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11. Political and/or Ideological “For the JDL leader Meir Kahane and his many fervent followers, any and all measures to further Jewish survival and welfare - including terror, dispossession, and murder - are entirely justified.” - Mark Weber

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Old February 17th, 2004, 07:11 PM   #1
Former Member
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Post The Fenian Ram

Since the Fenians are currently being discussed elsewhere on the site, I thought I would post an interesting story that I found in my meanderings. I had copied it for later reference, and when I went back to check some time later, the URL was no longer valid.

The Fenian Ram.

In my first week, carrying orders in paper bags or cardboard boxes, moving in and out of every building, I began to meet a lot of new people who lived in The Flats.

That year after the War, we lived in The Flats, down by the harbor, off to the left of Red Hook. Everything was damp down there: the cellars, of course, but the hallways, too, and the red brick walls of the tenements, and the sheets on our beds. The dark red mud in the backyards was always gluey and we never played there. Laundry never fully dried on the clothes lines on the roof and would have to be hung above the coal stoves in the kitchens. There was a theory in The Flats that we were actually below sea level, built on top of landfill or something, because on certain days the water of the harbor seemed to rise above us. It was as if there was a glass wall between us and the harbor, like you saw in an aquarium. I'd stand with the other kids in the street where it dipped low and look down the block and there was the harbor rising blue or green or dirty brown at the end of the street. There were ships on top of the glass wall, freighters and ocean liners, and for a while, troop ships painted in camouflage bringing guys home from the War. To the left you could see the Statue of Liberty. The other way was the skyline, across the water in Manhattan. Everybody said it was a beautiful view, but it scared me. I kept wondering what would happen if that invisible wall broke and the water came roaring down Kavanaugh Street, like a scene out of some Jon Hall movie about hurricanes. Some nights I dreamed about tidal waves.

There wasn't much of anything down there in The Flats, except about five blocks of tenements, some saloons, a few grocery stores, Mother of Angels church and our red-brick parochial school cemented to the church. Almost everybody was Irish or Italian and nobody had a lot of money. It was a long walk to get a Smith Street trolley that would take us to a movie house or to the place up by Prospect Park where we could transfer to the car for Coney Island. Most of the time we made our own entertainment. We played stickball with our backs to the sea. We went swimming off the docks over by Columbia Street. We wandered to the Gowanus Canal and climbed the fence and stole coal and brought it home. My mother would yell about this, and talk about sin and Thou Shalt Not Steal and all that, but I would always tell her the same thing, that we found it in the street. She knew this was a lie; that we must have gone to that mountain of coal beside the canal and grabbed as much as we could carry in paper bags, but she kept it anyway and used it in the coal stove. It was good coal too, Blue Coal, anthracite they taught us at Mother of Angels school, and so it didn't have that bad-egg smell that came from the cheap coal that was sold off a truck.

My father wasn't around, and I guess that's why we lived in The Flats, where the rents were cheap, instead of out in Bay Ridge where my mother's sisters all lived with their husbands and kids in houses with stoops. Those aunts of mine tried to tell me that my father was killed in the War. But one night when they were all in the kitchen after some party I was lying in the dark in the bedroom and heard the real story. How he went out for a loaf of Silvercup one Saturday morning and never came back. Three days later, Pearl Harbor was bombed. So I was four when he took off. I remembered him in some ways: big and rough and always drinking beer in the kitchen in the house where we lived before we came to The Flats. But there were no pictures of him around and so he was kind of dim to me, and still is. Whatever he did and wherever he went, he was always known among the relatives as thatbastardjack. As in, "There was no one lower than thatbastardjack. Or you wouldn't be here, Delia, if you hadn't of fell for thatbastardjack." The first couple of times I heard these things I cried into my pillow. I was only six then. But even later, even after I learned that he had taken off, I kept telling my friends he was a hero in the War. Sometimes he died in Iwo Jima. Sometimes he died in Italy. A few of my friends even believed me.

Since my father wasn't around, my mother worked nights, cleaning office buildings "over New York" as we used to say, and served as the janitor, which meant we only had to pay twenty dollars a month-in rent. I helped her mop the halls and polish the mailboxes but that was helping, it wasn't like having a real job. Since it was considered a disgrace to take home relief, I was expected to get a job as soon as possible, and when school ended in June of 1948, when I was 11, I got one. I became a delivery boy for a grocery store named Roulston's. It was part of a chain and this store, down the block on the corner of Kavanaugh and Davis, was managed by a gray, grouchy guy named Harold McGuinness. The store did pretty good business, because it was the only grocery store with a telephone, and a lot of women would call in orders. Harold would write the orders down on a pad, and I'd take a cardboard box, and go down the aisles and get all the things they'd ordered. He'd mark the prices, add them up, and send me off. Sometimes the people paid cash. Sometimes they put it "on the bill" and paid on Saturdays after their husbands cashed their Friday paychecks. Down in The Flats there were almost no welchers, because the word would get around, and you would be marked a deadbeat.

When I wasn't delivering orders, Harold had me sweep the floors and the sidewalk, arrange the fruits and vegetables in neat piles with the ripest stuff on top, refill stock from boxes in the damp smelly cellar, and wash the windows, which were always getting cloudy from the salt off the harbor. I got paid three dollars a week, plus tips, which was good money in those days for a kid. I loved that first job, especially cleaning water off the windows with a squeegee. But what I loved most was delivering orders. I loved it because everybody tipped. And that meant I could bring home more money for my mother, which made me a better man than thatbastardjack.

In my first week, carrying orders in paper bags or cardboard boxes, moving in and out of every building, I began to meet a lot of new people who lived in The Flats. Mrs. Caputo, whose four sons were out of the Army and working, always ordered canned tomatoes, boxes of pasta, and six cream sodas; she rubbed my head, said something in Italian, and tipped a quarter. Mrs. Driscoll, who had eight kids under the age of ten, loaded up with barley, potatoes, apples, oatmeal, and sugar; she tipped a dime. Mrs. Collins, who was very old and had a face like a prune, would order three eggs, a pound of tea, three rolls, and ten cans of peas; I could never take her nickel tip. There were all kinds of people in those soggy old buildings, and all kinds of flats. Some flats were immaculate. Some were filthy. Kids were always racketing up and down the stairs. Radios played on every floor. And even in the cleanest building, like ours, most of the hallways smelled sour and dirty, like backed-up sewers.

Right off, starting that job, my own life changed. For one thing, I discovered I was stronger than I thought, especially by that first Friday, after working for five days. Harold had no delivery wagon and no bicycle at Roulston's, so I carried every order on my shoulder. If it was a Campbell's Soup box filled with canned vegetables and Bosco and bottles of milk, I couldn't get to a top floor flat without stopping to lean on a banister and catch my breath. I would never show that kind of weakness on the street, but later, I got stronger. The other thing that happened was I started to lose my friends. It was summer. They were playing ball, going to movies on rainy days, or down to Coney when it was scalding. They all had fathers, so they didn't have to work. Most nights I was just too tired to go down to the street and hang out.

But the thing of it was, even though my friends were disappearing and my mother worked from five until midnight and I ate dinner alone from the pot of stew or soup that she'd left me, I wasn't lonesome. I was meeting all these new people. The kind of people I never saw on the street or at Sunday Mass. Most of them had something wrong with them, which is why they would send kids with a grocery list to Roulston's. One woman had some kind of a bone disease, so that if she turned over too fast in bed, something always broke. There was a guy had a leg blown off in Guadalcanal and after he came home his wife left him. All he ever ordered was beer. There was a deaf and dumb guy that had retired as a printer at some newspaper and he was the only guy in The Flats that didn't have a radio going all day long. Some of them had grown-up sons that came to visit and brought cakes and spaghetti and bottles of wine, always telling us kids to stay away from their cars. Some had husbands and wives in worse shape than they were. What made these people all different is they never went to the street. They lived inside. I used to wonder about all of them, trying to, think up what their lives were like. I didn't want to end up as lonesome as they were. I was starting to feel sorry for all of them, which was the beginning of feeling sorry for myself. Then I met Seamus O'Halloran.

He was the last order on that first Friday night and he would always order the same stuff: five pounds of daho potatoes, one can of tuna fish, a carton of Camels, a loaf of rye bread, a package of Lipton's tea, 20 cents worth of baloney, a half pound of American cheese, and a quart of Borden's milk. Always the same. He lived on the second floor at 22 McCracken Street, which was almost directly opposite our house across the backyards. When I walked in that first time, he was sitting in a scraggly chair next to the window overlooking the yards. He was smoking a Camel, the smoke drifting out the open window beside him, and there was a large yellow glass ashtray, full of butts, on the windowsill.

"Come in, lad, come in," he said in a deep clear voice that contrasted with the way he looked. He took a final drag on his cigarette and tamped it out in the ashtray. "And do us a wee favor, lad, take the groceries out of the box, lay them there on the shelf there beside the sink. That's the boy."

I'd never seen a place like this before or a man like Seamus O'Halloran either. In his chair, with a dark-green bathrobe pulled over light-green pajamas, he looked like a big skinny bird. His hair was white and thin, and his sunken cheeks and receding mouth made his veined nose look even larger. A white stubble covered his chin. The skin on his face and his hands had a dirty color and the hands were splotched with dark freckles. On his lap there was an open book. Leaning on the arm of his chair was a knobbed and polished walking stick, what I knew was called a shillelagh.

"So, you're the new lad," he said. "That thief McGuinness said he had someone new. How much is he making ye pay him for the job?"

I smiled. "He pays me," I said.

"That's a bloody twist," he said. "McGuinness never heard about the Emancipation Proclamation, y' know."

Neither had I at the time, but I smiled at what I knew was a little joke and looked around as I unpacked his order. The coal stove was to his left, all dull black iron, with ashes in the grate. To his right, just past the open window, there was a short stumpy icebox with a small gas burner on its top. A wooden rack stood on top of the sink and in it were a saucepan, a plate, a cup and a saucer. A second armchair was jammed against the wall near the door. A closed door must have been the bathroom.

It was the rest of the place that made me stop short. Most people in The Flats had Franklin D. Roosevelt on the wall, along with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Not Seamus. Every inch of his kitchen walls was covered with Irish flags, yellowing posters, old newspapers behind glass, framed drawings, and photographs of severe mustachioed men. At the foot of this amazing sight, where other people would have cupboards or cabinets, or a table, Seamus had bookcases. A folding card table leaned against one of them. I glanced into the second room, and could see a three-drawer dresser and a narrow cot set in the middle of the room. The rest of the space was made up of bookcases too, from floor to ceiling. I'd never seen so many books outside a library.

"And what'd be your name, lad?" he said.
"They call me Frannie."
"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph," he said, in an amazed way. "Frannie. Another bloody Frannie. That means you're a Francis, right?"
"Yes, sir."
"And that means your middle name is either Xavier or Aloysius. Which is it?"
"Aloysius, Mr. O'Halloran."
"What a curse to carry through life," he said with a groan. "Don't these silly goms know that every Tom, Dick, and Harry around here is called Francis?"
I laughed. I hated the name Francis, too, and Aloyisius was even worse. Seamus grinned, and the grin widened into a smile. He had a wonderful smile, even with his teeth yellow from cigarettes.
"That joke is older than me," he said, in a confidential tone. "And I'm ninety-two."
I tried to do the arithmetic to figure out when he was born, but I couldn't do it without paper and pencil. I did figure out he was eighty-one years older than I was, which made him the oldest man I'd ever met.
"Listen, lad, do us a favor and put on a saucepan of water and we'll have some tea. You're not in a rush, right? I told that gombeen man McGuinness to make mine the last order. I need a bit of chat now and then."
I filled the dented saucepan with water and he told me how to switch on the coils for the heat and where the extra cup was. He said he liked his tea with milk, one sugar, dark. I noticed that his eyes had a strange faded color, like a blue shirt left out in the sun for a year. But he wasn't blind. His eyes followed me, watching me get the cup and the water.
"You live across the yards, don't you, lad?" he said. "On Kavanaugh Street. I've seen you over there. Live with your mother. Just the two of yiz, isn't it?"
That surprised me, and made me a bit angry too. This old man had been spying on us.
"How do you know where we live?" I said.
"Sure, don't I have naught to do but sit in this bloody chair all day and listen to the radio? Anyway, I've lived here since old Paddy Kavanaugh built The Flats and named a street after himself. So I know who lives around here better than even they do. Are you a radio fan, lad?"
"Yes, sir."
"What's your favorite."
"Inner Sanctum. Then Captain Midnight."
"That Inner Sanctum's bloody great, isn't it? Scare the bleedin' bejesus out of you some nights." He laughed in a dry way. "I like The Shadow, too."
"Me too."
He dropped his voice. "`Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?' Hell, I know the answer to that one. I don't need that Lamont Cranston to tell me. Every Irishman knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. We've known since the time of that rotten ould whore, Elizabeth the Bloody First! Evil incarnate!"

He slammed the arm of the chair again and I jumped back and stood there, while Seamus O'Halloran went off on the people he would ever afterward refer to as the goddamned English. "They've got the greatest propaganda machine in recorded history, lad, worse than anything that deformed dwarf Goebbels ever dreamed of inventin'! Him and Hitler have come and gone--and bad cess to them! But the goddamned English are still with us, they've convinced the whole world that they are agents of civilization! Everyone thinks they're so refined, with manners like that actor from Gone With the Wind, what's his name, the mincing little weasel--that Leslie Howard!" He slammed the arm of the chair, making a puff of dust. "They are not Leslie fookin' Howard!"

"But they're our allies, Mr. O'Halloran." I said. "We just won the War together. We just beat Hitler and...."

"I'm not talking about the ordinary English punter, lad," he said, as I handed him his tea. "The poor gom dying in North Africa, or on some goddamned beach in France, that's a daycent man, another victim of Saxon gangsters. 'Tis not him I'm talkin' about." He sipped the tea, trying to calm himself down. "I'll give them 1940. They stood up to that fooking Hitler, they did. When nobody here would. When here they were tormentin' lads that fought in the Spanish War, or bellowin' Sieg Heil to that blatherskite, Father Coughlin." He slipped an open pack of Camels from his pajama top. Aside from Hitler, I didn't know what he was talking about. He lit the cigarette with a wooden match. "And I'll give them Shakespeare. But...." His cup was rattling in his saucer now. "When I say the goddamned English, I mean the goddamned English ruling class! The perfumed gangsters, the thieves and bandits, the longest-livin' non-workin' class in history, them that's brought nothing but misery to this achin' planet for five hundred bloody years. Startin' with Ireland. Always startin' with Ireland. Everything they ever did, they did first to Ireland. Read the papers, lad. Read about Palestine. Look at India and Pakistan. Look at Africa. They're all just Ireland with different names. Divide and conquer: that was their game, all the way back to bloody Strongbow!" He started to wind down. "With a little slavery thrown in." He dragged on the cigarette. "And today? Read the paper, lad. Everywhere there's trouble, the goddamned English were there to invent it. Do you know anything about Irish history, lad?"
"No, sir," I said.
"Well, you'd better start, lad. It's a long and terrible saga."

That was the beginning of it. Every Friday, I brought the last order up to Mr. O'Halloran and he told me more of the long and terrible saga. And when I was finished, he'd give me a dollar tip. I liked that dollar tip, all right, but I liked Mr. O'Halloran even more. After a few weeks, he gave me a key, so I could go in on my own and lock up when I left. I didn't even have a key to my own house. Sometimes we'd talk about the Inner Sanctum or The Shadow. But most of the time it was the long and terrible saga. And it was a thrilling and infuriating tale. He pounded the names and the crimes into my head. The Flight of the Earls. The Plantation. Cromwell. Drogheda. The Penal Laws. The long and sorry tale of the Irish as an oppressed majority. I couldn't remember half the names and he must have known it. Sometimes he'd send me for a book, knowing exactly on what shelf in which bookcase the book was placed, and then he'd show me pictures of the people he was talking about and tell me to take the book home and make sure to read it. Most of the time I didn't read the book, or couldn't because I was too tired, and the books were thick and I couldn't hold them in bed, or because the writing was all filled with words I had to look up in the dictionary. He said the names like he was saying a Rosary: Mitchell and Davitt, Emmett and Devoy, O'Leary and Meagher. They were all up on the wall, too, but I couldn't keep them straight. They were just a lot of men with mustaches and steely eyes and hard collars. But I did read some of the books, the thin ones. That's how I learned about the Famine, and the million dead, and the million who emigrated, and how the English were eating Irish beef while the Irish were eating grass. And I found myself sharing his rage.

The thing of it was I had nobody to tell all this to. My mother was too tired all the time and didn't care that much about being Irish anyway. She was born in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, not County Down. And when I tried to talk to her about bad kings and evil prime ministers, she'd sigh and say, "That's a long time ago, son, you'd better be thinkin' about what you want to be when you grow up." So she didn't care much about what I was learning that summer, and I saw so little of my friends now, that I couldn't go up to them and say to them, "Hey, fellas, did you know that under the Penal Laws they could take a horse away from you if they thought it was worth more than five pounds?" It was a lot easier to talk about the Dodgers.

At some point in July, when the newspapers said there was rioting in Belfast at some parade, Seamus told me about the Fenians. He was pointing the shillelagh at the framed pictures of men he said were Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken, explaining that this very McCracken Street, where he lived and we were talking, this was named for the fella on that wall. Wolfe Tone's wife, bless her, was buried up in Greenwood Cemetery. "Sure, how could the wife of Wolfe Tone let a British flag fly over her grave?" Tone and McCracken were great men, he said, and both of them Protestants.

"Whisha, that's what scared the living ****e out of the goddamned English," he said. "When they saw Tone, they saw McCracken, they saw all the United Irishmen--this is in '98, the rising of 1798, lad, and the Irish had pikes against the cannon--they said to themselves, `Christ, even the fooking Prods think they're Irish now!' And so they played the Orange Card. Didn't the English build the seminary at Maynooth, getting Catholics back into the act? And didn't they fill it with a lot of French Jansenists, on the lam from the French Revolution? Aye, that was part of the plan, all right. Divide and bloody conquer! Set Irish Catholics and Irish Protestants against each other, so they couldn't get together and drive the goddamned English out of Ireland. And it worked. It worked! And it's working still in the Occupied Six Counties in the North, as you can see in the newspapers."

The United Irishmen were destroyed, he said quietly, by guns and informers. But fifty years later, the Fenians were started, hoping to pick up the torches of Tone and McCracken. And they knew they had to begin by ending the religious divisions. "Bloody religion," he said. "The Irish curse.... "

Then, sipping cup after cup of tea, smoking in a fury, he went off on his religion riff. It was not the last time I would hear it.

"The worst man in Irish history was that Frenchman, St. Patrick," he said. "He's the one that brought Christianity to Ireland, when we had a perfectly decent religion of our own, and it's been nothing but killing and slaughter ever since. You know why? It's a death cult, that Christian thing. They're in love with death, the whole lot of them. You look shocked. Well look at their biggest symbol, lad. 'Tisn't a flower! 'Tis a corpse!"

I began to tremble. The old man was starting to sound like what the nuns called an occasion of sin.
"Aren't you Catholic, Mr. O'Halloran?"

"For fook's sake, never!" he said, a flush of color entering his cheeks, looking at me like I was touched in the head. "I'm Irish."

"You mean, you're like a, uh, whaddayacallit--a pagan?"

"Sure, anyone with half an ounce of intelligence is a pagan, lad. Answer me this: what makes more sense? To believe in the god of the sun, the god of the rivers, the god of earth--all right in front of your bloody face--or to believe that God is some dead carpenter from the Middle East?"

I'd never heard anyone talking about God this way in my life.

"Sure, the best of the Fenians were pagans," he said. "And when we drive the last of the goddamned English out of the North, we'll have a right old pagan country again, lad. Remember, the Irish flooded to the churches after the Famine only for some kind of protection, for some portion of fookin' food. The priests convinced everybody that to be Irish --to resist the bloody Saxon hordes--you had to be Catholic. So when the Brits go, no more church. Sure, there'd be no need of it. We can be Irish again. Feasts, music, dancing, storytellin', fierce wild women, the whole lot. We'll get rid of the bloody death cult once and for all, and dance naked under the moon."

At home that night in bed, I tried to pray for Mr. O'Halloran and his sins of blasphemy, but then I pictured myself dancing naked with naked Irish women under the Irish moon and thought that, in some ways, being a pagan made a lot of sense.
When I did the arithmetic, I realized that if Seamus O'Halloran was telling me the truth about his age, then he had been born in 1856, only ten years after the start of the Great Famine, so long ago it was hard for me to imagine. Before Lincoln was president, before the Civil War, before automobiles or trolley cars or the radio. Now I started looking forward anxiously to Fridays and the last order, because it was like I was getting a kind of a gift from the old man, a story that wasn't in any of our history books. And I was right.

His greatest passion, after the goddamned English, was the story of the Fenian Brotherhood, and how they started in despair over the Great Famine. "Get me that picture, lad," he said, pointing with the shillelagh at a somber man hung to the side of Tone and McCracken. "Aye, that one. Now this is James Stephens, who started the Brotherhood." He squinted at the familiar face, and gestured out the window. "Two streets over? Stephens Street? 'Tis named for him, all right." The Brotherhood was a secret society, he said, with one goal: to return Ireland to the Irish. "All the Irish, bedad. Catholic and Protestant, dissenter and pagan, the whole unruly gang of us.

"Naturally, the priests condemned him and the rest of the Fenians, and excommunicated the lot of them. Ah, but we cared not a ha'penny about some fat priest with a gold cross mumblin' in Latin over our graves. There was never a priest wouldn't bow his knee to an English king."

The Fenians, he explained, were named for the Fianna, the fierce, brave Irish warriors who fought for great Cuchullain long before the arrival of the dreadful Frenchman, St. Patrick. There were always two parts to the Fenian Brotherhood, the old man said. One part saw the way to victory through bringing back what had been lost in Ireland: Irish games and Irish songs, Irish customs, and above all, the Irish language, which the goddamned English had crushed and dropped in the Irish Sea. The other Fenians were harder and tougher. Their answer to the Irish problem was the gun.

"Bedad, they were both right, is what I thought then and think now," he said one Friday evening in midsummer. "You have to prepare the way, lad, and that's where the culture boys were right. You have to give a man something to die for, and even better, something to live for." He abruptly leaned the picture of Stephens against the side of the chair and beckoned me over. "Ah, wisha, give us a hand here. I just saw the face of that bloody Queen Victoria in me mind's eye, and that vision's always so terrifyin' it makes me want to piss."

He got up with a wheeze, putting his weight on the shillelagh. I took his other elbow and helped him to the narrow bathroom. "You ever see the look of that woman? A face like a plate of mortal sins. And an arse like an icebox in a dress. Jesus Christ, her looks could stop Big Ben."

I was laughing while he pissed. Then he walked back out on the spindly dying legs, gesturing with the cane at framed newspapers with stories of bombings and hangings.

"The hard lads got all the publicity," he said. "But there were others knew it was more than blowin' up a barracks would free Ireland." He lit a fresh Camel. "How could you expect anyone to die for Ireland if they didn't know what the hell Ireland was? A lot of the Irish back then, y'see, they thought it was the natural order of things to be hungry and poor and stupid. They thought it was natural for the perfumed hoodlums of the Ascendancy to sit on their stolen property, in some big bloody mansion, while the Irish cleaned their stables. And along came Stephens and Tom Davis--that street down the block, Davis Street, that's named for him, a fine poet he was--and they said, no, a big loud bellowing No, twasn't the natural order. We were descendants of the Fianna, bedad, and we'd not spend another minute on our knees. Not to earls or lords or kings--and never to priests."

The hard lads, as Seamus called them, needed no lessons in pride. They needed guns. And they saw America as their best hope.

"For fook's sake, musha, there was a million Irish men and women in America by 1870. And wasn't they drove here by famine and British tyranny? Irish America would raise the money! Irish America would be the armory! And when them arms was smuggled into Ireland, there would be a real rising."

This time it wouldn't be brave men with pikes against red-coated cowards with guns. This time, the old man said, the Irish would have guns, too. And real commanders this time, all those Irishmen that had served in the Civil War in America, all the Wild Geese that had soldiered for France and Spain and stood side by side in South America with the great Simon Bolivar. They'd all make their way to Ireland and take up their American guns in every county and every city and then they would strike. "And there'd be mountains of ****e in the royal drawers of London!"
Describing this glorious rising, he always broke into song:

"But, hark! Some voice like
thunder spake:
The West's awake, the West's
Sing Oh! Hurra! Let England
We'll watch till death for Erin's

And learning the words from him, and seeing old England quake, and feeling a surge of anger and rebirth, I'd always join in that part, Seamus waving his cane as though it were a carbine, the two of us singing at the tops of our lungs, and the defiant words roaring through the open windows into the hot summer evening.

"You're a right little Fenian, yourself, lad," he'd say at the end, and laugh, and whack the dusty arm of the chair and turn to his tea. "And why not? There's not a boy of us but had the love of Ireland in him like the blood in his veins."

But going home, I'd sometimes wonder if it was all a kind of fairy tale he was telling me, a way to entertain a kid he thought was desperate for entertaining. I wanted him to be telling me the truth. I wanted to believe him. I didn't want him to be another version of thatbastardjack. But the more he told me, the more I had doubts. I guess I was a doubting kind of a kid.

One Friday he told me about how the Fenians had invaded Canada in 1870, and had been beaten and defeated. "Sure, that was dumb, lad. They couldn't wait to die, the bloody fools. They couldn't wait to be martyrs. But dying is easy. Winning is hard. And it takes a long, long time." This seemed hard to believe. I knew the Americans had invaded Canada in the War of 1812. But a Fenian invasion? I didn't believe it. And then he sent me to the dresser, and in the bottom drawer, along with many other crumbling newspapers, was a copy of the New York Herald. And the headline was: Fenians Invade Canada. "They captured a bunch of them, and didn't they lie in prison for years, forgotten? And didn't it happen to me too? Winning takes a long, long time, musha."

Then he told me that in 1874, when he was 18, he was arrested in Cork as a Fenian, convicted of sedition, and transported to Australia. "They might as well have sent us to the moon," he said. "Australia? It was as far as you could go from Ireland without livin' with Chinamen. But then, the moon might have been paradise compared to that swelterin' Australian hell and in China the food've been great." He stopped suddenly, adding no details and I thought: maybe he has no details to give. But he didn't seem to feel my doubt. "Sure, isn't self-pity the worst crime of all, lad? It rots the bloody soul. It turns women into whores and strong men into derelicts. Go over to the Bowery someday, you'll see men lyin' in their own ****e because of self-pity."

Then, after a dozen years in Australia, seven of them escaped, including Seamus O'Halloran. "It was in all the papers, all over the world, like a fooking movie it was." A guard was bribed. Another was knocked unconscious. A small boat was waiting and it took them to a larger boat, a whaler sent all the way from America by the American Fenians, because it was your duty to take care of your own. The whaler was called the Vera Cruz, a great sturdy bark with billowing sails, and off they went, past the British sea patrols, out into the Pacific, and in the morning in the great glassy emptiness of that distant southern sea, someone unfurled an Irish flag. The Fenians wept.

"'Twas only the flag of an idea, lad, because we didn't yet have a country," he said. "But by God, the Irish country was coming. We could all feel it in the bones. I can feel it now, in these pathetic old man's bones. It's comin', musha, the whole goddamn Irish country, all thirty-two counties, all the green fields of Ireland, every goddamned one of them. This could be the year, lad. Mark it down. This year."

"Why this year?"

"Sure, it's all in the calendar, lad. This is 1948, right? Well, isn't that the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the '98 Rising? And bejesus, isn't it a hundred years since James Stephens started the Fenian Brotherhood, and a hundred years since the harbor was black with ships filled with the poor fever-ridden bastards just escaped from the Famine? Boyo, it's this year, or it might be never. It's in the calendar. And didn't I swear an oath to the gods of the Old Religion that I wouldn't die until Ireland was free? I can feel it, lad. It's in me bones. I can feel it, like a great storm comin'."

On another evening, he told me a little more about his life as a man, aside from his life as a Fenian.

"I had a wife, too, once, like other men," leaning back, his eyes drifting to the evening sky. "A lovely young thing she was, my Annie, out here from Wexford, her whole family dead. She was lonely and I was lonely and we joined together and killed all that loneliness. We had two sons. Christ, they were beautiful, my American sons." He made himself very still. "The smallpox killed all three of them." I could see muscles moving in his face. "We didn't have all the medicines we've got now. People died on you all the time. My Annie died on me. I was away in Boston on some Fenian business and when I got home, she was dead. And the boys, too. Conor and Liam. All of them."
My doubt was moving around in me again, while he told me that his wife and children were buried out in Brooklyn, not far from the grave of Wolfe Tone's wife. Then he turned to look at me: "Go you in there to the bureau, the second drawer. There's a photograph of them."

Ashamed that he had sensed my doubt, I went to the bureau and opened the second drawer. One side held socks and underclothes, neatly rolled and folded. On the left there were stacks of photographs. I moved them, and saw the gun.
"Don't you be touching that, lad," he said in a cold way.

"No, sir," I said.

The gun was a Colt .45 revolver, oiled and polished, the kind you only saw in movies. There was a small box of bullets beside it. My hands trembled as I sorted through the photographs and found the browning photograph. A gun, I thought. A real gun. And looked at the photograph. It was made in a studio, and showed a woman with a baby in her arms, and a boy about three standing in short pants beside her.
"She's holding a baby, isn't she?"

"Yes, sir."
"And there's a young lad standing there, am I right?"
"Yes, sir."
"That'd be Conor."
I stood up, the photograph in my hands.
"Don't bring it to me, lad," he said quietly. "I can't bear to look at it."
I felt awkward, as if I'd pried into his secrets.
"I just wanted you to see it, lad," he said. "Can you see a bit of yourself in that boy Conor?"
I looked, but I didn't see it.
"Ach, no matter," he said. "`Twas a long, long time ago. Put it back, lad. And cover that other wee thing while you're at it."
That night, he asked me to open a bottle of Rheingold for him. He sipped from the open bottle. "After my, Annie, I never tried again with a woman," he said. "Oh, I loved the women, and I had plenty of them, if you know what I mean, lad. But I wasn't for marryin' any of them ever again."
He gazed around at the crowded walls.
"'Twas too hard to be a Fenian and have a wife. Too hard on the wife. 'Twas better to be alone."

All the way home that night, I thought about the gun. In bed I saw Seamus O'Halloran wearing a cloth cap and stepping out of the fog on some Irish street, his collar up, and going straight to a British policeman, gun in hand.
One Friday evening, I asked him about one of the framed photographs high on the kitchen wall. It showed some men in bowler hats standing on what seemed to be a dry dock. To the side was what looked like a submarine. What is that? I asked. And Seamus told me to take the stool and bring the photo down. I did, and handed it to him.
"Why, that's the Fenian Ram, lad."

"The what?"
"Our submarine," he said. "We called it the Fenian Ram for a joke like, and it stuck." He stared at the browning old photograph. "'Twas our secret weapon," he said. "When the moment came, we'd sail it across the Atlantic--or have it shipped--get into the Thames, and sink half the British Navy." This thrilled me. The Fenian Ram! The name itself had power. And it was our own version of all those midget submarines that people kept talking about during the War. Submarines that could come into our own harbor and wreak havoc. In the photograph, the submarine seemed to be about forty feet long, with a superstructure above the deck, and a kind of conning tower.
"A fella named Holland built it. That's him, here in the derby hat."

"Did it work?"

"Oh, it worked, all right. There was room for three men and six torpedoes and it was tight as a drum. We tested it over and over. Didn't I meself sail in it all the way to Montauk Point, and nobody the wiser? Ach, it was a beautiful thing to be in. Snug as a bug."

"What happened to it?"

"The usual political bollix. Not here in America. We were ready, but in Ireland. Ah, well ... there were informers and spies everywhere, and nobody could ever agree on the timing. And then the Fenians started making the Americans nervous. Those bloody pin-striped bastards in the State Department, they were gettin' closer and closer to the goddamned English. They all gave parties for each other, with tiny little birds on their plates and caviar and sherbet and the finest bloody imported wines, and then they were marryin' each other, and going on the bloody fox hunts together, and playing all that Leslie Howard folderol. Hand me down a fresh pack, will ye, lad?"

I got him a new pack of Camels and tore open the cellophane and popped one out for him.

"So they came one day from the Attorney General's office--there was no FBI in them days--they came with papers and said they'd have to confiscate the old Ram. It was in the wee dry dock around past the Navy Yard. We said, "Whatever you say, we'll have it ready in the morning, no problem, nice to meet you." That night we sailed it out into the East River."

"And what did you do with it?"
"We talked first about sinking it. Fooked if we'd just give it up. Then we thought about going around the island to where the Brits parked their luxury liners, and just sink one of them, and then scuttle the Ram. But then we realized all the poor buggers in the engine rooms, and all the waiters, and stewards, and half the cooks --all of them were Irish.

"So what did you do?"
He took a deep drag, and let the pale blue smoke ease out of his nose and mouth.
"We buried it, lad."
"You buried it?"
"Yon buried a submarine?"
"Aye. And filled it was with fuel, and tins of Vegetables, and torpedoes, and rifles. We buried it fully loaded."
He turned to the window and looked out at the dark backyards.
I went to the window. I could see some lights on in my old building and others, but the yards were black.
"In the backyards?"

"Aye," he said, and sighed. "This was all a swamp then, y'see, and Patty Kavanaugh was buildin' these buildins down here in The Flats. Now, Patty was making a fortune in buildin' all over Brooklyn, but he was also an old Fenian, and a good one, and loyal, and it was him come up with the idea." He paused. "So he had a big deep hole scooped up, and gave it a kind of a muddy ramp, and brought down teams of horses to the edge of the water, where we'd anchored the Ram. There wasn't a soul livin' down here at the time. It was all a wasteland. Patty Kavanaugh and his boys hooked some big ropes and cables to the Ram, and the horses pulled and whinnied, and we pushed and shoved and cursed and fell in the bloody mud, until finally it slid down into the big wet hole. We covered it over before dawn, the whole lot of us, shovelin' mud till it was covered. Nobody was the wiser, not even the day men workin' on the buildin' site." He looked exhausted, remembering the long night of hard labor. "It's down there still."
I stared down at the dark mud flats, and again thought that Seamus O'Halloran was having me on. The gun in the bureau was real. I'd seen it. But I couldn't believe there was a submarine buried in that ugly, grassless, treeless place. The Fenian Ram. Come on: this was surely a bull**** story. I took the photograph from him and examined it.
"How come you're not in this picture, Mr. O'Halloran?"

"Sure, I'm the man was takin' the photo."
"Are these other ones still alive?"
"Not a one of them."
"Only you."

"Sure, and I'm not long for the world, boy," he said, and laughed. "Christ, they'd better get the rest of the goddamned English out of Ireland fast."

My doubt stayed with me, like a bad toothache. I loved sitting with Seamus O'Halloran. There was nobody like him anywhere. But I found it hard to believe everything he told me, especially about the Fenian Ram. One afternoon, I walked out into the yards. There were no fences between buildings, just this great open space with its dead grassless red-clay face. At the harbor end, there was a wide gap with no buildings, and the sea just beyond it. The old-timers said that the land there was too marshy to support a building. Standing in the middle of the yards, kicking at the dirt, I thought the water of the harbor looked as threatening as ever. And, in its way, as unreal as the Fenian Ram.

Then one Friday evening, as I came in with Seamus O'Halloran's order, he waved an envelope at me from his chair.
"Lad, a big favor," he said. "Before that thief McGuinness closes up, take this over to him. Then bring me back what he gives you."

I hurried back down the stairs, gazing at the mysterious envelope. There was a post office box number in the upper left-hand corner, a place in Toronto, Canada, and a Canadian maple-leaf stamp but nothing else. I rushed to the store. The door was locked, but McGuinness was still there, adding up receipts at the cash register. He let me in and I handed him the envelope.

"Jesus, I'm almost finished the tally." He sighed in a cranky way. "But what the hell, it's Seamus O'Halloran."
"What is that, anyway?" I said. "It isn't home relief, is it?"
"It's his pension check."
"From Canada?"
He was counting out bills now, and gathering some change.
"No, from the Brotherhood. The lads."
"The Fenian Brotherhood?"
"Exactly," said McGuinness. "They use other names now, and they don't have offices here in New York, but they still take care of their own."
"So he was a Fenian."

"They don't send money to them that wasn't Fenians, kid," he said. "There used to be nine of them around here. All of them lived rent-free, thanks to Patty Kavanaugh, who built these dumps. But the Fenians died and their kids moved. Seamus O'Halloran is the last of them. Too bloody stubborn to die."

"I hope he never dies," I said defiantly.
McGuinness sighed. "I hate to admit it," he said, sliding bills and change into the envelope and handing it to me. "But neither do I."

There were two days of heavy rain in early August, warm rains that pounded down on us, flooding the drains and cellars. We were busier than ever at Roulston's, because so many people didn't want to go out into the storm. McGuinness cut a piece of oilcloth that I taped across the top of each order, and I had to wait while the groceries were unpacked on kitchen tables to bring back the box with the taped top. My sneakers were soaked. My Dodgers cap went soft. I caught a cold. But I really didn't mind. In two days, I earned more in tips than I ever had before: two dollars and sixty cents. And my mother was so delighted she told me to buy a new pair of Keds.

The rains fell on Tuesday and Wednesday, but one of my orders took me to Seamus O'Halloran's building and I stopped in to see him. I let myself in with the key and was astonished to see him standing in the middle of the kitchen, without the shillelagh.

"I'm practicin' the old walkin'," he said with a grin. "All this bloody rain has the old art'ritis killin' me."
"Do you take any medicine for it, Seamus?"
"Ach, no. But bejaysus, y'know what might work? A bloody hot bath."
Because it was Wednesday, I had more orders to deliver.
"I'll come back after work," I said, "and give you a hand. Do you need anything at the store?"
"Aye, a fat hot woman," he said, and laughed out loud.

When I returned, he was wearing the bathrobe and nothing else. I ran the hot water in the tub and when it was full, he stood up, leaning on the cane, and I helped him into the bathroom. With his back to me, he dropped the bathrobe. The gray body was covered with knobs and bones and faded scars. It was like a body made of elbows. There was a faded blue shamrock on his left biceps with the name "Annie" beneath it.

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that's hot," he said, dipping one ugly bunioned foot into the water. "Are ye tryin' to kill me, lad? For Christ's sake, you could bile cabbage in this fookin' thing!"

But finally he settled in, with a long aaaaah, and slid back, with the water to his chin.
"'Tis like the womb of the Holy Mother herself," he said.

I gave him a washcloth off the small bathroom sink, and a bar of soap, and closed the door. For a while I sat in my chair in the kitchen, reading a book about the Irish heroes who died at Fredericksburg in the American Civil War. There were no sounds from the bathroom, so I tiptoed to the bureau and inched out the middle drawer. I found the pistol. I hefted it, feeling its weight and its power, my hand curling around the grip, my finger lightly caressing the trigger. I was afraid of it, too, because I didn't know if it was loaded, and I was afraid of firing a shot. But for the moment, I imagined myself on some rainy street in Dublin, waiting to shoot a Black and Tan. I could do it. I knew I could. But I couldn't think of anyone in America that I wanted to shoot.

I put the gun back, along with the photograph of the woman named Annie, and her sons Conor and Liam. I walked over to the window and looked out into the yards. There wasn't much light under the dark sky but I could see little rivers carving themselves through the mud, coursing down the slope toward the harbor. I wondered if the Fenian Ram was really down there in its permanent slumber.

Then I remembered Seamus, thinking: Christ, he might be dead. But there he was in the tub, eyes shut, fast asleep. I left him for another five minutes, then put a finger in the water and it was tepid and turning cold, so I Shook him lightly. His eyes widened and he seemed panicky.

"Jaysus," he whispered. "Jaysus."

Then he saw me and smiled.
"Wasn't I dreamin'?" he said.
"Wasn't I dreamin' of green fields in the sun?"
I helped him stand in the tub and then held him as he stepped out. He had a large towel bearing the name of some hotel, and I draped it over his bony shoulder.

"And wasn't I dreamin' of my darlin' Annie," he said. "And wasn't she runnin' in the green fields, runnin' and runnin', and laughin' and laughin', and by God, wasn't she runnin' away from me?"

He started to shake, as if he were beginning to cry, and then he started laughing in a loud manic way.
"Wasn't I dreamin'?"

That Friday night, and the one after it, he kept practicing the walking, and each time asked me to run him a bloody hot bath. The yards were still puddled from the rains and there were gray swarms of mosquitoes hovering above the ponds and black gatherings of ticks and even reports of frogs. Seamus asked me to bring cuttings from the newspapers about the news from Palestine. He talked with excitement now about an organization he called the I-R-gun. He said that the children of the old Fenians, the hard men of the IRA, were arriving each day to fight on the side of the Jews against the British Army. Saying all this, he would punch the air.

"My enemy's enemy is my friend," he said, waving clippings from the News and the Post. "Unless my enemy's enemy is that bastard Hitler."

He was walking better now, and certainly smelled better, and found a way to shave each morning, using a straight razor and a brush in a cup of hard shaving soap. One Friday evening he was sitting in the chair when I arrived, but the bathrobe was gone and so were the pajamas. He was wearing a blue shirt and dark trousers, and looked like a man getting ready for a journey.

"Are you going somewhere, Seamus?" I said.
"Sure, you never know, lad. I might get a knock on that door and the next thing I know I'm in fookin' Jerusalem."
He laughed, struck a match and inhaled from a fresh Camel.

"But if they asked me for advice, I'd say to them, the Thames, lads. Go to the Thames. Blow up a few ships, scare the bejaysus out of them, create a fooking diversion. Force is all they understand, the goddamned English. Didn't the great George Washington have to shoot them out of here to get a country? You can argue with them for a while, but the only thing they understand is the gun. Isn't that what this I-R-gun is doin' in Palestine? May the Irish gods bless them. They even made the gun part of their name!"

After Mass that Sunday, I first heard about the hurricane. It was in the Daily News. In those days, they didn't give hurricanes cute names like Betsy or Adele, and there was no television, so we didn't have weather guys showing maps and getting breathless. But the radio and the newspapers both said that a hurricane was making its way up the coast and unless it changed course, it would hit New York and Connecticut. We'd never heard of such a thing. In the movies, Jon Hall tied himself to a palm tree and had Dorothy Lamour with him when the wind hit and the tidal wave followed. But that was away off in the South Seas, on the way. to the penal colonies in Australia. That wasn't Brooklyn. They had straw huts out there. We had bricks.

Maybe that's why nobody took it seriously. On Tuesday, a truck arrived from the main office of Roulston's and two men unloaded sheets of plywood, cut for the two front windows and the door. But Mr. McGuinness told me he had no intentions of nailing the plywood across his windows. It would be a waste of time and effort.

"Who ever heard of a hurricane in New York?" he said. "It's just these idiots on the radio, trying to get us to listen, when it's just another rain storm."

Most people went about their business. But the radio said the hurricane was still moving toward New York, and I knew that some people weren't taking chances because they started ordering a lot of things from Roulston's. We ran out of candles, although I put a few aside for my mother and Seamus. We were almost out of beer. The potato bin was empty. There was a run on cigarettes. Some orders were so huge I had to deliver them in three trips. My back hurt. My legs hurt. But I fought off the crime of self-pity and at the end of the long day's work I paid for two packs of Camels and two Rheingolds out of my own money and took them and a few candles to Seamus. Just in case. He was listening to the radio when I went in.

"Bedad, you're a thoughtful wee Fenian, you are," he said with a grin, as I popped open a bottle with a churchkey. He gestured at the radio, and turned down the volume, raising his eyebrows in the same move. "This is bloody serious, lad," he said. "This is a real storm comin'." He flexed one hand, then the other, shifting the beer bottle. "I can feel it in me bones. A real storm comin'."

He didn't seem a bit frightened. If anything, he looked elated. "The wind's the thing," he said, "so stuff some towels into them windowsills, and do the same in your own house. If you don't, the wind'll drive the rain right through them cracks, bad cess to Patty Kavanaugh for leavin' them like that for the air conditioning." Outside the sky was turning yellow and purple, all mixed together, and it began to rain. Big plopping drops, running down the windowpanes.
"Away wit' ye now," Seamus said. "Is your mother at home?"

"She's at work."
"Well, she'll be safe there in a great big old steel buildin'. But stuff the windows, lad, so she dazn't come home to a flood."

I hurried around the corner to Davis, and then to our street, and raced up the stairs. I could hear radios playing and mothers yelling at their kids. In the flat, I stuffed towels in the windowsills and turned on the radio.
Now they had the mayor telling everybody to stay indoors. The rain was heavier, and then its angle shifted, flattening out, like snow in a blizzard. There was a knock on the door. It was McGuinness.
"Come and help me, Frannie," he said, his eyes wide and scared. "The windows...."

I ran downstairs with him and on to the store. The wind was tossing garbage cans around the street. Kids in shorts were romping in the water while their mothers called them home from the doorways. Away off, there was the sound of sirens.

I pressed a large sheet of shuddering plywood against one window while McGuinness hammered it desperately into place. The rain was lashing at us now. Together we grabbed the second large sheet, and pushed it up against the other window. The wind lifted it like it was cardboard and flung it against a parked car. Then, suddenly, the wind died down, and we grabbed the plywood sheet and this time got it to stay flat while McGuinness hammered away. There was a smaller sheet for the door and we were hammering that one when the wind rose again, pushing us hard against the wood, while the telephone started ringing inside the store. It rang and rang, but we could do nothing, couldn't even open the door with the wind blowing and all, and then the telephone stopped.

Finally the hammering was done and Mr. McGuinness stood there with his back to the door and the hammer in his hand. "Holy mother," he said, while the rain hammered him. "It would've been my ass if I didn't use the wood they sent me. Would have been my ass." He slid down into a squatting position. "Jesus Christ," he said, gasping for breath. "Jesus Christ."

The phone started ringing again and I said to Mr. McGuinness that I'd get it, if he let me open the door. He rose slowly, his hair pasted to his skull and his jaw loose. I went in and rushed to the telephone.
Just as I thought, it was my mother, calling from one of the office buildings over New York.
"Frannie," she said, her voice pitched high. "Thank God, Frannie."

"Some great storm, isn't it, Ma?" I said, trying to sound casual, the rain dripping from my clothes.
"Are you mad?" she said. "It isn't a bit great. It's a hurricane. And they've shut down the subways and I can't get home.

"They told us we'd all have to sleep here in the office building," she said, "and they'll have food for us and try to find us blankets. Otherwise we'll sleep on the desks or on the floor. A hurricane? Can you believe it? Holy God. Well, I've got to get off now. All the other girls are callin' home, so I just wanted you to know. Go home now, Frannie, before it gets worse. And don't go out till it's over."

"Yes, Ma."
"A hurricane. Just terrible, So don't you go anywhere."
"Yes, Ma."
She hung up, just as Mr. McGuinness eased heavily into the store, pushing hard to click the door shut behind him. He was soaked from head to foot and breathing very hard. There was a lost look in his eyes. Then he took a deep breath and reached into his pocket.

"Thanks for the help, Frannie," he said. "Here's a little something extra for you."

He slipped me two quarters. I took them and went out into the night. There were no kids on the street now. Ash barrels were overturned. Somebody's scooter tumbled toward Davis Street. At the corner the wind whooshed under me and knocked me down. I lay there flat, and then got up, and bent into the wind, staying low, and finally made it to our house on Kavanaugh Street. In the flat, the wind was louder now, shifting from a tearing whine to a deep roar. Water was bubbling over the soaked towels on the windowsills. The radio voices crackled with static. Then the lights went out and the radio died and the only sound was that wind.

I took off my clothes in the dark, which was not completely dark because of some brightness that was carried on the wind. I wrung my trousers and undershirt out in the sink and hung them on chairs. It felt funny to be naked in the place where my mother lived. I fell onto the bed in the first room off the kitchen, telling myself it would only be for a while, and fell into an exhausted dreamless sleep.

When I woke up the wind was howling even louder than before. I groped around in the dark until I found the windup clock that was on my mother's table. I went into the kitchen, sloshing through an inch of water on the linoleum floor and then found the box of wooden matches and struck one. 3:17. I'd been asleep for hours. Then there was a shaking feeling, as if the building might fall, and that was followed by a splitting sound. One !of the windows finally gave in, splintering into the kitchen as if it had been punched. Rain flooded the kitchen. I grabbed my damp clothes and dressed in the bedroom. I fumbled for more towels and took my mother's bathrobe off the bathroom door and grabbed at the mop, but nothing worked. I took the toolbox from under the sink, found the hammer and some nails, and tried to tack the bathrobe over the smashed window, wishing I had plywood.
And then I saw it.

Down in the yards. Rising up out of the mud. Hard and scary and huge.
The Fenian Ram.

The submarine rose in a majestic way. Wind and rain scoured the mud from its conning tower and its deck. And in the eerie light of the storm it looked green. I could hear a sucking sound as its keel struggled for release from the mud and the weight of its cargo. The drums of fuel. The canned foods. The torpedoes and guns.

I had to tell Seamus. The lights on his street were gone, too. I shouted his name into the storm. But I could not even hear my own voice.

I turned from the drowned flat and started down the stairs into the darkness, holding the banisters. There wasn't a sound except the rush of water cascading down the stairs. It was as if everybody in the house was dead, or had been evacuated, and I was the last one left. When I reached the final flight, leading to the street, I stopped. At least five feet of water now filled the bottom floor, and had almost reached the top of the door. A baby carriage floated in the hallway. I could hear the metallic-sounding tails of rats hitting the sides of the steps.
I backed up, my skin pebbling.

I turned, taking the steps two at a time, and headed for the roof. I could cross along the rooftops from Kavanaugh Street, left along the rooftops of Davis, then left again along McCracken Street, where Seamus lived. That was the way. Yes. I reached our roof door, unhooked it, and was knocked over by a flood of gathered water. I held on to the banister railing as the water streamed downstairs. Then I crawled out onto the roof. The clotheslines were all down. The pigeon coop on the next building was gone. The drains were all blocked, backing up the water to the lip of the rooftop door.

I started crawling through the water. The metal cowling at the top of one building had been torn away. Four chimneys, now piles of bricks, lay on their sides. I got two buildings from ours, and my heart rose into my head. The next building was gone.

Now I was sure the wind would lift me and hurl me into the yards. I went flat on my belly, crawling back to our house, and tried to make a little prayer to the god of wind and rain, begging for mercy. I heard the sound of objects rattling in the dark, and sirens, and then a shearing sound as the wind increased. And then I reached our roof and dove into the safety of the top landing. The door would not close. I jerked it, pulled it, then finally hooked it, and the wind snapped the hook and the door flew open, flapping and banging.

I went down to our flat, stepped inside, and locked the door. I was afraid of the rats now, and grabbed a chair, ready to strike at them. And then I went to the window.

There below me, the Fenian Ram was up on top of the water. And it was heading for the harbor. The glass wall was gone. The Flats were now standing in the harbor. I started screaming one word.


There was no reply.
And then the Fenian Ram disappeared into the sea.
My mother got home about nine in the morning, after the subways started running again. She found me sleeping on the table, safe from the rats, and shook me awake. I hurried to the window. The yards looked like a brown sea. A light drizzle was falling now. The building where Seamus lived was silent and dark.
"I have to go see him," I said.

"First, we've got to clean this mess," she said. "And you have to eat. And we've got to clean the halls and--."
"Ma," I said firmly. "I'll be back in ten minutes. I swear. Please."

She looked around at the mess and out at the frail falling rain.

"Go ahead," she said. "But, be careful, Frannie. Things are fallin' all over the neighborhood."
The water on the first floor was only a foot deep now. The front doors had been chopped open with firemen's axes. Outside, there were crowds of kids and firemen and building inspectors and three men in derbies from the Democratic club. The steeple had been torn off. Mother of Angels and two priests were standing there as if they'd been abandoned by God, while cops and firemen moved in and out. The tenement on Davis Street had fallen into a mound of bricks and beds, plaster and beams, like the photographs of Berlin at the end of the war. There were yellow strips saying "Condemned. Keep Out" stretched across the entrances of the buildings on each side of the one that had collapsed. Men in fire helmets poked through rubble. Dogs sniffed for survivors. Cops and firemen with huge flashlights moved from one tenement to the next. Photographers were there, too, from the newspapers, and the flashes from their large cameras were like small strokes of lightning. Women sobbed, or gnawed their knuckles. Men stared. Kids looked confused. I moved through them all, sprinting to McCracken Street, to the house where Seamus lived.

I took the stairs two at a time, reached his door, turned the key in the lock and went in. Everything looked as it always did. The windows had held. The floor was damp but not awash. And it was as I had expected: Seamus was gone.

His bathrobe and pajamas were piled on the chair. The walls were still covered with the Fenian posters and the pictures he loved. The bookcases were intact. His razor and shaving soap were on the bathroom sink. There were two butts in the ashtray. But there was no Seamus.

I went to the bureau and jerked open the second drawer.
The photograph of his wife and sons was gone. So was the gun.
And I knew where he was going. They wouldn't find his body in some drowned cellar. He would not show up in a hospital or a morgue. I knew where he was, and instead of crying, I swung around and punched the air.

RELATED ARTICLE: Hamill on the Real Fenian Ram(s)

The actual Fenian Ram was designed and built by an extraordinary man named John Philip Holland. Born in Liscanor in County Clare on February 24, 1841, he was a young man in love with the sea. But poor eyesight kept him home, and in 1858 he began teaching for the Christian Brothers. Eventually the Order dismissed him for poor health. But Holland lived on, his imagination inflamed by accounts of several failed American attempts to build a workable submarine. In 1873, he emigrated to the United States.

He settled in Paterson, N.J., where he worked as a school-teacher, but his instincts for engineering and design remained alive. One of his brothers was a member of the Fenian Brotherhood, and through his contacts, the Fenians commissioned Holland to design the submarine that became known as the Fenian Ram. Its avowed purpose was quixotic and simple: to wreak havoc on British sea power, particularly around the coasts and harbors of England.

The money for his experiment came from the Fenian Skirmishing Fund, controlled by the militant firebrand O'Donovan Rossa; between 1876 and 1881, the Fenians would spend about $60,000 trying to create their secret weapon. Holland's first version of a power-driven sub was intended for a crew of one. It was built in the Delamater Ironworks on West 13th Street in Manhattan with surface power supplied by petrol engines and underwater power from battery-driven electricity. It was a failure: water leaked in and clouds of chlorine gas rose from the batteries. A second version, according to Thomas Keneally, apparently did not work because of faulty distribution of weight; this is the model believed to have been stolen by impatient Fenians.

The third, designed for three men, was built in 1878 and made a number of successful trial dives in the Passaic River and around New York harbor and became the prototype of the modern submarine, as developed by Holland and his associates for the U.S. Navy. This version--31 feet long, with a six-foot beam and a displacement of 19 tons--can be seen at the Paterson Museum, 2 Market Street, Paterson, N.J.

Award-winning writer Pete Hamill ("The Fenian Ram") has spent much of his career writing columns and articles for newspapers such as the New York Post and the New York Daily News, and working as a war correspondent in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon, and Northern Ireland. He has been published in many major magazines, including Esquire and the New York Times Magazine, and most recently was editor-in-chief of the New York Daily News. He is also author of eight novels, including Guns of Heaven and Snow in August, and two collections of short stories.
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Old February 17th, 2004, 07:48 PM   #2
Howard Brown
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Tim ! This "Red Hook" is a part of New York that was the source for some of H.P. Lovecraft's material,isn't it? Lovecraft was asked once where he got his inspiration for some of his stories and allegedly pointed out the window toward Red Hook ( an area either in Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn..) ..Jeff Bloomfield would know better,as he lives in NYC
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Old December 1st, 2006, 12:02 AM   #3
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"The Fenian Ram" contains some of the best writing that I've beheld in my 50 years! Wonderful imagery. The tale comes to vibrant life in the mind's eye of the reader. Thanks for posting this story.

"Behold! I have become the Blue Screen of Death, Destroyer of Hard Drives! Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!"
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Old December 1st, 2006, 01:26 PM   #4
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Lightbulb Fenian Ram Redux

Glad that you liked the story, Vila. I agree that it is very well-written.

If anyone is interested, here is the Fenian Ram itself:


This story intrigues me for another reason. The old man, Seamus, was a real Fenian who had been born in 1856. He would thus have been 32 at the time of the Whitechapel Murders. So, he was also of prime ripper-candidate material. Imagine, if you will, the same 11 year old boy who is narrating the story, telling us that the old man knew he was going to die soon and wanted to unburden himself of a deep, dark secret that he had been carrying for the past 60 years - that he was none other than the venerable Jack the Ripper.

This scenario would make for a pretty good ripper novel, I think. The Ripper's motivation then HAD been political/ideological, with the intent of toppling the hated British government and regaining Irish home rule. But Seamus was then horrified to discover that Mary Kelly had been of the Emerald Isle herself, and so he halted the killings prematurely and fled to America out of shame, where he then carried on as narrated. What do our authors like Timerover think?
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