Black Tom Explosion, 1916

Most historians directly associate the explosion that occurred on Black Tom’s Island on July 30, 1916 with German saboteurs. Which is accurate, but history has all but erased any connection between this German plot and the Irish Republican movement in the United States, which at the Black Tomtime was a very powerful lobby. Particularly in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston. Also, it seems improbable to this writer that such an undertaking could have been taken without the Irish-dominated dock gangs and longshoremen unions knowing, accepting or benefiting from it.

Click here to check out the cool art and bios of characters in Divide the Dawn.

Most are well aware of Germany’s secret missions of sabotage in the United States during World War I in order to keep the U.S. from entering the war on the side of England. In 1915, Germany attempted to agitate a fight between the U.S. and Mexico and also offered longshoremen unions over $1 million along the East Coast to go on strike, which would succeed in stopping munitions and war supplies from reaching Germany’s enemy, England.

At the time, the International Longshoremen’s Association was headed by an Irishman named T.V. O’Connor, whose second in command was famous Irish-American thug “King Joe” Ryan. These men ruled the longshoremen underworld at the time and certainly had a soft side for Ireland’s freedom from England’s yoke.

"King Joe" Ryan, who became President of the ILA and famous for being the face of longshoremen union racketeering in Malcolm Johnson's Pulitzer Prize winning reportage in the 1940s. Which then inspired the making of "On the Waterfront" with Marlon Brando.
“King Joe” Ryan, who became President of the ILA and famous for being the face of longshoremen union racketeering in Malcolm Johnson’s Pulitzer Prize winning reportage in the 1940s. Which then inspired the making of “On the Waterfront” with Marlon Brando.

This brings us to a very popular Irish slogan during World War I: “England’s difficulty is Ireland’s Opportunity.” At the outbreak of the war, Ireland’s Home Rule bill was again put to the side. Still under England’s rule, Irish Republicans were determined to move forward and with England busy at war on the European continent, it was a ripe time for an Irish rebellion. But it couldn’t be done alone and the Irish Republican Brotherhood found its greatest ally in Imperial Germany, which helped them with guns for the Easter Rising of 1916, although Roger Casement’s attempt was scuttled.

In the U.S., the Irish Republican movement was very strong. Particularly in providing money to support Irish freedom and rebellion through Clan na Gael, headed by famous Irish rebel John Devoy.

In saloons across the big U.S. cities (including my great-grandfather’s in Greenwich Village where the docks were only a block away) the Irish longshoremen were known to “pass the hat for Irish freedom.” What did the Irish and Irish Americans care if England won World War I? Well, they didn’t. And in fact, Clan na Gael’s influence on the 1916 American presidential election was heavy. Irish Americans supported Woodrow Wilson because he promised to keep the U.S. out of World War I and support Ireland’s right to rule its own land. But it was in places like Lynches Tavern at 463 Hudson Street where the three parties all came together: Imperial Germany, Irish-Americans who supported Irish Republicanism and longshoremen.

Although Clan na Gael was investigated by the Directorate of Naval Intelligence and links were found, it was Imperial Germany that has taken the brunt of blame in history for blowing up the munitions storing and warehouses units that caused such an incredibly huge explosion, damaging the Statue of Liberty forever (the torch is still closed to this day because of the Black Tom explosion).

John Devoy in a mug shot in the 1870s while a young man, before being sent banished to Australia.
John Devoy in a mug shot in the 1870s while a young man, before being banished to Australia.

To me, it is impossible for something underhanded like this to have occurred without the explicit help or, at the very least, a wink and a nod from both the Irish Republican movement in the U.S. and the longshoremen’s union, which was so heavily populated by the Irish-American working class back then.

For these reasons, a scene in Exile on Bridge Street (due out in October 2016) includes the actual explosion, confirms complicity between the Irish gangs and the unions working in cahoots with Imperial Germany to undermine American shipments of munitions to England during World War I.


Watch a video trailer of Exile on Bridge Street (Three Rooms Press, Oct. 2016):




Battle: Light and Darkness

The death of famous cinematographer Gordon Willis reminds of the ancient symbolic battle in literature and film: Light vs. Darkness. 

As a historical novelist, my work is greatly influenced not only by French and Irish literature, but also by the films of the 1970s.

A great independence, comparatively speaking, had already set in in Hollywood after itsde niro initial onslaught in the 1960s. New and incredible experiments were taking place and I admit that many of them were far-fetched and often fell flat. But what came from these experiments and new freedoms were quite a few absolutely beautiful successes.

Maybe my all-time 70s film favorite is Deer Hunter with Apocalypse Now! in a close second. Other movies we can’t forget are ones with strong literary influences like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Clockwork Orange, and other streetwise movies like Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Dog Day AfternoonThe Warriors and movies that appealed to other parts of our anatomy, like Hustler’s Caligula and the Bruce Lee, Woody Allen and the rise of David Lynch movies, not forgetting the beginnings of the modern comedy and horror genres.

Check out the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy’s Character Art & Bios HERE!

At the close of the 1970s we had the beginning of the Spielberg-inspired, corporate formula blockbusters beginning to take center stage, but just before doing so we got the opening salvos that would become popular brands in the first Alien and Mad Max movies in 1979. Although Mad Max is not all that well done (the audio is terrible), I still loved the grimy footage, mad maxunpolished characters and the brutal storyline Especially as a youngster watching these movies in amazement from the floor of my duplex (after sneaking up in the middle of the night) and catching these classics by accident.

One set of movies that are noticeably absent (although I’m sure many of you have your own favorites) is The Godfather movies Parts 1 and 2. With the passing recently of Gordon Willis, the cinematographer of these and other movies from the era, it made me think of some of the visions of scenes in Light of the Diddicoy and Exile on Bridge Street of the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy as it pertains to the possibility of these books one day reaching the movie theatre or the cable series (there has been some interest in a script for a cable series).

In particular, the flashback scenes in The Godfather Part 2 directly inspired some the writing of many of the scenes in the the trilogy. Albeit, this is a story about the Irish instead of the Italian, and Brooklyn versus Manhattan, the cinematography in these flashback scenes is what often jumped through my mind when creating this ethnic story of the Irish in New York.

cover lotd
Original artwork for Light of the Diddicoy

The title of the first book even, Light of the Diddicoy, shows a direct influence of Mr. Willis’ work, as it is the escaping light from the great amount of darkness that pervades the theme of this book, as it was a big theme in the Coppolla/Puzo story shown brilliantly in Willis’ cinematography.

The word “light” in Light of the Diddicoy is that of a candle’s light upon the face of an Irish gypsy in America, and shows the influence of Willis’ work. For while modernity (in the form of electricity) was becoming the acceptable way of lighting homes across New York and America in the early part of the 20th Century, these gypsy-gangsters in Brooklyn symbolically refuse electricity for the candle as a way of showing their refusal to generally accept progress and assimilation.

Divide the Dawn which will be the Epic Foreclusion of the AULD IRISHTOWN trilogy, is a direct allusion to this battle. Where best to capture light and darkness battling? At dawn, of course:

“When the darkness of the past and the light of the future clash.”
~Exile on Bridge Street

In the battle between light and darkness, or the escaping of light (hope) from darkness (despair) which pervades all of our lives through any generation, I found Willis to have been the best, most genuine artist to represent it on the big screen.




Hope and Gerry Cooney

“Cranford is only four square miles,” Joe’s son said in the kitchen.

I sipped the coffee.

“Everyone kind of knows everyone,” Joe said in his matter-of-fact tone.

Joe and I stepped outside his home and we both smelled the April air, felt the warm wind with only a slight bite left to it.

“It was a long winter,” Joe said. “Never seen it so cold for so long.”

After driving from Florida, I needed to have the car checked since it was running hot the last 400 miles. He drove me across town to hang out at a coffee shop until my car was looked at and offered me two spots “the big coffee chain or the local spot. The big one is new to town. Big news around here.”

“I’ll take the local spot.”Image

“Good choice,” Joe said, then sped off to work after dropping me off.

I could see the cheerful look on the Cranford faces. Freed of hats and scarves and long-collared coats, the men rolled up their sleeves and women wore their favorite shoes again.

One of the five chairs that were set up in a semi-circle were open, so I sat, plugged in the computer and sipped from the wide cup among three 40ish men who were talking animatedly with each other and a lone woman in her early thirties.

After ten minutes of overhearing the men talk about home renovations, local taxes and the current state of the Garden State Parkway, an old man waddled in.

“Hi Hal,” one of the men said.

Hal’s face lit up, “Oh, uh…”

“Michael,” Michael reminded Hal of his name. “Sit here, we were just leaving.”

“Oh uh,” Hal was confused, wanted to say two things at once, yet nothing could be heard accept “uh, oh I’m uh…”

“Don’t worry, Hal,” Michael said. “It’s all you, we were just leaving, right guys?”



And out they went before Hal got a chance to say hello or goodbye.

Sitting next to me, I could smell that Hal carried the musty aroma of a man who didn’t often change his clothes. The perspiration in his shirt and sweatpants from many months of continual use. The scent of the homeless.

“I can’t remember your name,” he said to the woman in the corner chair.

“Janette,” she responded.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said dejectedly. “I can’t seem to remember names anymore. I think it’s the depression, really. It’s just turning me inside out.”

I smiled inside and felt sorry for him at the same time, then peeked at the woman who was cordially grinning, but didn’t respond.

“Janet was it?” Hal asked a few minutes later.

“Janette,” she said simply.

“Oh yeah.”

Through the corner of my eye I could see Hal felt let down that he couldn’t coax Janette into talking with him. He then looked at me deliberately, turned himself in the chair.

“Do I know you?”

“No sir,” I said with a little grin, half cordial, half amused.

“Oh,” he said, looking down.

I went back to my computer.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Well, I was born on Long Island, New York but I…”

“I’ve known many people from there,” he interrupted, then stopped himself to ask another question. “Why are you here?”

“Well, I did a reading at the local library last night where…”

“A reading?”


“Are you a writer?”


“What do you write?”

“I wrote a book about the Irish in…”

“When I think about the Irish, I think about the potato famine that happened,” he said.

“Yeah, that was a big event,” I agreed, keeping my sentences shorter than I wanted.

“I was an orphan in Jersey City, you know.”

I could hear a slight sigh from Janette, “Oh really?” I asked.

“I was a kicker for USC in college too.”


“Yes, but I only kicked three field goals in two years as a player.”

Two men walked in and one touched Hal on the arm as he was passing by and said hello.

In a delayed reaction, Hal looked to the side but the man was behind him already.

“Who was that?” Hal asked me.

Amused, I shrugged. Janette sat quietly without contribution.

Sitting up in his seat, he attempted to turn his neck but couldn’t quite get it all the way around and eventually quit, awaiting the man’s return.

“I forgot your name again, is it Janice?”

“Janette,” she responded without looking up from her computer.

“Yes, yes.”

“I remember when you were a child, now you’re taller than most men.”

Janette smiled.

Watching a girl walk passed him, he commented, “You know, I don’t like these tights that girls wear today, they’re not becoming.”

“Well, they are called leggings and I’m wearing them now,” Janette said.

“Oh! That’s different.”

She laughed.

“I mean… you look good in them.”

She rolled her eyes and smiled sarcastically, “thanks.”

The two men came back around with to-go cups of coffee when Hal noticed one of them, “John!”

John stopped in the doorway, slowly turned around.

“Was that you that said hello to me?”

“Yeah Hal,” the man said. “My name is James though.”

“Oh, this guy is a writer,” Hal told him, pointing at me.

Unimpressed, the man nodded at me. I nodded back somewhat embarrassed.

“Uh…” Hal thought, turning to me. “What is the name of your book?”

“It’s called…”

“What is your name?” Hal fired another question as James waited in the doorway. “Did I already ask you that?”

“Well I gotta go Hal, good seein’ ya.”

“Oh no,” Hal said. “Well uh… have a good…”

James had walked out the door already.

Hal looked down, then suddenly remembered he had a coffee and turned to grab it with both hands and sipped on it to make sure it wasn’t too hot. Then gulped half of it down. Looking over at me, “Did I ask you your name already?”




“I can’t remember names, so I’m sorry… Eamon?”


“I have this depression and it gets me all… Eamon?”

I smiled and nodded.

“The only thing I ever think about, with this depression is… death,” he announced with both hands in the air.

I didn’t say anything, but wanted to.

“I used to be able to run. I was a great athlete, I played football for USC, you know. It happened when I turned 80. I couldn’t run anymore.”

“Did you hurt your knee or have a surgery or something?” I asked.

“What? No, I just couldn’t run anymore. It hurt too much. Before that, I ran everyday until I just couldn’t.”

I thought about the terror of having the ability to do something for eighty years, then quickly losing it from one day to the next.



“I’m sorry, did you say something about… What do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Oh yeah, yeah… What do you write? Books?”

“Yes,” I handed him a copy of my current book.

“Wow,” Hal said holding it in his hand. “This is amazing.”

I smiled at the thought of someone still thinking it a great accomplishment to write a book.

“I can’t even read anymore,” Hal said squinting at the words. “How much does it cost?”

“Oh, well it retails at sixteen dollars.”

“Oh,” he looked down dejectedly, then said under his breath. “I bet Gerry Cooney would love this book.”

“Gerry Cooney? The boxer?”

“Yes, nobody never said a bad word about the man. Gentlest man you’ve ever met,” Hal explained to me with the book in his left hand, eyes ablaze in wonder. “I talk to him quite a bit. He calls me on my birthday every year.”

I nodded an impressed nod.

“He’s from Long Island too you know, but he lives around here now… And he’s Irish too… Boy he had a left hook.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“He had Holmes on the run,” he assured me. “I remember it to this day. Cooney got knocked down once, I think it was the third, but after that Cooney was all over him. The belt was coming home, we all shouted. It was the time of my life, that fight was. Never forget it. Gone to history, but I’ll never forget it.”

A minute later and I pulled the video of the fight up on my computer and showed him.

“Oh my God!” Hal guffawed. “How did you do that?”

Janette snickered.

Watching the video, I said, “at least he got the chance.”

Hal then looked at me seriously, “Have you ever seen the movie On the Waterfront?”

Janette sighed.

“I have.”

“Listen,” Hal said, putting my book down on the table and clearing his throat. “‘It wasn’t him, Cha’ley, it was you. Rememba that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and ya said, ‘Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.’ You rememba that? ‘This ain’t your night’! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brotha, Cha’ley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money… Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money…. You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contenda. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Cha’ley.’”

I smiled all the way through the dialogue and in the middle of the local coffee shop, I applauded Hal when he finished. Janette tried as best she could to keep her eyes on the computer and the baristas and patrons gave simple, polite smiles.

“Now that was amazing, Hal,” I said. “Spot on.”



“Eamon, yes,” he said, fixing himself in his chair. “Can you look me up on that thing?”

“The computer? Sure, what’s your last name?”

“Kitchna, Hal Kitchna. That’s not my real name, you know. I was an orphan in Jersey City, but look up me up, I was a player at USC on the football team.”

I did a search and quickly found his name mentioned in a book covering the 1959 USC game versus Notre Dame where in the third quarter, Hal Kitchna converted an extra point. I showed him.

“Wow, I’m in a book?”

“You sure are.”

“You know, if I had a better childhood, I coulda been somebody. I was lucky to get in at USC, you know. Everyone was smarter than me though. Well, not really smarter, because I was very smart, but, I don’t know, raised better, I guess. Nothing can replace a mother’s love.”

“I think you turned out just fine, Hal,” I said.

“I’m going to get somebody here to buy your book for me, then I’m going to give it to Gerry Cooney,” Hal said, and before I could laugh or remark, he turned to a man that walked in the door. “Jeff Deerfield, come here.”

The man seemed surprised, “This guy is an author.”

Jeff Deerfield smiled and kept walking.

“Don Smith,” Hal said to the next man walking in. “He’s an author, he has a book.”

Don Smith congratulated me, and walked on.

Meanwhile, my phone rang. It was the mechanic working on my car. My attention was pulled away from Hal. The car was finished and ready for me, so I then called Joe, who said he’d be over in twenty minutes or so to take me to the auto repair shop.

“Here he is, here he is,” Hal said pointing at me.

A short man stood in front of me but did not shake my hand, “You’re the author?”

I smiled, “Yes.”

“You write about the Irish?”


“I went to Ireland once,” Hal seemed happy sitting next to me as the man spoke. “It was the best trip I ever took. The people there are so nice. I went to the Guinness Brewery also. You know, it tastes better there then anywhere else in the world, because that’s where they make it.”

“Yes, they do.”

“Okay, I gotta go,” the man said.

“Steve,” Hal said. “Do you want to buy his book?”

“Goodbye,” Steve said smiling as he backed his way out the door.

Hal put his hand on his forehead and looked as though he might cry. “It’s time for me to catch my bus now,” he said downcast.

“My ride is on the way too,” I said.

We shared a quiet moment together as Janette had entirely blocked us out by now.

“Everyone deserves a chance,” Hal mumbled under his breath.

A few minutes later and we were both waiting outside in the April sun on the curb. I hadn’t realized how bad his legs were until we walked out the door together. Hal shuffled and apologized. He told me again about his depression and how he used to be able to run.

“The only thing I ever think about is death,” he said.

“All we really need is hope in this life, I think,” said I.

“It really is.”

“I want you to have this, Hal,” I handed him my book.

“But I can’t pay for it.”

“It’s a present from me, can you give it to Gerry Cooney?”

“He’ll love it!” Hal said. “He knows a lot of people, you know. Everyone loves Gerry Cooney, nobody never said a bad word about the man. Do you believe me, that I’ll get it to him?”

“I know you will.”














Malachy McCourt reads from ‘Diddicoy’ (text included)

Well, if you are wondering what “Light of the Diddicoy” reads like, here is a master storyteller to relate it to you. Mr. Malachy McCourt reads from Chapter 12 called “The Runner.” Below is the actual text, if you would like to read along:

Loaded with moon-faced Italians, Sackett, Degraw and Union Streets in Red Hook are dangerous places for a kid like me to wander among. So I don’t complain about not being sent to Red Hook as I avoid all Italians at any cost since they eat their own babies, Vincent Maher tells me, and if you cross them they’ll chop up your mother ten years later (because they have the memory of elephants) and make meatballs out of her and serve her up with pasta and red sauce down in Bay Ridge because, “they’re all a bunch o’ pagan Catholics, fookin’ animals,” Vincent says.

Manhattan Bridge under construction over Brooklyn's "Irishtown" where the White Hand Gang had its headquarters
Manhattan Bridge under construction over Brooklyn’s “Irishtown” where the White Hand Gang had its headquarters.

In the Navy Yard, men build ships paid for by the government contracts and this is wartime, so business is good. England is buying and as far as the manufacturers in Brooklyn are concerned, there should always be wars. All day and night long steam hammers slam down on hot iron slabs in the Navy Yard foundries. And you can hear the pound of them all the way over at 25 Bridge Street (the White Hand Gang’s saloon and headquarters), even making ripples in Ragtime Howard’s whiskey glass. When I yell up to Red Donnelly to ask if he needs any messages sent, he just waves his hat in the air revealing his red hair and fat head atop a barge where he directs cranes and bellows at his boyos.

The floating piers and pier houses at the terminals under the bridges like Jay Street and Fulton Street have industrial freight tracks dug into the Belgian brick that runs along the waterfront. Cargo is hauled from ships to floating piers to railcars that amble in


 their clicking and their clacking through the neighborhood and pull up at warehousing units where the train cars butt against the platforms and where men with suit and tie and hats of all sort unload them by hand or by bale hook in the morning sun. It is there, under the bridges, that Cinders Connolly always shakes my hand and speaks to me like a man, smiling humbly as he is known to and with a mean set of crooked teeth and scabbing knuckles.

The terminals at Atlantic and Baltic take in shipments that mostly go onto automobile trucks to be driven over the bridges to Manhattan or east toward Queens or Long Island and wherever else, as it’s New York’s piers and the piers only that all goods are shipped since it is well before roads connect the cities to the farms and also before planes are to fill the skies. And everyone knows that it’s New York that is the center of the industrial world, now surpassing even old London town with the completion of the Erie Canal years ago.

2146 new york old days boy preparatory drawing
Sketch of 1916 Brooklyn-Irish mugshot by Guy Denning (

At Baltic Street, Gibney “The Lark” speaks with me in a serious tone and I never seem to realize that it’s all a front as Big Dick Morrissey comes behind me and picks me up. Spinning me upside down, he dumps me in a garbage can so everyone can have a laugh. But when he’s not looking, I punch him in the stomach as hard as I can, though I’m never able to knock the wind from him.

“See, ya don’ wanna go to Red Hook anyhow,” Vincent says. “Il Maschio is down there. That’s trouble. Real trouble.”

It interests me greatly though, Red Hook, and so I ask around about it. In fact, asking questions becomes what I am known for and it is more than once I am told to “shaddup.” But because I have the hunger for knowing things, I never take it the wrong way. Beat McGarry tells me it’s the incumbent Irish that have run Red Hook for many years, but is now overflowing with immigrant Italians. Frankie Yale knows the value of the area and so he often sends in Il Maschio to remind the pier house supers and the stevedoring managers that it’s only a matter of time until the Italian Black Hand takes over.

“Who is Il Maschio?” I ask, but nobody knows. No one. If he’s a man or a group of men, no one can answer me since it, or they, slink in the shadows and when the clean-shaven Irish show up he, or they, vanish like they never existed, or he never existed. Maybe like they exist everywhere, or he does maybe.

A Brooklyn Bridge worker peers through the darkness.

“What’s the Black Hand and what does Frankie Yale have to do with black hands and Il Maschio” I ask Cinders Connolly, but he won’t say.

“What does Il Maschio mean in Italian?” No one’s sure, but Dago Tom tells me it means “the mail.”

“Like sending letters, like?” I ask. “The postal service?”

“No, like ‘man.’ Or ‘boy.’ ‘Male,’ ya know? Male?”

“Oh, that kind of male,” I say.

Somewhere I learn that Il Maschio is Frankie Yale’s wing of Italian thugs, or thug, who work on the docks and believe in something called “the SicilIan Code” and that if they can’t reach your mother, they’ll kidnap your child for ransom. And if you talk to the police or anyone else, the child will end up in a barrel at the bottom of the Gowanus Canal. And I learn too that Il Maschio only appears when the Irish fight amongst themselves, which happens often or when the dock boss is sent to Sing Sing or the workhouse, which also happens often. And since I can’t get straight answers about Italians, and I’m filled with strange stories I sense that there is mystery around their ways, even if they are Catholics like us. They are a mysterious people and since they show up only when we are fighting among ourselves, I sense that they must be in cahoots with the pookas from the stories of my childhood. But then, I am starting to get to the age where the validity of the old stories become questionable and that only confuses me more. Image

I think of my father and his quips, and though he was speaking of the British being preoccupied with the German, he used to say, “With your enemy’s turmoil come opportunities,” and so it is in Brooklyn with the Italians. Before being sent up to Sing Sing, McGowen had long been charged with controlling Red Hook for Dinny Meehan (White Hand Gang leader). But a couple months after McGowen was sent up, Dinny came under great pressure to take the area by force as it had been coming under the influence of Il Maschio in McGowen’s absence, since that’s when the Whitehanders are most vulnerable.

Barrow Street Theatre-Reading

Before the show, Malachy told me some old stories including the one about my own surname that he knew from when he was told in his childhood in Limerick, Ireland.

What an incredible evening. I am really finding myself to be quite possibly the luckiest writer on the circuit. After arriving in the city, I hung around Greenwich Village and visited the old haunts of my grandparents and great-grandparents at 463 Hudson Street, the saloon that was in my family from 1906 to the late 1970s. A bit nervous about the reading, I had a few drinks while listening to some city workers and off-duty firemen grumble and bluff with thick accents and hearty laughs.

It’s called Barrow Street Pub now and it’s just a few blocks down from the Barrow Street Theatre where the reading was to take place. The bar is close to the water on Hudson and Barrow where the old longshoremen of New York City used to hand over their paychecks to my great-grandfather behind the bar back during the times when Light of the Diddicoy takes place, 1915 and 1916. Later in the week, the longshoremen’s wives would come to the bar for the rest of the money. My great-grandfather Thomas Lynch, his wife Honora Lynch (nee Kelly) and their six children resided in traditional fashion, upstairs from the saloon.

I often visit the old place, which is still kind of rough around the edges. As mentioned, I had a few butterflies to kill and felt a little better after a drink or two and some texting with close friends and family. Image

When I walked into the Barrow Street Theatre an hour before the reading was to start, I saw Malachy McCourt up on stage with his cane. His command of the English language still at its peak and the charm of an old storyteller has settled in him nicely. I climbed up to be with him and after listening to him, the butterflies had disappeared entirely.

“Do you ever get nervous, Malachy? Before going on stage?” I asked.

“Well Eamon, no matther what happens, time will still pass. All these people here,” he pointed at the crowd while speaking in his wonderful brogue. “They’re here for a good time, my bhoy. Are they not? Life will end whether we want it to or not, so we all just need a little joy, don’t we?”

“Yeah, we sure do,” said I.

I couldn’t have asked a better man for advice as he has seen and done just about everything a man of the stage could do during his time. On and off Broadway, Hollywood movie roles, a regular on Johnny Carson, a saloon owner himself and author of the rollickingly hilarious A Monk Swimming, one of my all-time favorite books told in his own voice, which is to say the oral tradition of the Irish.

Maybe one day I’ll earn the right to have eyebrows like Malachy McCourt.

Just as I was to be called to the podium, Mr. McCourt and I began conversing on the story of the surname and adjective “Lynch.”

“Americans want to own everything,” Malachy says with a smile. “They can’t have Lynch though. I’ve often heard of Americans telling the story of some chap in Lynchburg, Virginia having originated the term “Lynch” as in hanging from a tree. ‘Tis not the case, Eamon.”

It was here that I ached to interrupt him and tell the story myself as I am well aware of the ancient version. But realizing it’d be better to hear him say it, I kept my gob shut and my ears opened.

“It comes from a Mayor named Lynch in County Galway who was forced the hang his own son, which was the penalty for murder for which his son had most certainly committed. I heard this story as a young boy in Limerick and it always stuck with me, Eamon.”

I only smiled and confirmed that I too knew the story, having read it on the wall of the lobby of Lynches Castle in County Galway years ago (Lynches Castle is now a bank, or was at least when I was there).


After the show, I was humbled by the compliments that came pouring in, but a good literary friend who runs a blog and knows quite a few things about book publicizing said that he was glad to see Light of the Diddicoy getting the right kind attention.

And for that, I must thank Peter Carlaftes and Kat Georges of Three Rooms Press. I can’t seem to put into words the appreciation I have for all they have done for Light of the Diddicoy. “I see too many people doing it the wrong way,” the friend said. “You guys are really doing a great job getting the word out in a positive and dignified manner.”

Mr. Malachy McCourt as well, I must thank too. He has been a wonderful supporter both on WBAI Radio-NYC with me earlier in the week and reading from the book at the Barrow Street Theatre.

Also, I need to truly thank Richard Vetere and Israel Horovitz, because if it wasn’t for them the 200-seat theatre would hardly have been as filled as it was.

Isreal Horovitz also read from fellow Three Rooms Press author Richard Vetere’s new book The Writers Afterlife.

Mr. Vetere’s book, The Writers Afterlife (also from Three Rooms Press) is a smart and fun read, from what I’ve heard so far.

Thanks also to everyone who came and supported us and bought me Guinness at the old Lions Head bar (now called A Kettle of Fish) at the after party.

Barrow Street Theatre

We have some big news to report here at artofneed, but first off, Happy Holidays to you all. I hope everyone is having good cheer with family and friends and able to enjoy these times.

Mr. Malachy McCourt, who knows a thing or two about the Irish, New York and their deep relations, has said some very wonderful things about Light of the Diddicoy.

Second, I’m sorry I haven’t had many posts lately. I just moved, and since this is the WORST time of year to move, I have been consumed with holiday planning and moving. I promise we’ll soon have a very fun blog up called The Gangs of Brooklyn, a look at the time frame from the Great Hunger through just before Prohibition (1845-1919). This blog ought to be a lot of fun for most of you.

In big news, famed author Malachy McCourt has thrown his considerable weight behind Light of the Diddicoy. In a recent quote, he said:

“Eamon Loingsigh’s book Light of the Diddicoy is an amazing series of literary leaps from terra firma into the stratosphere above. The writing embraces you, and his description of the savagery visited on poor people is offset by the humor and love of the traditional Irish community. Yes there is laughter here too and it is a grand read, leaving any reader fully sated. Don’t leave the store without this book.”

Barrow St 2
You CAN’T miss this… Nope

On January 16, 2014 Mr. McCourt (brother of Pulitzer Prize winning memoirist Frank McCourt) will actually read from Light of the Diddicoy at the historical Barrow Street Theatre! Very Exciting! You don’t want to miss it!

On top of watching Malachy McCourt read from Light of the Diddicoy, playwright, director and actor Israel Horovitz will read from fellow Three Rooms Press author Richard Vetere’s upcoming book The Writers Afterlife.

It’s going to be a huge night!

To reserve tickets, send an email here:

Barrow St Theatre
The Barrow Street Theatre, located in the Greenwich House, is in the West Village of Manhattan at 27 Barrow Street.

Here’s a little bit about the Barrow Street Theatre – A 199 seat Off-Broadway venue located in the West Village, NYC operated by Producers Scott Morfee and Tom Wirtshafter. The building was originally opened in 1902 by progressives who sought to alleviate the poverty and over-population of the area during the time. With the vision of Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch, famous photographers like Jacob Riis gathered there to help immigrants adjust to city life.

I hope you all have a great holiday, and in the spirit of the Irish Christmas in New York, here’s a classic song and video from Shane MacGowan and The Pogues:

The Immigrant Story of Thomas & Honora Lynch

Thomas Lynch was born in 1876 in Coolmeen, County Clare, Ireland and died on June 23, 1953. His father was Denis Lynch*1 (1825-1908) and his mother was Ellen Cunningham Kelly (1839-1926). His parents lived very long lives through Ireland’s greatest tragedy of what I will refer to as The Great Hunger (also named “Irish Potato Famine”). Thomas Lynch was the seventh  child born of nine.

1) Delia

Cover with Blurb
Check out Eamon Loingsigh’s historical novel Divide the Dawn (Spring 2020) which includes his great-grandparents, Thomas & Honora.

2) Denis
3) Margaret (1860)
4) Ellen (1866-1935)
5) Mary (1867)
6) Alice (1871)
7) Thomas (1876-1953)
8) James (1878-1955)
9) Michael (1882-1971)

It is not known exactly where Thomas’ mother, Ellen Cunningham Kelly was born, though it is documented that she died in Coolmeen, County Clare, Ireland 1/30/1926. She witnessed not only Ireland’s greatest tragedy in The Great Hunger, but also the Easter Rising of 1916, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War where finally Ireland had gained independence over the majority of its territory, save six counties in the North, Ulster. Most likely, she would have met the face of Ireland in the 20th Century, Eamon de Valera who was the political representative from East County Clare and who, after the Easter Rising (he was not executed because he was born in New York) became Taoiseach and President of the Republic of Ireland.

Census of Ireland, 1911 – (Unverified source, names and dates do not match, which is common, but could very possibly still be the true family, see footnote*2) On April 2nd, 1911, per the documentation from the Census of Ireland, 1911” the people who were living with Ellen Cunningham Kelly (does not include address, unfortunately) were the following, including herself:

1) Ellen Lynch (74) – Widow (was married 52 years), born in County Clare, Ireland, current head of household, Roman Catholic, Farmer, with nine children still alive, can read and write, speaks Irish and English.

2) Bridget Lynch (daughter, 38) – Single, Roman Catholic, can read and write, speaks Irish and English.

3) John Lynch (son, 31) -Single, Roman Catholic, Farmer’s son, can read and write, speaks Irish and English.

4) (Illegible first name) Lynch– (son, 26) Single, Roman Catholic, Farmer’s son, can read and write, speaks Irish and English.

5) Mary Louise Clancy (grandchild, 4), Roman Catholic, cannot read.

Our Thomas Lynch made it quite difficult to pinpoint exactly what year he had emigrated from Ireland to New York City. Below is a graph of each Census year of New York and the year that he wrote when he emigrated. Try not to laugh at the inconsistency:

~1900 Census – he wrote that he emigrated to New York in 1889
~1910 Census – he wrote that he emigrated to New York in 1896
~1920 Census – he wrote that he emigrated to New York in 1897
~1930 Census – he wrote that he emigrated to New York in 1894
~1940 Census – Does not ask what year he emigrated

Because of this and his very common name, I am currently unable to verify specifically when he passed through Ellis Island, if he did pass through Ellis Island. There were quite a few Thomas Lynches on ship passenger lists from 1889-1897, so at this time it cannot be confirmed unless other family members come forth with other details.

Without confirming his date of passage, we next turn to the Census of New York, 1900 for a positive confirmation of his whereabouts in New York City. According to this document, Thomas Lynch is living at 318 West Street, New York, New York apartment #105 on June 8, 1900. This address is literally on the waterfront of the West Side of Manhattan where the current West Side Highway runs, just south of Houston and just north of where the Holland Tunnel currently is.

Thomas’ sister Ellen (32 in 1900), who was ten years older than him, had married Michael Mulqueen (34, Saloon Keeper) six years earlier and by 1900, they had a three year old son, Michael J. Mulqueen and a two year old daughter, Ellen A. Mulqueen. Also living at this residence as “boarders” are William Twoomey (35, Laborer) and Thomas McCarthy (32, Laborer). Thomas Lynch states here that he was born in October of 1878 and that he is 22 years old. That he originally came over in 1889 and is a “Laborer” and can read and write in English. To further confuse his arrival date in New York City, right next to the date of 1889 that he put as arriving, he wrote that he had only lived in New York City for one year. So, this may mean that he traveled more than once from Ireland to New York.

The two Mulqueen children were born in New York, everyone else at this address was born in Ireland.

It was very common in those days for new comers to stay with family in New York City. In Thomas’ case, staying with his older sister Ellen and her husband was probably a better choice than staying on the farm in Coolmeen, County Clare. Although Ellen and Michael Mulqueen both stated they only arrived from Ireland in 1897, Mr. Mulqueen is older, more established as a saloon keeper and considered the head of the household.

Young Thomas is not married at this time. According to my father, Timothy Lynch (1948-2013), Thomas Lynch was at this time working for the city, digging for the subways as a laborer. This is certainly possible, but not yet confirmed. What may also be possible is Thomas working at Michael Mulqueen’s saloon, although he probably would have stated that on this census. What is known is that Thomas Lynch will become a bartender and a saloon keeper himself one day.

Nora Kelly – Known as Honora, she was born in 1880 in Kildysart, County Clare, Ireland. From the stories that have been told to me, she came from a large and very poor family that sent her to a girl’s boarding school, or orphanage in the capital of Clare, Ennis.

Currently, there is no information on her father and mother, though we do know she had a younger sister named Anna (probably b. 1882) that was living with her in New York. Currently, Anna is the only other “confirmed” sibling. A family member reported to me that there were other siblings, including another sister named Teresa Rose Kelly. Two other brothers were born in New York, John and Joseph Kelly.

At some point, Honora was somehow able to leave County Clare, Ireland and get on a ship bound for New York. How she did so and how she met Thomas Lynch, hopefully, can be solved in the coming months.

Update: Through a family source, I found out that Thomas & Honora met at a ball put on by the County Claremen’s Evicted Tenant’s Protective and Industrial Association, of which Thomas was the treasurer.

In the Census of New York, 1910 (done on 4/22/1910), things have changed immensely for Thomas Lynch. He now lives and is renting at 93 Barrow Street, which is directly behind 463 Hudson Street (on the corner of Hudson and Barrow), the saloon he will own one day. His occupation is now “Dealer” and is an employee of “Siq Work” or “Sig Work” maybe “Sign Work”? He is still renting, but is now head of the household and married to Nora Kelly (30), who would be known throughout the family as “Honora.”

Thomas and Honora have two children Ellen M. (2) who was born Eleanor Lynch and Thomas Jr. (6 months old). But there are many others living in this address in Greenwich Village in 1910. Here is a listing:

  1. Alice Lynch (40) who is described as Thomas‘ sister (b. 1871) and is a widow. She has five children that are still alive. She does not have employment, but does know how to read and write. This is the same Alice Lynch whose young child Mary Clancy will be living in Ireland with Alice and Thomas’s mother Ellen Cunningham Kelly in 1911, one year from now. Alice had married John Clancy sometime around 1891, though he has passed away by 1910. It seems odd that she would be named “Alice Lynch” instead of “Alice Clancy” even as her husband had died.
  2. John Clancy (10), Alice’s son named after his father, was born in New York City. According to the letter I received from Dan Lynch via the Clancy’s, this John Clancy did not have a date of birth, which we can now assume to be either 1899 or 1900. He dies by 1924 however, of unconfirmed causes. He is one of five children born to Alice and John Clancy. Others: Helen (Hogan), Dennis (b. 1901), James (b. 1903) and Mary (b. 1906 in Ireland).
  3. Anna Kelly (28, Single) – Who is described as Thomas Lynch’s “sister-in-law” which would make her Honora’s sister. Anna wrote that she arrived in New York in 1902 after being born in Ireland. She describes her occupation as “House work.”
  4. Michael Hannon – (52, widowed) A boarder who was born in Ireland. He emigrated one year previously in 1909. He is currently a “Foreman” at a stable.
  5. Orrin Herdman – (50, widowed) A boarder who was born in New York and so were both of his parents. He is widowed and is currently a Truck Driver.
  6. Frances J. Barnes – (45, married) A boarder who was has been married for 22 years (wife not at this address though). He was born in Virginia, but both of his parents were born in Ireland. Currently he is a Produce Salesman.

Here in 1910, we have an extended family all living together. Thomas Lynch has already established himself as Head of the household and is married, having children, taking in boarders and working every day as a “dealer” of some sort in the neighborhoods just off the water. Coincidentally, 1910 is the year that New York became the largest port in the world, surpassing London. The docks off Greenwich Village and north in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen are incredibly busy with freight ships and barges and the waterfront neighborhoods are packed with small businesses that benefit from the incredible amount of goods coming in from around the world. There is also quite a bit being manufactured in these neighborhoods as well, such as the soap factory on Washington Street right around the corner.

Thomas is also taking in his widowed sister, her son, and his wife’s sister to help with the young children (and is most certainly pregnant at this time too). Mr. Hannon, straight off the boat, could very possibly be a friend of the Lynch’s or Kelly’s back in Clare and two other boarders are staying as well, probably paying the majority of the rent.

One can only imagine what exactly a “dealer” is. It could quite possibly be a dealer in alcohol, or even a bartender. Living directly behind the saloon that Thomas will one day own, it’s hard to imagine him not working there in 1910.

According to family stories, Lynches Tavern at 463 Hudson Street had opened in 1906. This does not seem to be the case, as of yet. It may possible be, however, that it is owned by Thomas Lynch, but is not stating so on this 1910 census.

Screen Shot 2013-11-17 at 11.28.04 AM
On the right side of this google maps photo is 93 Barrow Street, where the Lynches lived in 1910. On the left is the side of Lynches Tavern (now called Barrow’s Pub) that is facing Hudson Street.

By any measure, ten people living in a two-story walk up is somewhat extreme. Though it seems, by looking at a picture on google maps, that it also has a basement. I’m not sure how many rooms there are here, but I would guess three, maybe four at the most. Next door is the Donahue family with the Slattery’s and others living at 95 Barrow Street. In two adjacent, very small buildings behind a saloon, there are 26 people living. Imagine this all over Manhattan.

Lynches Tavern – (Looking for input on this here, please help Lynch family!) From what I have been told, Lynches Tavern at 463 Hudson Street was opened in 1906, although that is currently in question. It was one of many saloons on Hudson Street during the era. Longshoremen who worked on the docks frequented it in the nineteen-teens. Thomas Lynch was very active in the Irish community through this saloon. My father Timothy Lynch (1948-2013) told me that he was sure there was money funneled to the Irish Republican Brotherhood and other Fenian movements that supported Irish freedom. Ireland was still under the thumb of Britain at this time and the secret revolutionary societies, rebirth of the Gaelic language and Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), labor

This is outside Lynches Saloon's windows looking across the street on the corner of Hudson & Barrow, 1905.
This is the outside Lynches Saloon’s windows looking across the street on the corner of Hudson & Barrow, 1905.

organizations, militant organizations like the Volunteers and other cultural, literary and revolutionary movements were gaining popularity in Ireland.

In New York, people like John Devoy and O’Donovan Rossa were constantly organizing ways to raise money to be sent back to Ireland to strike at the Brits since well before the turn of the century. Saloons of the era like Thomas Lynch’s in Greenwich Village were notorious for.

It would be one thing to simply assume Thomas Lynch would have been a part of organizing in New York for Irish freedom, it is another thing when you consider the organizations he was proudly involved with such as the Owen Roe O’Neill Club, for which he was treasurer. Or the John Mitchel Club. Both of these were known for organizing dances or athletic meets to raise funds to be sent back to Ireland. An uncle told me once that “Oh sure, there was always a hat that would be sent around for donations.”

446-480 Hudson St 1910
This is across the street and south a half block from Lynches Tavern circa 1910. The addresses are 446-480 Hudson Street. Remember how important horses still were in New York City at the time, evidenced by the harness company here.

Thomas Lynch was not only concerned about Irish freedom, he was also concerned about the Irish immigrants to New York.  Years ago, I found a picture at my grandparents’ home (James D. and Gene Lynch) that showed Thomas Lynch standing among five or six other men with a placard that read “County Claremen’s Evicted Tenants Protective and Industrial Association” on it. After doing some research, I found that organization had a long history in New York in helping desperate Irish immigrants (not just from Clare) in finding passage to New York, an apartment after they arrived and work in the various industries in the city.

Let’s talk more about Lynches Tavern as we go through the decades.

In the Census of New York, 1920 (done on 1/5/1920) We find the Lynch family has moved next door to 463 Hudson Street, just above the saloon that is now called Lynches Tavern. Thomas Lynch (44) now describes his occupation as “Proprietor, Saloon.” This

Thomas Lynch sitting down, Honora behind him with the whole family. This photo was taken right around the 1920 Census of New York.

was very typical of an Irish saloon keeper in New York City at the time, as he is living above the bar.

His family has grown too. He and Honora now have six children, a servant and five boarders/lodgers. Living with Thomas and Honora now are the following:

1. Ellen N. Lynch (11 daughter)
2. Thomas J. Lynch (9, son)
3. Daniel A. Lynch (7, son)
4. Mary L. (6, daughter)
5. James D. (4, son)
6. Anna M. (1, daughter)
7. Delian Crawford (20, single, servant, female), born in Ireland
8. Harry J. Groh (51, single boarder) Engineer, Iron Foundry, born in New York, both parents from Germany
9. Michael Lynch (55, widowed lodger) Laborer on the Docks, born in Ireland. Thomas has a younger brother named Michael, but this Michael Lynch is older. So this may be a cousin from Ireland
10. William J. Conlen (45, widower lodger) Truck Driver, born in New York
11. Frederick Thiel (43, married lodger) Laborer, Confectionary, born in Pennsylvania
12. James Govern (70, widower lodger) laborer on the docks, born in Ireland
13. Thomas Roache (55, single lodger) Laborer on the docks, born in Ireland

A family source reported to me that Lynches Tavern had the honored distinction of never having closed during Prohibition (1920-1933). Apparently there was no secret that it served alcohol there, but what John Smart explained (Mr. Smart Anna Margaret Lynch, the youngest Lynch daughter) is that the local police were paid to look the other way. A wonderful story he mentioned was how one day Thomas was summoned outside by a patrolman from another district. Within moments, that patrolman was knocked out and lying on the cement on Barrow Street. Thomas had punched him in the face after the patrolman demanded he be paid for keeping the saloon open (during Prohibition) even though he was out of his jurisdiction.

In the Census of New York, 1930 (done on 4/14/1930) we find the Lynch family has moved to 796 East 19th Street in Brooklyn, which is considered Prospect Park South off Ocean Avenue, a few blocks West of Flatbush Avenue. Thomas Lynch, Head of the household, now describes his work as “Owner, Restaurant.” From all accounts, he is taking the trolleys every morning through Prospect Park north toward the bridges. From there, he has probably been changing trains at the Sands Street Station, which is just north of Downtown Brooklyn, Cadmen Plaza. From there, he is most likely taking the trains across either the Brooklyn Bridge to Park Row, or across the Manhattan Bridge to get to Manhattan. Then, he is taking more the Elevated tracks, such as the Sixth Avenue El, all the way across Manhattan to the West Side, where his saloon is located where he used to live at 463 Hudson Street in Greenwich Village. After work, he takes the same trip, but in reverse.

Living in Brooklyn while working in Manhattan is considered a step above Working Class that the Irish seemed to have been stuck in since The Great Hunger of the 1840s and 1850s. In Thomas’ generation, owning property is very important and at this time in 1930, he wrote on the census that a large “O” to answer the question “Own or Rent.” He then wrote that it was worth a whopping “$17,500.”

Thomas is now 54 years old and Honora (still called “Nora” on the census) is 51 and they have been married for 23 years, which means they would have gotten married most likely in 1907.  Their eldest daughter Eleanor (called “Elinore” here) is 22 years old and Thomas (20), their eldest son, is a “Clerk” at a “Brokerage House.”

Daniel A. (18), Mary L. (16), James D. (14) and Anna M. (12) are all in their teens and are all still in school.

A “nephew” has moved in, James Galvin who is the same age as the Lynch’s youngest daughter, Anna at 12. After asking around, a family member explained that young Mr. Galvin “was no blood relative, just a person in need of food and lodging.”  So, it turns out that James Galvin is simply the recipient of some good old fashioned Irish hospitality (see ancient Brehon Law).

Finally, at the Lynch home in Brooklyn is a “maid” named Margaret Keane (23, single), who is not in school. Ms. Keane was born in Ireland and arrived in 1923. Her work was described as “Servant” for “Private Family.”

In the Census of New York, 1940 (done on 4/2/1940), we find the Lynch family has moved back to Manhattan and now live at West 16th Street, off 7th Avenue on the West Side. This address, going by google maps again, appears to be a high rise of about 16 floors. There apartment number where they are renting is 19, which would make one believe it is on the first floor. When asked on the census where they lived in 1935, everyone in the home said “Same Place.”

Thomas Lynch now says he is 66 years old. Staying consistent, Honora says she is 61 years old.

hudson barrow
(Photo: 1938, courtesy Where Lynches Tavern once was, a drug store moved in until the Lynch family bought back the property in 1939.

The Great Depression hit the Lynch household as hard as everyone else. Thomas now describes his work as “Bartender, Restaurant.” No longer does he say that he is “Owner” of the restaurant at 463 Hudson Street.

The Lynch family was not able to pay the mortgage on the saloon and the bank foreclosed it sometime in the 1935. Thomas was still able to bartend at the longshoreman’s dive, but he was back to paying rent on it to the bank.

However, according to an article in the New York Sun on July 3rd, 1939, John A. King of Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 3.34.31 PMthe “254 Boulevard Corporation”  bought the property back from the North River Savings Bank. John A. King just happened to be the law partner of Thomas Lynch’s son, Daniel A. And from all accounts, the bar was back in the family again.

In 1940, only Thomas’ two youngest still live with them, James D. (25) and Anna (21), both single. However, James D. is soon to marry a Mary Regina Sullivan during training in the Army in Tampa, Florida. World War II is coming soon. Mary Regina, Known would be known as Gene Lynch for many years.*3

Whew, I’m tired. I’m going to take a break. Please get in touch when you can.

thos lynch
Photo from 1959 via Ronnie Clancy Fernandez, whose father Joe Clancy worked for my grandfather James Lynch, son of Thomas Lynch. Outside of the old family saloon.



~*1 – From the letter sent to me by Dan Lynch () originally from ???? Denis Lynch’s name is said to be “Dennis Spellsey Lynch.

~*2 – If Ellen Cunningham Kelly (who is referred here as “Ellen Lynch”) was born in 1839, Ellen would have been 72 or 73 years of age in 1911, not 74. 

The names Bridget and John and their ages do not match up with any names or ages of Ellen Cunningham Kelly’s children, which means then this may be the wrong Lynch family of Clare. No address is offered on this document either. 

It is not specified who the mother and father of Mary Louise Clancy are, grandchild of “Ellen Lynch” but, according to a letter that was passed to me, Alice Lynch (b. 1871) married a John Clancy (b. 1861) sometime after 1891 and they had five children, one of which was “Mary (b.1906 in Ireland)” which would make perfect sense here as the child would have been four years old if her birthday was after the date of this census of April 2nd. But Alice Lynch is not living in Ireland at this time, in fact the “Census of New York, 1910” has her living with our Thomas Lynch at 93 Barrow Street, behind Lynches Tavern. 

If Ellen Cunningham Kelly and Denis Lynch were married for “52” years, as this census says, they would have been married in the year 1856, since Denis Lynch died in 1908.

~*3 – Mary R. “Gene” Lynch’s great-grandfather and great-grandmother on her mother’s side both fled The Great Hunger. James Joseph Phalen’s (From County Laois, Ireland) name shows up on a passenger list in July of 1852 from Liverpool to Albany, New York. Ellen Keenan, also from County Laois, was either already in Albany, or on the way. They married in 1854. Gene Lynch was my grandmother and the person I dedicated Light of the Diddicoy to. She passed away in 2012.

Screen Shot 2013-11-22 at 8.39.17 AM
A family tree, starting with me (Alex Lynch) and including all four sets of my great-grandparents with Thomas & Honora at the top. With some great-great grandparents as well. This goes back to 1740, but no need to show all of that.

Code of Silence

 Irishtown’s Code of Silence

“That alley was the most turbulent spot in Irishtown,” so said a man who called himself the Gas Drip Bard in an 1899 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle about a dangerous place off Gold Street in the mid 1800s. “It would be worth a policeman’s life to enter there after dark, or for that matter in the daylight.”

5th Ward
The old Fifth Ward was where Irishtown was located. In this photo circa 1916, it is right of the Manhattan Bridge, left of the Navy Yard.

Irishtown was located in the old Fifth Ward of Brooklyn. Along the waterfront west of the Navy Yard, east of where the Manhattan Bridge now reaches into the sky. And although it was not as well known as Manhattan’s Five Points of mid 19th Century New York fame, it was equally as notorious and filled to the limit with the same desperate, Famine Irish.

In fact, according to the Census for the State of New York for 1855, in an equally dense area, Irishtown had 5,629 Irish-born among its total population of 16,000. Five Points, according to Tyler Anbinder, Manhattan historian and author of a book on the infamous Five Points, “(had) about 7,200 that were Irish-born” out of a total 14,000 in 1855.

But if Five Points was known far and wide, even internationally for being disease-ridden, filled with prostitution and gambling rings and murderers and gangs… Brooklyn’s Irishtown was known for, well, keeping its secrets.

Historical novel Divide the Dawn (Spring 2020) is about the gang known as the White Hand. Pre-order it now.

So desperate were they to keep the law and outsiders away, Irishtown residents took to the rooftops in the early 1870s to hurl streetwise chimney bricks and paving stones at police and federal agents. After many years of attempting to stop the plethora of untaxed, illegal whiskey distilleries in Irishtown, the city was forced to summon the United States Marines through the Navy Yard in an early morning raid in July, 1873.

“A code of silence was observed in Irishtown,” explained New York’s most famous bank robber and Irishtown native Willie Sutton (born 1901) in his biography. “More faithfully than Omerta is observed by the mafia… It wasn’t only the gangs that were at war with the police, everybody was. If a man was arrested, his whole family would run alongside the paddy wagon screaming… All the police ever got out of him was the exercise. Nobody ever talked in Irishtown.”

These were not rioters in Irishtown, as there were in Five Points ten years earlier during the civil war draft. These were men and women and children that banned together to keep the law out. A commune, almost. But protected violently.

That morning in 1873 has been described in some detail in multiple periodicals of the time. Other articles were written years afterward commemorating what was seen as a symbolic event in Irishtown’s need to keep the police out. When the government is forced to summon the likes of the Marines to put order in a neighborhood, well, that’s pretty remarkable.

Five Points
Five Points, known worldwide as the most dangerous neighborhood in New York, was the Miley Cyrus of slums, whereas Irishtown was the JD Salinger of them.

For this reason, the code of silence, Irishtown has not received the recognition that Five Points has. There was even a gang that named itself the Five Points Gang (Italian gang of Mulberry Street after the area had been mostly razed). In 2002, an entire movie by Martin Scorcese was based on Five Points.

Like so many Brooklynites have been in the position of doing, Irishtown looked upon the Five Points area with a bit of jealousy, but also with a lowered eye since it seemed everyone over there was out for themselves. To the people of Irishtown, Five Pointers were so selfish that they had no sense of community. Isn’t it the point to keep the coppers out? What it shared in ethnic inhabitants, it contrasted entirely in character.

Many years later in 1923, a gangster in the White Hand Gang named Wild Bill Lovett was shot multiple times on Front Street in Irishtown. Instead of looking to the law for justice, he was quoted as saying, “I got mine. Don’t ask any questions. Don’t try to pump me. It’s give and take. When we get it, we take it and say nothing.”

Not long afterward, another Irish native named Eddie Hughes, originally suspected of shooting of Lovett, was murdered. But with no witnesses (as usual), no one could be charged.

By that time, of course, refusal to speak with the police was tradition. A tradition in Irishtown that reached back to the old country. Into the depth of their sensibilities, and the reason the Famine Irish ended up in Irishtown. BECAUSE of law.

Back in Ireland in the 1840s, a blight on the staple of the Irish diet, the potato, was used by the British government as a way to remove the tenant farmers from their lands and replace them with a cash crop in cattle. (This argument has gained steam over the years and there are many Irish and Irish-Americans that are dedicated to changing the description of this event from “Famine” to “Genocide,” but let’s stick to the topic here).

The Irish tenant farmer had a tradition of refusing to pay rent. Supported by their secret societies and more interested in their own factions than any foreign occupiers, the Irish were a rebellious lot that made the British colonial landlords boil in anger due their tenants’ refusal to go along with their laws.

Along came the blight and with a half-hearted and smarmy policy toward it, allowed, often paid for these Irish peasants to be sent in “coffin ships” to places like Brooklyn, New York. At least, those who survived long enough to board the ships. And, those who survived the long journeys.

Over a million died of starvation. Two million more emigrated from a very small island nation. If we were able to go back in time and ask those survivors of the Great Hunger what they felt about law? As it was law, in their eyes, that was manipulated to create such a horrific scenario, well, what do you think they’d say about it?

Bill Lovett
Seen here in 1922, Wild Bill Lovett was no believer in the American dream. He wanted to only to be known as the king of his neighborhood and the dock rackets along the heavily industrialized Brooklyn waterfront.

In 1923, Wild Bill Lovett, an Irish American himself, was merely lending his life to the Irish tradition of the code of silence. He was happy to live and die knowing that the police and the Anglo-American laws they enforced had no say in it. Later that same year he did die, in fact, hatcheted in the skull and shot in the neck by, you might’ve guessed it by now, unknown assailants.

Silence was Irishtown’s way of keeping their own traditions. Making their own stories outside of the over-arching Anglo-American culture. The conflicts and the faction fighting in their lives were kept within their own borders of Bridge Street and the wall at the Navy Yard.

Like the famous Irish revolutionary Michael Collins said in the movie, “There is one weapon that the British cannot take away from us: we can ignore them.”

Maybe later we’ll talk about Brehon Law, a civil code based on honor that Ireland lived by before the British outlawed it.

Until then, however, look for another post in a few days about Auld Irishtown.

PJ Clarke’s

The best way to learn about history is to ask an elder. Sure you canPJ's book cover consult the internet or the library, but there is not a more authentic and traditional way than to simply listen and breathe in the story from someone who was there. Especially over a drink or two.

In the book Over P.J. Clarke’s Bar: Tales from New York City’s Famous Saloon by Helen Marie Clarke, you get just that. Written in a conversational tone with an eye for history and the impact on family through the lens, or behind the bar of one of the oldest continuously running bar in New York, Clarke has spun an ancestral yarn on an establishment that has witnessed, within the fray, New York’s history from 1884 to the present.

Mrs. Clarke, who is the grandniece of Patrick “Paddy” Clarke, who took over the saloon in 1912, calmly describes how times changed around the old saloon on 3rd Avenue and 55th Street as if she’s waiting for your Guinness to settle. With the gentle nature of an Irish storyteller, she hands you the ugly truths and the good ol’ times in the same sweet tone.

The saloon originally opened in 1884. Paddy Clarke emigrated from County Leitrim, Ireland in 1902 and eventually saved up enough money (possibly with the help of a beer sponsor) and opened as P.J. Clarke’s in 1912.

Paddy was a typical Irish immigrant of the era and believed sincerely in Irish freedom back home. He hung photos of Ireland’s dead patriots on his walls alongside Abraham Lincoln in a time when Ireland was still under the thumb of the British Empire. Mrs. ClarkeIrish proc of ind goes on to explain conversations she had with Paddy when she was a child and speaks with a tone of pride how he hung a picture of Ireland’s Proclamation of Independence from the 1916 Easter Rising.

These are the seeds of the traditional New York City Irish pub. The seeds that we so often forget about and the seeds that so many of the young have never heard about. Mrs. Clarke does a great service to describe her grand uncle’s connection to the old country. She also describes how her father and uncles had a very hard time talking about Ireland. Another very important trait of the immigrant Irish as the history of Ireland and its people was seen and felt as the greatest of tragedies. From hundreds of years of oppression, forced emigration and starvation, in her grand uncle’s and her father’s Sinatrageneration, it was just too emotional to speak of.

My own great-grandfather owned a similar saloon on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village on the other side of Manhattan. It opened in 1906 and was also a supporter of Irish freedom. So, as Mrs. Clarke reminisces about Paddy’s pride in Irish freedom, it brings this reader back to the stories told in my own childhood of the Irish in New York.

Throughout the history of New York, from two world wars, the Great Depression, the unrest of the 1960s, the city’s recession in the 1970s, PJ Clarke’s stood strong and served up good times.

Richard Harris
Richard Harris, one of my favorite actors, once said, “We walked into P.J. Clarke’s, I said, ‘Vinny, my usual.’ And he lined up six double vodkas.”

Famous visitors regularly have come to PJ Clarke’s, from Rocky Marciano, to Jacqueline Kennedy, Richard Harris, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe to Ernest Borgnine and, according to some recent reading of my own, Malachy McCourt (A Monk Swimming) was a famous drinker at PJ Clarke’s as well.

Today, there is some angst toward the treatment of women in the New York saloons of the old days. And it was true that most women and girls were not allowed inside them. And if they were, they were required to enter through a back entrance. Mrs. Clarke, realizing this treatment, describes the reasons.

“Uncle Paddy’s ‘no women at the bar’ was simply reflective of the culture at the time.”

Since women almost never walked the streets of New York without a male accompanying her, walking into a saloon was just not traditionally acceptable at the time. Mostly because women who did actually patron saloons were prostitutes, as some New York establishments had back rooms and upstairs accommodations for sexual transactions, which the house benefited. In truth, most New Yorkers would have seen a woman sitting in PJ Clarke’s as a “lady of the night.”

But Mrs. Clarke’s tone becomes sorrowful when she mentions that PJ Clarke’s had a policy of ‘no women’ longer than most other New York bars. And in the 1960s, PJ Clarke’s was visited by feminists and protestors that forced it to change.

However, Mrs. Clarke always had access to it from the time she was a young child. Her father and brothers, in New York fashion, lived above the bar with their uncle Paddy for many years.

Through good times and bad, PJ Clarke’s has stood. And oh by the  outside PJ'sway, if you happen to be in the city, come by for a drink.

It’s still open, 915 Third Avenue.


Longing Eyebrows

I, for one, can’t wait. When the time longs into my soul and the creak in my knees cause gentle steps, I’ll grow long my eyebrows. I’ll let them loose on my face as I chase away the last days of my living.

Now I stand though. I have son and daughters rearing up on me. Smiling as they gain to overtake me.

Today is the day a great poet died. And nothing’s warmer in the throat than the poet that you have long smiled with in word. From the long life he gently stepped and with such great care. So thoughtful that it was oft he was for granted taken.

‘til now.

The sound of the subway sizzling in a whoosh through the long tunnels brings me back to my grandfather too. Another man of the gentle hand who so gives me the light of hope for my long eyebrowed salute to this life. He held my hand in the traincar for he knew the surroundings were new on me. Dark colors around, spray paint clicking sounds splayed upon each wall and passing train, ca-click-ca-click-ca-click went swooshing through my cotton-wool brain.

My grandfather rarely talked. By trade, he was a listener. And there had been in this life nothing that once he had not heard sung by the throats of men whetted with liquor in the old west of Manhattan saloon in our family.

“Who are the Mets playing today?” asked I.

“The Astros.”

“Houston Astros?”

He nodded in smile at me, tapped the top of my hand on my knee.

“Jose Cruz is on the Astros. I like his stance.”

“Really? How so?”

“Uh, he just has a, uh, it looks cool.”


“Yeah, like it’s a fluid motion.”

“A fluid motion? That’s a wonderful way of explaining it.”

“Yeah, it’s just a fluid way of swinging. Like he has an artistic way of swinging and I can imagine him hitting the ball square while, um, before he has even swung yet. Do you know what I mean?”

“I do, I do. Much better now, I understand.”

The lights flick on and off and we speed through the click of the black tunnels as he smiles from above. His dear hands and the touch which became so familiar to me, I couldn’t see then, but was the touch of a poet who’d never once been named so. He’d not written much words in his long years and his work was that of hearing the spirits sway in his mind like the Latin prayers of his own youth, sweeping in Mass along the echo of another era long since left.

I have a picture of him when he was yet a young soul. It’s dated 1919.

My grandfather on the right with his eldest sister's hands on his shoulder.
My grandfather on the right with his eldest sister’s hands on his shoulder.

I look upon it now and remember that train ride in 1979, when I was that age.

“Haven’t you ever seen him play before?” I asked.

“I suppose I have, but never quite saw him as I do now.”

It was an afternoon game, warm on the skin. We sat in the sun and I looked over the expanse of the place and with the smell of the wind and the green of the grass on my nose, my mind was set on a pace. The grass now so welcome a smell with the clickety-clack of rust out of the way, yet the Met fans did not see it in such a way.

“Ya bum!”

“Ya’re a friggin’ louse! Go back to da minors!”

And when Jose Cruz hit a long shot that swooped across my eyes in the sky, headed down with a reaching carry, I stood up with the rest of the crowd but for another reason. I was taken by the swing of him while the color of the blue and white uniforms, the yellow and orange uniforms, the green of the grass, the colorado of the infield left the place, overcome with a whooshing, resounding “BOOOOO!”

Darkening my thoughts, he stood by me and looked down, seeing too the color of my face leaving it. The sadness of the whole world rising in the chant of disgust and blasting down into me like a wave smacking my eyes and face.

“What a beautiful swing!” he yelled in my ears above the mad crowd.

I kept my mouth closed and looked up at him with the smile of a child once understood. He who was a lifelong Brooklyn Dodgers fan turned New York Mets fan found my little thoughts truer than any loyalty to his team.

I had never heard him raise his voice before. And I never heard him raise his voice again. The only time worth doing so, was then, I suppose.

“In the gloom you cannot trace a wrinkle on their beeswax brow,” he said, after the crowd laid down their insults and we all sat back in our stadium pews.

I listened, then looked away. A few pitches later when the urgency of the words left us, I asked what he meant by them.

He smiled, “Could mean anything. That’s the beauty of poetry and of religion. It means what you make of it.”

“Can you say it again, I don’t remember it perfectly.”

“In the gloom you cannot trace a wrinkle on their beeswax brow.”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“Poor women in a city church.”


“You can think about it long, but it only means what you make of it.”

The distant thud of ball in catcher’s mitt fell far away. The anger of the crowd too, many years away. Here I sit writing as I may of the death of a great poet that in my childhood found a way to open my thoughts to the many, many things they can possibly convey.

“What is the name of that person who wrote that?” I asked my Heaney drawinggrandfather.

He smiled and looked down at me again, tapping his familiar hand on the top of my own, “Seamus Heaney.”

Eamon Loingsigh, 8/30/13

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