Liam Garrity – Character in Divide the Dawn
“I wobble back to my typewriter, pencil and papers and look out the window over the harbor where I spent the breadth of my life. And I think of the man who taught me about that great harbor. And taught me to be a man too. His name was Dinny Meehan. The leader and the spirit of all us who ran with him back in our day. A great ghost of our past, was he, there always to remind us that to create is to truly rule.”
Liam Garrity (b. 1901, County Clare, Ireland) also known as Poe or The Thief of Pencils, is one of the youngest members of the early 1900s Irish-American gang, The White Hand. He is the narrator of this story, which chronicles his treacherous journey in becoming the last shanachie of Irishtown. Inheriting an ancient oral storytelling tradition, he breaks the mold and vows to record what he witnessed: The fulfillment of an ancient prophecy that came to pass while he fought to survive in Brooklyn’s Irishtown.
Light of the Diddicoy
In October of 1915, Liam is sent away from Ireland by his father to work with his uncle Joseph on the docks of Brooklyn. There, he experiences many setbacks when his belongings are stolen on the ship and quickly becomes homeless in Brooklyn after his uncle puts him out. When Vincent Maher finds Liam on the streets, the boy is starved and desperate, and takes him to the wake of Charles McGowan, gang leader Dinny Meehan‘s righthand man. Cared for by Sadie Meehan, he eventually is given work and initiated into the White Hand gang that controls longshore labor. To return the favor of helping him bring his mother and sisters to America, Meehan wants Liam’s uncle murdered.
Exile on Bridge Street
Having been punched and bullied by Petey Behan, Meehan forces Liam to challenge Behan to a fistfight in order to save his honor. Loyal to Meehan, Liam looks up to the man who dedicates his life to the families of the survivors of the Great Hunger who settled Irishtown in the 1840s. But Liam sees gang members and friends murdered, others drafted and perish in World War I while their territory and incomes erode and his binge drinking becomes alarming. When Liam’s mother and sisters finally arrive from Ireland, he realizes he is in great danger. As the gang weakens, five major elements work against them: big businesses, the longshoremen union, Black Hand Italians, the law and revolt from within the gang. During the Storm of Slanting Snow in 1919, Wild Bill Lovett mysteriously resurfaces after having thought to have died, and murders Meehan’s cousin Mickey Kane, which will cause a bloody gang war, diminishing their power even further. But Liam has only scratched the surface of the meaning of it all when he hears The Gas Drip Bard tell a small portion of a prophecy the old storyteller describes as: “A song to divide the dawn, it’s called, ‘The Keening Croon and the Rising of the Moon.'”