No Irish Need Apply

By John Finucane

 

Perhaps one in every hundred of our forbearers found enough respite from the hard business of living to take a look around them, to take stock. The Irish who arrived here in the Great Hunger years learned that lesson harder than any arriving Irish wave before or since.

In No Irish Need Apply retired New York City firefighter and veteran journalist John Finucane produces an act of historic reclamation that belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the Irish history of Gotham.

Finucane’s book is an effortless you-are-there portrait of the once vibrantly Irish Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood that chronicles a close friendship between Johnny O’Hara and his friend Red, children of immigrants who escaped and were marked by the Great Hunger.

Finucane places his two heroes in the eye of the storm as one joins an all immigrant volunteer fire company that is despised by all the surrounding native-born companies.

These kids have had it tough in a way that would have been familiar to our great grandparents generation. Orphaned at an early age, they have struggled to survive the mean streets and the prevalent anti-Irish sentiment that cuts across all classes.

But Finucane’s gaze is sharper. He understands how the top dogs keeps the lower ones at each other throats to distract everyone’s gaze as they’re busy enriching themselves.

Finucane’s shows us how the racial, religious and social divisions in No Irish Need Apply all work in concert to keep the lower orders oppressed and his own longtime experience of writing and reporting on the North have given him valuable insights into exactly how these systems operate and for whose benefit.

The young Irish men and women in this book endure taunts, attacks and every kind of social and religious prejudice, but they keep coming back until their determination outfaces all the forces ranged against them.

From the Great Hunger to the Gold Rush, from the Civil War to the war on New York’s streets, Finucane knows the transformative tale of the Irish in the 19th century must be told and retold until we understand its lessons. He does so here with an ear for history’s truths and the heart’s truth’s too – a finer undertaking.

Bookstand Publishing, $15.95.

NYPD Green, A Memoir

By Luke Waters

Firefighters and policemen: for decades the Irish had the two callings sown up in New York City. I say callings in the vocational sense, because you couldn’t always accurately refer to them as careers.

As members of the public make their way through Manhattan on the subways and buses, they often catch a glimpse of something unfolding on the city streets out of towners find eye popping but that city dwellers rarely blink at.

If it does nothing else, New York gifts you a higher threshold for eccentric behavior. But not every weird thing that happens on our streets is harmless, and no one knows this better than retired NYPD homicide detective Luke Waters, who has written an engaging and often utterly hilarious memoir about his successful career with one of the most respected police forces in the world.

An immigrant, Waters’ tale is a classic Irish boy emigrates, eventually finds his feet in the big city story, and in the process takes a wild ride though the city that never sleeps.

But what NYPD Green is not is blinkered account. Instead of nostalgia, Waters writes with urgency about the crooked goings on he witnessed on both sides of the blue line.

What’s fascinating is the book’s total immersion. We get illuminating glimpses of life on the beat, after hours and what happens later at home.

It helps that Waters is such a natural and engaging narrator, and you can tell right away why certain stories have stayed with him, and even haunted him, years after they concluded.

Like many Irish witnesses, Waters decries the corruption and negligence he witnessed in the justice system, and he is tough on the graft that was motivated less by a desire to protect and serve and more on the desire for overtime pay, expenses and allowances.

But there he is, a wry and compelling storyteller, recording the good and the bad with a level of honesty that will see this uncommonly honest account fly off the shelves.

Touchstone, $24.99.