Many great novels have references within its folds that relate to the story. Oftentimes readers never notice them, and sometimes even the academics don’t catch on. The great writers use these allusions to support the story and create a feeling that helps the story move along. It’s a literary device, but I have always been a little finicky about my literary devices, particularly in new work by young authors, as it seems there are so many writers out there these days that are well versed in literary devices, form and function and are trained to always answer the “who, what, where, when, why and how” in each sentence they put together.
Maybe the most famous writers of allusions was James Joyce. I studied him in college from his early work all the way through the unintelligible Finnegan’s Wake. He had thousands of tightly packed and hidden attributions, indications and allusions to other works, or a prayer that was only used in Dublin at the time. Or to songs of his own childhood. There were so many that an English professor I had told me that if I wanted to read Ulysses by myself, I needed a reference guide, which came in the form of a second book. So, I needed two books just to read one.
Although Joyce has kept academics searching inside his work many years for what lit teachers call “golden nuggets,” I found the practice to be elitist. Not too different from one of my most hated aspects of literature, obscurantism. In my own work though, I decided I liked allusions and would use them, but not like Joyce. Art for Art’s Sake was not my style. I wanted feeling in my writing. I wanted readers to get a charge once they figured out exactly what I was referring to when I have an allusion embedded. Like when eating pea soup and you find a nice crunchy piece of garlic in it. Suddenly your mouth bursts and your taste buds come alive. Most importantly though, I want the reader to understand the feeling and the emotion that I am trying to stir in my allusions.
It’s no secret that my family funneled money from their Greenwich Village longshoreman saloon in the early part of the 20th Century to support the rebels in Ireland that were quietly fomenting for revolt. I grew up in a typical Irish-American working class New York household that shrugged its shoulders when IRA bombs went off in London in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We knew deep within us the horrific deeds of the British Empire that have gone unpunished for hundreds of years. Although my family supported the IRA back when they were called Fenians or the Irish Republican Brotherhood, I believe now that the native Irish and the English/Scottish settlers in the County of Ulster must unite to make one Ireland. The Green (Catholic) and the Orange (Protestant), both brought together with White (peace) between them, just as the Irish Tri-Colour flag represents. But in October of 1915, when Light of the Diddicoy (first book of the Auld Irishtown trilogy) opens, peace was not an option. For the Irish Republicans, peace meant succumbing to the law of foreigners. Revolution was in the air. All it needed was a rallying point. Hence, the name of Chapter 1: GLASNEVIN REBELPOETS, an allusion to the speech by Padraig Pearse at the funeral of the famed Fenian rebel, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.
In Chapter 1, Liam Garrity, the 14 year old narrator of Light of the Diddicoy, is given the St. Christopher, a charm signifying the patron saint of safe travel. He doesn’t know why he is being sent to America, but the reader finds out that his father has just come back from Dublin and the funeral of O’Donovan Rossa. What is not said is that Liam’s father knows a great rising against the British Empire is not far in advance. A rising to rival that of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. As a precaution, the father sends his youngest son to America in case war is to arise from the rebel rising. Liam’s older brother Timothy and his father are already members of the Irish Volunteers and his two sisters are too young yet to travel. As fathers were not known for their communication skills at the time, Liam is sent without explanation and to New York he goes, to work on the docks with his father’s brother in a place well known to the Irish, the Brooklyn waterfront.
In New York, as in Ireland and Boston, Canada, Australia and all other places where the Irish settled around the globe, passion for Irish freedom from the British law that oversaw the horrors of The Great Hunger of the 1840s and 1850s and so many other unjust treatments, was very high. We must remember that Ireland was nothing more than a British colony then. And although there had been land reform in the 1880s, there was very slow progress toward Irish independence in 1915. In fact, the Irish political party that supposedly represented Irish freedom, the Irish Parliamentary Party, was mostly made up of what County Clare agrarian poor would have called, “Jackeens.” Which meant Irish that were influenced by the handouts that London politicians gave out in order to bribe Irish representatives to avoid Irish independence. If Ireland wanted freedom, it was going to have to come at the price of blood. And there was no one in Ireland that talked more about blood than the poet, school teacher and Irish rebel, Padraig Pearse.
In August of 1915 at Glasnevin Cemetery (that is Pearse above at the funeral), O’Donovan Rossa was laid to rest after dying in Staten Island, New York at the age of 83. Liam Garrity’s father in the book Light of the Diddicoy, was in attendance. Probably toward the back with some of the other men of the County Clare Volunteers. He would have heard the following from Pearse:
“They think that they have pacified Ireland. They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything; but, the fools, the fools, the fools! — They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”
Yes, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace. That accurately sums up the mentality in 1915, Ireland. And so, an allusion in Chapter 3 is an emotional one. It has feeling. It’s not Art for Art’s Sake. It is nostalgia mixed with anger and pride for all those displaced Irish in foreign lands. For all those who believe in righting what is wrong no matter the consequence (Pearse was executed by the British after the Easter Rising) and for the Irish who have lost so many of their sons and daughters to immigration and colonialism, this reference to the Glasnevin funeral of O’Donovan Rossa and the rebelpoets who spoke there, stands tall. The effect of the speech at the time was devastating. And so, the effect on Liam Garrity’s life in Light of the Diddicoy too, is devastating.
But it is not until April 1916, on Easter Monday, that Liam Garrity realizes what his father’s plans were. Realizes then and there that his only goal now was to get his mother and sisters out of Ireland, for war was in the balance and in just a few years’ time, the infamous Black and Tans would roam the Irish countryside, pillaging, burning and raping the villages of the West of Ireland without consequence. Liam had to save his mother and sisters from the atrocities headed their way, and to do that, he was willing to pay any price. And a terrible price he would pay.