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Posted: September 6, 2020

Novel confirms darkness at centre of the Irish soul

Book Review

By Derryll White

O’Malley, Thomas and Douglas Graham Purdy (2016).  We Were Kings.

“But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,

And I am dead, as dead I well may be,

You’ll come and find the place where I am lying,

And kneel and say an Av there for me.”

— Eva Cassidy, ‘Danny Boy’

This story gives a very good insight into the history of Irish Boston c. 1955. One forgets how heavy the flow from Ireland into the U.S. East Coast was from 1900-1960. And of course “the troubles” came with the people, the IRA being largely supported by American cash and firearms.

If there was ever any question about the darkness at the centre of the Irish soul, this novel confirms it. The Roman Catholic Church, the culture, the poverty, the insane consumption of individuals initiated by blind quests for power – it is all here.

This is a story that discusses the United States in an abstract way, talking mostly about Irish feelings and intent. Sadly, it does not examine the roots of Irish feeling. It is mostly suited to those readers who already have a strong emotional attachment to the Emerald isle.

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Excerpts from the novel:

IRISH – In a few years he’d be a menace, Cleland could tell.  No longer a troublesome delinquent but a young man cleansed of innocence, a criminal, chin always raised and fists always clenched.  All to make his father proud.  His father’s father proud.  The whole line of hard men who were born in the States and saw Ireland as a mirage, a mythical land where their blood belonged but that their hearts had forgotten.  They could never be royalty, but here in Boston, they could be kings.

BOSTON 1950s – The world was becoming a dangerous place and you had to know where to tread and then you had to tread lightly.  Eisenhower was exploding nuclear warheads by the hundreds in the Pacific as a show to the Soviets, and in the less than a decade since the war ended, the world seemed to have changed so much.

IRISH – And even though Cal and Owen were on the right side of the law, they seemed to be in some hushed awe of the Celtic underworld.  They were shunned by it, not fully allowed its secrets and codes that made the criminal into a kind of sacred, invulnerable figure.  The blessed honor, the holy orders, the bloodlust and the sacrifice, the ceremonial suffering – the Irish did all of it so well.

MURDER – Before Myles knew it the pint bottle was almost empty.  Bile burned his throat but he wanted more whiskey.  He’d have to go downstairs to the bar and grab another.  Maybe it would help knock him out and allow him a moment to hide from his thoughts and cower in a temporary blackness.  Maybe it would just make it worse.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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