Dinny Meehan – Divide the Dawn

Dinny Meehan – Character in Divide the Dawn

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Dinny Meehan, leader of the gang known as The White Hand (art by Sebastian MacLaughlin).

“Eyes green in the enveloped saloon light of amber and black. A child’s eyes. An ancient’s eyes. Sometimes I wonder if he ever really did exist, Dinny Meehan. I even doubt it at times, it was so long ago that all this passed. But there he is in my thoughts.”
~Liam Garrity

Dinny Meehan (b. 1889) is the leader of the White Hand Gang whose motives, origins and existence is shrouded by the veil of Irishtown’s Code of Silence. Some claim he is of gypsy blood, some call him a working class hero while storytellers describe him as a Demiurge, and speak of how he was summoned by pre-Christian prayer to bring back “the auld ways from the aulden days” to care for the survivors of Ireland’s Great Hunger who founded Irishtown in the 1840s. What is known is that he has never lost a fistfight, draws inspiration from the past and has never been seen eating or sleeping and seems to have no concept of time. His father came to New York in 1847 as an “exiled child” from County Clare, Ireland. His uncle was Red Shay Meehan, leader of a West Manhattan gang called The Potashes. But by 1900, Dinny’s family was decimated by the Hudson Dusters, forcing him to flee to Brooklyn as an eleven year-old with his dying father. According to The Gas Drip Bard, a storm came at dawn and capsized the ferry they were in, and young Dinny drowned keeping his father afloat. Somehow the boy was brought back to life and by 1912, Dinny had organized all the Irish-American gangs on the Brooklyn waterfront to join him in overthrowing the King of Irishtown, gold-toothed larrikin Christie Maroney.


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Light of the Diddicoy By the time Liam Garrity picks up the story, it is 1915 and the gang is under attack by many elements; big businesses, the Italian Black Hand, the law, the longshoremen’s union and revolt from within his gang. Liam sees that Dinny is cunning and shrewd, and yet the gang leader spends all of the profits he earns on the poor and needy of Irishtown. When news breaks of the 1916 Easter Rising, Dinny has ideas of his own for an uprising in Brooklyn. In a stroke of genius, The White Hand ferociously strikes against all of its enemies at once in multiple attacks and takes back power in Brooklyn during the Donnybrook in Red Hook.
Exile on Bridge Street
Although the gang again is in power, Dinny cannot seem to stop time as the White Hand is one of the last powerful street gangs in New York. Again the gang’s enemies assemble against him when one of his dockbosses, Wild Bill Lovett, joins forces with Jonathan G. Wolcott of the New York Dock Company in revolt against him, seceding from the gang and taking the profitable Red Hook territory. Vulnerable, Dinny finds out his childhood friend Tanner Smith backstabbed him and his righthand The Swede attempted suicide. Again though, Dinny outsmarts everyone by making a three-way pact with the International Longshoreman’s Association and the Italian Black Hand and violently puts down the revolt. Charged with murder, Lovett agrees to a plea that sends him to the Army and World War I where he dies in combat. Dinny then replaces Lovett in Red Hook with his prodigious cousin Mickey Kane and robs a local shoe factory after an Irishtown child dies with one shoe on his foot, passing out boots to all the poor Irish families. But by 1919 Dinny is furthered weakened. The gang has lost many members to the Great War, the Spanish Influenza, coal shortages and worsening poverty. During the Storm of Slanting Snow, Lovett mysteriously resurfaces in Brooklyn and has Dinny’s cousin Mickey murdered, touching off a horrific gang war and a blood feud with Lovett.

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Mickey Kane – Divide the Dawn

Mickey Kane – Character in Divide the Dawn

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The heinous murder of Mickey Kane precipitates a blood feud and gang war (art by Thomas Kerr).

“It must have been Dinny’s plan from the start. Mickey is Dinny’s last surviving family member loyal to him. Tall and powerfully built with a big head of blond hair, he follows Dinny’s orders closely. Mickey Kane is blood. His mother’s blood, and many of us feel as though one day Mickey will replace The Swede at his right side. Dinny’s most-trusted.”
~Liam Garrity

Mickey Kane (1894-1919) was the cousin of White Hand leader Dinny Meehan, and the gang’s golden boy before being horrifically murdered when Wild Bill Lovett resurfaced in Brooklyn during the Storm of Slanting Snow.  Tall, muscular and dauntless, he was an accomplished bareknuckle boxer as many in Brooklyn spoke of him as being a “fair scrapper, brisk fighter.” A cousin on Dinny Meehan’s mother’s side, Mickey was spared the wrath of the The Hudson Dusters of Greenwich Village, who decimated the Meehan family in the late 1890s, forcing eleven year-old Dinny Meehan and his dying father to flee to Brooklyn in 1900. After Meehan became King of Brooklyn’s Irishtown in 1912, he called for his eighteen year-old prodigy cousin and mentored him in preparation to one day become his righthand.


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Light of the Diddicoy
In 1916, Meehan convinces Lovett to take Mickey in as his righthand in the Red Hook Terminal. Kane took part in the Donnybrook in Red Hook when the White Hand gang took back power on the Brooklyn waterfront.
Exile on Bridge Street
In 1917, after Tanner Smith backstabbed Meehan and the White Hand gang, Kane accompanied his cousin back to their old neighborhood, Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The two of them beat members of The Marginals and confronted Smith, battering him as well and banishing him from the underground. After putting down a revolt and sending Lovett to World War I, Kane became dockboss of the profitable Red Hook Terminal. In 1919 when Meehan, The Swede, Vincent Maher and Lumpy Gilchrist were arrested for robbing the Hanan & Sons shoe factory, Kane and Cinders Connolly were left in charge at the Dock Loaders’ Club. But Kane became anxious and went back down to Red Hook during a terrible snow storm where Lovett mysteriously came back from the dead and had him killed, starting a ferocious gang war and blood feud.

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Bill Lovett – Divide the Dawn

Bill Lovett – Character in Divide the Dawn

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Summoned from the dead, the Black Hand sarcastically calls Bill Lovett “Pulcinella” because he looks like a crazy clown of Italian classical lore (art by Sebastian MacLaughlin)

“Ya know, people talk. And they’re sayin’ one day the gang could be all Lovett’s. Can ya imagine the take fer us if ya was his righthand? Like the Romans we’d live! But that Bill Lovett’s a wild one.”
~Mary Lonergan


Bill Lovett
(b. 1894), also known as Wild Bill or Pulcinella in South Brooklyn, was reported to have been killed in combat in World War I by the US Army. But during the Storm of Slanting Snow, he resurfaces in Brooklyn and has Mickey Kane murdered, sparking a gang war for leadership of the White Hand. He is a violent drunk who carries a loaded .45 caliber, has a soft spot for animals (killed a man for pulling a cat’s tail), and hates the Italians that live in the dock territory he runs. In the early 1900s, Lovett was the leader of the Jay Street Gang that paid tribute to Christie Maroney. In 1912 Lovett (along with many other gang leaders) struck a deal with Dinny Meehan and allowed one of his followers, Pickles Leighton, to accompany him in shooting Maroney on the streets of Brooklyn. But during the trial for Maroney’s murder, Pickles was the only one convicted. Rightfully blaming Meehan, Lovett swallowed his pride and took over as dockboss in the profitable Red Hook Terminal under Meehan’s White Hand gang, but decided to keep Pickles as his man inside of Sing Sing to one day supply him with paroled soldiers in a revolt against Meehan.


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Light of the Diddicoy
Realizing the importance of ruling Sing Sing, Meehan had his righthand man McGowan plead guilty to a charge in order to kill Pickles in Sing Sing, in what became known as the War for the Inside. But Lovett paid a screw (prison guard) through Pickles to beat McGowan to death in his cell, winning the proxy war and creating a tense relationship with his gang boss, Meehan. After the gang took back power on the Brooklyn docks during the Donnybrook in Red Hook, Meehan sought to weaken Lovett and pinned the death and destruction on Lovett’s righthand Non Connors.
Exile on Bridge Street
When Connors is arrested, Lovett makes an alliance with New York Dock Company president, Jonathan G. Wolcott and plays a game of tug-of-war with Meehan over the loyalty of Richie Lonergan‘s crew. In 1917, Lovett has Lonergan murder Meehan’s enforcer Tommy Tuohey and together they secede from the White Hand gang in Red Hook, with Wolcott providing extra protection. Paranoid of a Meehan attack, Lovett goes on a drunken binge while Lonergan’s family life becomes tumultuous after his six year-old brother dies. Meehan makes a pact with the International Longshoreman’s Association and the Italian Black Hand, who send an assassin to Red Hook to kill Lovett. But Lovett survives and kills the assassin, yet is charged with murder and reaches a plea, which forces him to sign up with the Army’s 77th Infantry Division. In France during World War I, it is reported Lovett was killed in combat. His death causes of his followers to lose hope such as his biggest supporters Anna Lonergan and Darby Leighton. Shockingly, Lovett resurfaces in Brooklyn and gives Lonergan his .45 to kill Mickey Kane, Meehan’s cousin, starting a blood feud and gang war for control of the Brooklyn waterfront.

 

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Liam Garrity – Divide the Dawn

Liam Garrity – Character in Divide the Dawn

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Liam Garrity tells this story as an old man, but this depiction is of him as a teen in 1915. (art by Guy Denning)

“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

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.


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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.'”

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Mam Garrity – Divide the Dawn

Mam Garrity – Character in Divide the Dawn

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Mrs. Garrity, known as “Mam” has lost so much of what she created.

“May trouble always be a stranger to ye. Take this Saint Christopher. Put it in yer pocket and touch it when ye please. Ye’ll be grand with it.”
~Mam Garrity

Mam Garrity (b. 1878, County Clare, Ireland) is a mother caught between Ireland and New York who has lost so much of what she created: Two of her children died young, another was beaten by British soldiers and yet another seemingly lost to the streets of Brooklyn. She is closest to her two daughters, Abby and Brigid. Her husband is an Irish rebel who disappeared after the 1916 Easter Rising. Beforehand, she watched her son Liam off to New York to secure passage for America. But with British retribution for the Irish rebellion and World War I creating a blockade, she and her two daughters could not go until 1918. Leaving her eldest son Timothy on the farm, they moved into a humble but clean tenement. Now though, she sees that the gang violence of Brooklyn has changed her teenage son Liam for the worst and fears what price the family must pay for what he had to do to bring them to New York.


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Light of the Diddicoy 
In 1915, Mrs. Garrity is crying in the doorway of the family farm in Ireland and gives Liam a Saint Christopher for safe travel. Liam describes the moment as his mother giving him an “American Wake,” believing it quite possible that they would never see each other again.
Exile on Bridge Street
After sending letters back and forth from Ireland to New York, she and her two daughters finally make the trip in steerage class. They are met at Ellis Island by Liam, who she has not seen in over three years. Liam and Harry Reynolds take them to Brooklyn in a tugboat. She is proud that Liam and Harry renovated a room in anticipation of their arrival. Noticing that Liam is in danger, she fears for what he has had to do to survive on the streets. She overhears The Bard of Irishtown tell the story of Dinny Meehan, who murdered a man to become a gang leader, and knows that her son is mixed up with the killer in the story.

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Petey Behan – Divide the Dawn

Petey Behan – Character in Divide the Dawn

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Petey Behan is a blathering rowdy and an accomplished cutpurse (art by Guy Denning).

“Petey Behan has short legs with a long torso and some power in his shoulders, thin hips and a box face with a mouth that never stops its blathering.”
~Liam Garrity


Petey Behan
(b. 1901), also known as Petey Cutpurse is a teenage thug and a rowdy. He is a follower of Richie Lonergan‘s crew.  By the time he was eleven years-old, he was a master at cutting the strap off women’s purses and running off with them. With the Lonergan Crew, he was the most accomplished thief of what was known as the Sands Street Gimmick. The Sands Street Station was a heavily trafficked three-story train station at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge close to Irishtown. A man once caught him stealing from his wife. At first Petey apologized, but when the man looked around for a patrolman, Petey punched him under the jaw, knocking him out.


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Light of the Diddicoy 
In 1915, Petey was recruiting children at an abandoned building where many orphans were squatting. He sees immigrant Liam Garrity‘s stolen alpaca coat and rips it off his back, claiming that this is the rent he charges for staying in the building. After burning down a saloon during the Donnybrook in Red Hook, Liam attacks Petey and tears the coat in two.
Exile on Bridge Street
Many White Hand gang members wake up in jail after rioting in Brooklyn. After being released, Petey blames Liam for helping gang leader Dinny Meehan frame Non Connors and punches him, but Liam runs away. Meehan then makes Liam challenge Petey to a bareknuckle fistfight to save his honor. Petey beats and bloodies the Irish teenager, but Liam does not quit, and repeatedly comes back for more.

 

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The Gas Drip Bard – Divide the Dawn

The Gas Drip Bard – Character in Divide the Dawn

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The Gas Drip Bard, Irishtown’s shanachie of the late 1800s, early 1900s (art by Sebastian MacLaughlin).

“The Bard slowly sits in his rocker and pushes back his long brows, tilts the candle to redden his cuddy and leans forward to a place where myths still carry. And where words are like birds in their flight from Irish to English.”
~Liam Garrity

The Gas Drip Bard (b. 1839, County Mayo, Ireland) also known as The Bard, is the augur and shanachie (storyteller) of Irishtown who summons the storied past of the Irish in Brooklyn and interprets the visions. With sea-green eyes and an animated personality, he is very popular with children and the aging famine survivors who originally settled Irishtown in the 1840s. When he was eight years-old in County Mayo, Ireland, his mother keened for him while he was dying of starvation in 1847, yet he awoke on a leaky ship headed to Brooklyn. Shoeless and emaciated, he lived in a scalpeen in Jackson Hollow with thousands of motley survivors from the Great Hunger. He worked at Brooklyn Union Gas Company for fifty years in Irishtown, witnessing the violent gangs that defended the waterfront neighborhood’s borders from the Anglo-American, who they distrusted because of their similarities to the British. When despised gang leader Christie Maroney came to power in 1900 Irishtown, he and other aging famine survivors fell to ancient prayer for a hero to save them. As they chanted, a storm came at dawn and a ferry capsized in the East River where they found a drowned child. The women began to sing the old keening songs over the boy and the next day, he disappeared. He was seen with brothers Pickles and Darby Leighton soon afterward under a rotting pier. The boy’s name was Dinny Meehan.


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Light of the Diddicoy
Does not appear.
Exile on Bridge Street
In 1918, wanting to spend more time with kin, a few gang members (including Liam Garrity) brought their families to listen to Irishtown’s shanachie tell stories, as had been done for centuries back home in Ireland. After the children fell asleep, The Bard told the story of the sensational murder trial of 1912 when Meehan and the White Hand gang murdered Maroney and took power in Irishtown.

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The Swede – Divide the Dawn

The Swede – Character in Divide the Dawn

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The Swede terrorizes Brooklyn in the name of the White Hand and violently protects Dinny Meehan (art by Guy Denning).

“The Swede makes his territory: The fighter’s circle. Daring a cross of it; until finally he puffs his long trunk and the angular slant of his splayed chest and shoulders for a grunt in the air that of a bull ape’s summoning.”
 
The Swede (b. 1889), is not Swedish at all, but is a gangly 6’5″ Irish-American with blond hair and gigantic fists. Born James Finnigan, The Swede is an enforcer for White Hand gang leader Dinny Meehan. With a permanent “gaunt scowl” and a ferocious temper, he is known in Irishtown for his raging tantrums and is inordinately protective of Meehan. In the early 1900s, he lead a group of young thugs in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In 1912, Meehan paid the Italian Black Hand a $500 ransom when The Swede’s sister Helen was kidnapped. Afterward the gang, including The Swede, robbed a Black Hand undertaker of thousands of dollars. He beat Darby Leighton “to death’s door” after the sensational trial for the murder of Christie Maroney. When Charles McGowan was killed by Pickles Leighton in Sing Sing, The Swede became Meehan’s righthand. Rumors of his having a child with his sister Helen have persisted.

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Light of the Diddicoy
In 1915 The Swede beat an Italian immigrant to death at the Fulton Ferry Landing. He also led the way during the Donnybrook in Red Hook.
Exile on Bridge Street
In 1917, Wild Bill Lovett secedes from the gang and claims part of the White Hand’s territory. After a swarm of enemies surround the gang, an ominous warning from Detective William Brosnan, and building pressure to provide for his family, The Swede attempts to commit suicide by shooting himself in the heart. Now his left arm is lame, taking away his ability to fistfight while the pressure continues to mount. Later he, along with Meehan, Vincent Maher and Lumpy Gilchrist are arrested for robbing a shoe store when Mickey Kane is murdered.

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Thomas Burke – Divide the Dawn

Thomas Burke – Character in Divide the Dawn

Burke

Thomas Burke desperately needs work, but feels trapped in the coming gang war for leadership of the White Hand.

“Harry looks down toward the parlor where the Burke boy stares and groans, his mother speaking to him in warm, sweet tones even as we can see her cold breath in the room. She rubs her hand up and down his arm to keep the cold off him, then looks toward Harry and I.”
~Liam Garrity


Thomas Burke
 (b. 1893) known simply as Burke, is small of stature, but has a large family. Having stumbled into the White Hand gang and the Brooklyn underworld, he is apprehensive and nervous about their shadowy, often violent dealings. Living in a rundown building by Prospect Park, Burke had terrible difficulties finding regular work to feed and shelter his wife and four children. His eldest son, stricken with what is deemed “The Palsy” in Irishtown (Multiple Sclerosis), is in need of serious medical treatment. Wanting to help, two White Hand gang members offer him a job as a longshoremen. Even though he is not strong enough for the type of physical demands required to unload ships, he is eager to work and his wife becomes friends with a gang member’s family, securing his position. Burke wants no part of the violence the gang is involved in, but he is in too deep now.


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Light of the Diddicoy
Does not appear.
Exile on Bridge Street
As Harry Reynolds and Liam Garrity fix up a dilapidated room in anticipation of Garrity’s mother and sisters’ arrival from Ireland, they notice an eight year-old child strapped to a chair, which is strapped to a wall. Later they notice the chair and table are missing. Burke tells Reynolds and Garrity that due to the severe coal shortage in Brooklyn, they burned the table and chairs in the fireplace during a freezing night. Hearing this, Reynolds offers Burke a chance to work on the docks and proves himself loyal and hard-working. As tenement neighbors, the Burke and Garrity families become close. When several gang members are jailed and Liam is forced into being a dockboss, Burke watches fearfully as Garrity and others beat immigrants who challenge them. With a gang war looming, he feels trapped.

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William Brosnan – Divide the Dawn

William Brosnan – Character in Divide the Dawn

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Detective William Brosnan fears his son-in-law Daniel Culkin has fallen into an arcane, malevolent prophecy.

“They’re comin’ now, just slow. Gatherin’ up like a giant swell, they’ll swallow ye like the great suck o’ the ocean and leave ye bathin’ in a welter o’ yer own blood and bones, all o’ ye. Oh they’re comin’, sure enough. Slow and sure o’ themselves.”
~William Brosnan


William Brosnan
 (b. 1864, Dublin), also known as the Tunic, is a detective with a dark past and father-in-law to eager, blackjack-swinging Patrolman Daniel Culkin. While his young wife was giving birth during the Great Blizzard of 1888, Brosnan was on patrol in Irishtown when he found a baby in the rubble of a fallen tenement. He desperately ran the baby to a hospital, where he found out his wife died during childbirth. Moments later, he was told the baby he found in the fallen tenement survived. Despondent, Brosnan came to believe that a darkness followed him. The baby he saved turned out to be Garry Barry, the grimmest, most malevolent of street urchins. Barry, Brosnan believes, is a wraith and has a role to play in the dark, pre-Christian prophecies he heard as a boy back in Ireland, “When the veil between life and death is thinnest during the storms of dawn, we are exchanged like pieces on a chessboard.” Brosnan concludes that his wife’s life was taken for Barry’s to fulfill a prophecy that has its origins in Ireland’s Great Hunger (potato famine) where “the keening songs of the banshees croon hastens an ascension, like the rising of the moon.” A single father, Brosnan raised his daughter on a patrolman’s salary until she married the eager Culkin. Since Barry was reported to have died in 1918 of injuries from a White Hand gang beating, Brosnan’s superstitious fears were allayed. But in 1919, during the “Storm of Slanting Snow,” Culkin finds Barry alive. Shaken again, Brosnan is convinced another death must be exchanged for Barry’s life and worries it’ll be Culkin. Or worse, as his daughter is pregnant.

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Light of the Diddicoy
In 1915, Brosnan and Culkin show up in the Dock Loaders’ Club after Wild Bill Lovett murdered an immigrant for pulling a cat’s tail. Before the Donnybrook in Red Hook, Brosnan was forced to accept payment from the White Hand to look the other way.
Exile on Bridge Street
In 1916, Brosnan is promoted to detective for getting the conviction of Non Connors, who wrongly was named leader of the White Hand. A year later he is publicly reprimanded by the Waterfront Assembly’s Jonathan G. Wolcott and the newspapers for looking the other way while gangs run the waterfront. Brosnan and Culkin show up at the Dock Loaders’ Club and make demands of White Hand gang leader Dinny Meehan for an increase in their hush money and angrily describe how they are all going to fall prey to the Anglo-American ascendency, who has the real power in New York.

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