BOOK DETAILS

No Irish Need Apply: A Novel About New York City's Hell's Kitchen in the Mid-1800's

No Irish Need Apply: A Novel About New York City's Hell's Kitchen in the Mid-1800's

by John Finucane

ISBN: 9781634980982

Publisher Bookstand Publishing

Published in Literature & Fiction/Historical, Literature & Fiction/Contemporary, Literature & Fiction

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Book Description

No Irish Need Apply is a historical portrait of New York City's Hell's Kitchen chronicling the friendship and struggles of Johnny O'Hara and his friend Red, children of immigrants who escaped Ireland's Great Hunger. Orphaned at an early age, the boys struggle to survive amidst the poverty and anti-Irish Catholic prejudice of the day. As adults, Johnny and Red join an all-immigrant volunteer fire company that is despised by surrounding fire companies manned by American-born men.

Sample Chapter

JUNE 1855, NEW YORK CITY – The sad-eyed little girl sat in her dim kitchen and massaged her callused hands with the tips of her fingers. She kept looking up at her mother who stood in front of a jagged piece of a mirror that was hanging somewhat precariously from a badly splintered wall in the kitchen. Their dismal, two-room, one window flat was one that begged to be patched and painted.

Mom’s perfect body was wrapped in a tight-fitting green dress. Her striking face was made even more beautiful by her green eyes and red hair. The little girl watched as her mom did a last minute touch up of her hair. The dress her mom wore was a gift to her from the acclaimed artist, Dion Frazer, for whom her mom had once posed.

Nine-year-old Angie was a perfect reflection of Angela, her mother—she too had green eyes and red hair, and a few freckles. She sat with her upper body completely exposed, just like a boy, which her mother did not like. Of course she had nothing to hide; she was only a child.

“Angie darling, you’re not a three-year old. You shouldn’t walk around like that. Cover yourself,” said her mom. “You’re a young lady now. And why do you always got to wear your father’s old work trousers? Why don’t you wear that damn dress I got you? I went all the way down to Jew town to get it.”

“I gots nuttin ta cover!” She slapped her hands where her breasts should be. “Anyway, I build like a guy. A strong guy.” Which she was, for she had the lean muscular body of a hard-working young man rather than the petite soft-skinned nine-year-old girl she was meant to be. She liked walking around shirtless in her apartment. Every chance she got, she’d stand before the piece of mirror and flex those muscles just like boys did. Her arms, chest, and shoulders, including her calves and thighs, were lined with well-defined bulging muscles. Or she’d be posing with her dukes up, throwing punches and mimicking her favorite prizefighter Yankee Sullivan. She still adored him, even after his defeat by Tom Hyer, the hero of the nativists, in a much-heralded fight. Yankee was the favorite of immigrants. “Wish I wuz a boy,” she said.

“Yeah, I know. I wish you’d stop saying that. What am I gonna do with ya?” her mother muttered.

The child reached her arms across the table, tightly gripping its far edge, flexing the many muscles of her strong arms. “When ya gonna learn mees to read?” she asked, looking her mom in the eyes through short bangs.

Her mom’s mouth moved, but said nothing, silenced by a rush of guilt.

Letting her off the hook, the child changed the subject. “Look,” she said, flaunting the palms of her hands. “My blissers is all healed. Guess I won’ts be gitten anymore a dem.”

Her mom’s face was a picture of heartache. “I never wanted you working with that father of yours. But we needed the money, honey.”

Her daughter’s hardened hands were the result of two years of hard labor, working six and seven days a week with her dad, digging out cellars for the tenant houses, factories, and warehouses being built along the Westside. The same reason she was stacked with muscle. Some people thought she was a freak of nature. They couldn’t understand how such a pretty face could be attached to such a muscular body, a body that belonged to a young man of fifteen or sixteen, who did the same laborious work. Her strange appearance made her the target of ridicule, forcing her to become a tough little street fighter. Often enough, her pretty little face was flawed by a swollen lip, bloody nose, or a black eye, and on some occasions, all of the above.

She and her father were inseparable. Often times they were seen together without her mom. “Was he abusing her?” the gossipmongers asked over and over. But that speculation ended abruptly one recent morning when he up and disappeared, leaving the girl and her mother destitute. The contractor who employed them would not keep her on without her dad, and her mother was unemployable.

The only job Angela could get was that of a seamstress that paid $1.00 a week. Her rent was $6.00 a month for a ramshackle tenement that stunk of shit and dirty humanity; where the cold winds of winter came howling through cracks in the walls; where the heat of summer was unbearable. The only option left for this husbandless woman of exceptional beauty who had a body that drove men crazy was prostitution. Against all she stood for, she began selling herself to men for a living. Her plan was to prostitute herself just long enough to get the two of them back on their feet. And if she were lucky, she would again pose for artists.

Several months earlier, a well-known painter was hired in complete confidence by a super-rich client of hers, to paint her portrait; in the words of that important man; “To capture forever her unique Celtic beauty.” For this she was paid $50. The artist also painted a full body likeness of her, in a provocative tight fitting dress—the one she wore tonight—“to capture the perfect form of her body.” This painting the painter kept for his studio. For that she received $45 and was permitted to keep the dress.

But for Angie, who just couldn’t understand the whys and whats of her mother’s new line of work, it was confusing and hurtful. Angie was especially hurt when her mother’s work called for her to be out three or more nights a week, sometimes working into the early hours of the morning.

“Doan go, mommy,” the angry girl snapped, shoving a book in her mom’s face. “Ya shud be here learnin mees ta read.”

“Darling, please. Don’t start that again. You know I gotta work. Mommy gotta feed her beautiful daughter. Pay the rent,” she said while dabbing perfume on her neck. Angela then asked her daughter, “How do I look?”

“Weal nice. Ya teaches me to read da morra? Will ya?”

“I’ll be leaving now and be home by morning,” Angela said. They hugged and kissed each other. “Mommy loves you, baby.” Without another word, her mother was out the door.

Those pretty but sad green eyes stared from behind a once-white, drab curtain that hung over the apartment’s only window. She watched an all-too-familiar scene on the muddy street below. The big black stallion and the one-of-a-kind Brougham carriage it pulled were parked out front of the wooden tenement in which she lived. She couldn’t understand why there was nobody about the street. Usually, at that time, the women and their children would be all over the street.

From behind that curtain she watched her mother descend the stoop presenting a most confidant image. She was adorned in her skimpy lace garb that accented the drive-men-crazy curves of her body. Angie also saw the tall, well-dressed owner of that beautiful horse and carriage that regularly picked her up, step out of the white carriage. But this time he looked different. Instead of his hair pony-tailing from the back of his head, it hung wildly down over his shoulders, covering his face. She chuckled, thinking he looked like a madman.

Something else didn’t look right. The chauffeur was too tall, too burly, and much too young to be the regular driver. She admired his size and strength, but when he stepped down from the driver’s seat and joined another man, the two of them began clobbering her mother until she was unconscious. Angie was horrified. She watched as they picked up her mother’s sagging body like it was a sack of meal and threw her into the carriage.

The nine year-old flew down the stairs, I gotta save my mudda, but the beating and abduction were over in a matter of seconds. The crime happened in total silence, so as not to draw anybody’s attention. The big black stallion and the one-of-a-kind Brougham carriage bolted down the street. All the while Angie’s eyes were stuck on the image of the black stallion painted on the carriage door, with the word Blackie spelled below it. After that, her mind shut down and she retreated back upstairs to the kitchen.

Dawn’s light had started to break over the city when the nine-year-old awoke to an empty house. A strange sense of loss overcame her; she knew she would never see her mom again. For almost two more days she sat by the window, watching for her. By then she was finally convinced that her mom had abandoned her. And why not? Her father had done the same. But there were some doubts. Why did she leave a few pieces of clothing she owned and a handful of silver dollars?

In the early morning hours of that third day, she slipped out of the flat for the last time, bringing with her their few possessions: her father’s Ulliean Pipes, the silver dollars, a family photograph, and a photo of Yankee Sullivan dressed in boxers’ tights. Included were the few threadbare trousers and shirts she had worn while digging cellars with her father.

Barefooted, she descended the gloomy dark stairs down to the street, where she vanished into the night.

* * * * *

Every Sunday when possible, Angie had spent a lot of time with her folks down by the North River. There, they could isolate themselves from the cruel world and relax in a peaceful surrounding. She enjoyed the flocks of seagulls and loved being in the water, eventually becoming an exceptional swimmer. During the warmer months, she spent much of her off-work time swimming in that river.

Knowing the river shoreline as well as she did, she already knew where her new home would be: the old, rickety shed on the unused MacAdams property, as long as it was okay with Battle Axe, the undeclared leader of the area’s vagabonds.

All she had to do now was clean out the long vacant dugout beneath its wooden flooring. And she was pleased with its isolation.

The wooded area that surrounded the shed kept her out of view of the workforce at Macon’s slaughterhouse. If her presence were known, the pretty little thing would definitely have occasional, unwanted male visitors, whom she feared, having witnessed too often her mother, and even herself, being abused by the male species.

She quickly settled in to her damp and chilly abode. Her first order of business was to figure out a means of income. The muscular young girl chose to work the ferry terminals for tips, carrying people’s luggage to their waiting carriages. The regulars did not welcome her, but after a few punch outs, they left her alone. Eventually, her peers came to admire the gritty little tiger with the broad shoulders. Her choice of work wasn’t easy. She was jumped twice and the baggage stolen. On both occasions the owners accused her of being part of a team of thieves.

After a while, the few dollars she earned lugging people’s luggage no longer cut it for her. She wanted more than just enough for a couple of skimpy meals a day. Only on rare occasion could she afford the pleasure of a play in the Bowery and the cost of the fare to get there.

She had known for a long time how to up her income. The pickings were good at the ferry terminals. Like everything was up for grabs: watches, jewelry, wallets, handbags, briefcases, and light luggage. Whatever, you name it. All she had to do was sharpen her pickpocket and grab-and-run skills. She already had the gall. Once she made the decision to change jobs, she began visiting the different ferry terminals to familiarize herself with their schedules.

Shortly afterwards, she started bringing home the receipts. At first she lifted items of little value: hats, umbrellas, and articles of clothing. Not long thereafter, what she brought home had great monetary value: jewelry, watches and wallets with money in them. She even brought home a diamond studded gold watch. While these items began to accumulate in her hovel, she had no regular fence that she could count on for a fair price. But she knew whom to turn to for that information. Her neighbors also dealt in stolen merchandize, especially things that glittered in the sunlight. She would speak to Battle Axe, who advised her, “Thomas Brogan is your man. And when you deal with him, nobody will mess with you.”

Continues...

Excerpted from "No Irish Need Apply: A Novel About New York City's Hell's Kitchen in the Mid-1800's" by John Finucane. Copyright © 2015 by John Finucane. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

John Finucane

John Finucane

John Finucane, a retired NYC firefighter and former member of the 82nd Airborne Division, began his writing career reporting on the recent British Irish conflict in the north of Ireland. He wrote for and published the American Irish Newsletter from 1975 to 2000. He wrote When the Bronx Burned and The Usual, two compelling narratives about the destruction-by-arson of the Bronx during the 1960s thru the 1980s. In his writings, Finucane always weaves in a heart-tugging romance as exemplified in his 2013, Tomorrow, Mickey, Tomorrow.

View full Profile of John Finucane

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