeping the union out of their territories.
No different than the gangs, really.

I saw the hit as a compliment. You know you’re important when the bid’s that high.
But I admit, I was still learning about how they did things in Brooklyn.
In Manhattan where I dragged up, it was a bit more civilized.
In Brooklyn, the past informed the Irish in the north docks under the bridges, and their ways came from the old world.

I heard from an old fellow known as The Gas Drip Bard that Dinny Meehan was summoned by the prayers of the old famine survivors of Irishtown.
Well I don’t believe much in curses and prayers, as I mentioned, but the old timers in Irishtown sure do.
And to look in Dinny Meehan’s stone-green eyes, you’d know there was something of the ancient in him.

Apparently Wolcott paid Dinny to kill me.
But Dinny passed the job off to one of my old enemies, Tanner Smith.
Owney Madden, Tanner’s old boss, got sent up by then, so Tanner tapped Dinny for a way back in the game.
But it was the ILA Tanner was gaming for.

You see, Tanner knew what it took to move up, but at heart he was a laborer and success always eluded him.
Instead of killing me, Tanner asked me to put in a good word for him at the ILA and told me to disappear for six months.
But I knew that by backstabbing the gypsy leader Dinny Meehan, Tanner and I would tangle, if you look close enough at the angle.
Only one of us will survive.

In the meantime, I high-tailed it up to Poughkeepsie to visit my Ma, then up to Buffalo where my boss T.V. O’Connor was.
But after my six month banishment, O’Connor sent me back to Brooklyn.
I hated him for that.
O’Connor wanted nothing to do with Tanner Smith, of course, and now I was being sent back down into the afray.
For the first time in my life I hadn’t succeeded in what I’d set out to do. If I couldn’t turn Brooklyn to ILA, no one could.
And now O’Connor was rubbing my nose in it.

I showed up in Brooklyn again like an angry ghost. They all thought Tanner had killed me, so I put the fear of death in superstitious fools like The Swede, one of Dinny’s larrikins.
In the Navy Yard I planted one of my guys named Henry Browne to get on the good side of the White Hand’s dockboss there, Red Donnelly.
That was my way in.

But when Bill Lovett, backed by Wolcott and the NY Dock Co., killed one of Dinny’s

ny-dock-co2

Red Hook and the NY Dock Co

enforcers and proclaimed sovereignty in Red Hook, the game changed suddenly.
In chaos, I look for opportunity.
It’s the Stoics said that, if you were wondering.
Fuel to feed the fire.
I read that once.

I was determined to make the angles come together for me in Brooklyn this time. And so Brooklyn finally turned at my demand.
Here’s how I did it.

The Adonis Social Club is owned by father and son Jack and Sixto Stabile, associates of the Prince o’ Pals, Frankie Yale. I told them we needed to make Vincent Maher, an enforcer for the White Hand who frequents the bawdyhouse females, help us send an offer to Dinny Meehan to make a trinity (the Irish love references to God):
White Hand plus Black Hand plus ILA.
Together, we’d war against Lovett and his backer, Wolcott and the NY Dock Co.

You see, you don’t go to people with an offer, you go to them with a resolution.
But things don’t turn easy in Brooklyn.
And violence ruptured the waterfront labor racket.

Under my suggestion, so to have the Italian and the Irish to work together, Dinny Meehan allowed a dago hitman to kill Lovett in Red Hook.
When that didn’t work and Lovett survived, we got a deal done with the District Attorney to charge Lovett with the murder of Sammy de Angelo (the failed hitman).
Lovett bargained out though, and was sent to the French trenches and an assured death in the Great War.
By hook or by crook, Lovett was supplanted.

And to prove myself to both the Irish and the Italian, I set up a gimmick with Maher (in the Italian side of Gowanus) to kill some kike thug of Wolcott’s.
Silverman was his name. The third confirmed man I ever had to kill, at that point.
Wolcott resigned from the NY Dock Co. not long afterward.
And so, the angles came back in my favor.

Times were good after that, except they went bad.
I got sent to the war too, and upped my confirmed kills to sixty-eight.
I was winning against life, sixty-eight to nothing.
Makes you nervous, thinking of it that way.

Bill Lovett

Wild Bill Lovett

Well, guess who I met in the blood trenches?
Wild Bill Lovett.
You’d think he’d try to kill me right then and there, but no, we were battle brothers, in the thick.
I watched that man butcher and cut Huns in half with a machine gun. Never saw a man so elated by the rush of murdering another.
No mortal man keeping count could tally Lovett’s confirmed kills.
Them Brooklyn bhoys, I’m telling you.

A shell or a grenade burst right next to me in the trench one day.
Next thing I knew I was back in the USA just as a great fever was breaking out.
An influenza that we veterans brought home with us, so it’s said.
What a life.

They brought me back among the living in a Carolina hospital, and once I got my bearings I craved the chaos of war again.
So I moved back to Brooklyn.

I found that T.V. O’Connor’s popularity was suffering.
O’Connor had made black-handed criminal Paul Vaccarelli a VP of the ILA.
That was dumb, the ILA was mostly Irish back then.
You can guess what the reaction was.
This made King Joe, one of my old mentors, eyeball the presidency.
Well he couldn’t do it alone, of course.

With bandages only recently removed, I stormed into King Joe’s office and told him that Bill Lovett was the future of Brooklyn labor.
He listened.
I’d almost been killed twice, but I was still on the fucking job.
And the Irish always shut their mouths and open their ears when you speak of how the dead will influence the living.

“Bill Lovett ain’t dead,” I assured King Joe. “I don’t care what the Army says. He’s going right now to kill Mickey Kane in Red Hook and take it over again. He’s a crazy fuck.”

“Mickey Kane he’s gonna kill?” King Joe asked, standing up. “Dinny Meehan’s cousin?”

“That’s right,” I said.

“Right now?” King Joe hoarse-coughed.

King Joe

King Joe Ryan

I nodded my scarred face at him, “In chaos you will find opportunity. Fuel to feed the fire.”

He sat down, then smiled at me, “Treasurer, New York?”

Yeah, I’ve earned it.
Treasurer, New York.

But before I kick back behind a desk, there’s only one last thing to settle.

I need to get Tanner Smith.
Before Tanner Smith gets me.

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Brooklyn, 2017

Like most people, I was ready for 2016 to end. Unfortunately, I don’t see things getting all that better for the evolution of humankind. We’re going to take a step backward in time from some of the progress we’ve made. But as some have pointed out, it’ll probably be good for punk rock, at least. Let’s hope it’ll be good for books about Brooklyn! Particularly those connected to the Auld Irishtown trilogy.

I’m very lucky to live in the same place I write about. Although I’m working on a different book between Exile on Bridge Street (2016) and Divide the Dawn, which we are expecting to release in Fall 2018.

Every day I am amazed to be living close to Green-Wood Cemetery, Prospect Park, the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway andOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA the Gowanus Canal (haha) and only a few blocks away from where one of my characters (three characters actually) was murdered in 1925. It’s true, Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan was murdered by Al Capone and other Italians on the corner of 4th Avenue and 20th Street, a five minute walk.

richie-needles

Adonis Social Club circa 1925 at 4th Ave & 20th St

The Adonis Social Club was a rundown brothel owned by the Stabile family, who were associates of Capone and the Prince o’ Pals, Frankie Yale.

The building, shown in the photo, was made of wood and is gone now, obviously, but the old neighborhood is still quite working class. Yes there are lots of hipsters, but also a very large Puerto Rican, Mexican, Arabic and Asian population as well.

Immigrants. What all Americans were at some point or other. I happen to appreciate them more than your average New Yorker. Luckily I speak Spanish too, so I can talk to them if I like. Most of the time I’m too shy though, so I just listen to their conversations at the grocery store and on the R, W, N and D trains.

I don’t pray to any Gods, but I do hope for their safety in the coming year. I understand that they have limited opportunities. That they often come from violent

al-noor

al-Noor is dedicated to teaching Islamic culture and religion on 4th Avenue

countries and that those circumstances are not their fault. I also understand that they are conflicted here. Even in New York there are a lot of people who don’t care that immigrants have their own culture and struggle to learn ours.

On my street, we have an Islamic school and Mosque, a Spanish church and funeral home, a Turkish restaurant next to a Peruvian restaurant, a Jewish bakery and a busy bodyshop owned by a Polish family. I feel honored to be around them. I appreciate them and I know they are good, solid Americans.

This year I’d like to ask you something. Talk to a person of a different culture. Find out what is important to them and compare those concerns with your own. And most of all, welcome them. Tell them about your immigrant story and where your family originally came from and the trouble that caused them to come to America.

Go on then 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blurbs

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