By Eamon Loingsigh
Novelist Eamon Loingsigh has so comprehensively inhabited the teeming New York City of his debut novel Light of the Diddicoy that he captivates the reader from the first page.
A vivid portrait of the hardscrabble world of Irish gangs along the Brooklyn waterfront from Greenpoint to Red Hook in the early 20th century, the author captures the still emerging metropolis and its characters through the eyes of wide eyed Irish immigrant Liam Garrity.
The legacy of the Great Hunger era Irish a generation earlier is still felt in the tough as nails Irish enclaves of Brooklyn in a district ruled by the White Hand gang. It’s the hardest possible hard-knock-life, and Garrity finds himself struggling to survive both the city and the homegrown hoods that surround him.
Interestingly the prejudice that greeted the mid-19th century Irish has hardly abated. The Irish are gaining traction but in the main still eke out perilous existences by whatever means come to hand.
It’s a brutal story of Irish America that the author, whose family roots in the city are as deep as his characters, was apparently born to write. Loingsigh’s prose has immense narrative force, and his characters are innocents or chancers on the make who know there’ll be no second chances.
This is wonderful pulp fiction that knows that one man’s tale can in fact tell the entire city’s.
Three Room Press, $15.95.
By Patrick O’Keeffe
JAMES Dwyer, from rural Co. Limerick, makes his way to Dublin, then Boston to Ann Arbor, Michigan in search of himself. Flash forward a few years to 2000 and a stranger shows up on his doorstep.
It turns out this man has been sent by his childhood friend Kevin. Their own fathers had been best friends, and they too have forged a powerful bond that has seen the two families fortunes intertwined for years.
This emotional layering technique, when the struggles of different generations try to untangle what they will mean to each other is at the heart of O’Keeffe’s book.
There’s something distinctly Irish about all this. When James decides to meet Kevin after all these years they spend days trying to sort the truth from the fictions they have grown up with.
It takes time – years and even decades of it – for these Irish men to unburden themselves and confront the truths they’ve been concealing from each other for so long. But it’s confronting these family stories and their long legacies which is the only thing that will save them.
We are the sum of our experiences, but no two histories look precisely alike. No two stories do either.
O’Keeffe has a poet’s eye for illuminating phrases, and this meditative and haunting book explores the particular way the Irish come to terms with stories and history.
Lilly Higgins’ Dream Deli
By Lilly Higgins
IRELAND needs to thank Myrtle and Darina Allen, the two before their time visionaries behind the highly successful Ballymaloe Cookery School in Co. Cork, for helping to make traditional and organic Irish cooking and baking rightly famous. The legacies of the two formidable ladies are already assured in their own lifetimes.
Chef and restaurateur Lilly Higgins is one of a new generation of their cooks, and her philosophy (great ingredients are the building block of great meals) is pure Ballymaloe.
Having graduated from the famous school Higgins is working her way toward opening a dream deli by hosting supper clubs that allow her to see what will work on the menu.
It’s a brilliant idea to write a cookbook for a cafe that doesn’t quite exist except in your dreams, and it gives Higgins the imaginative freedom to include any dish she likes, in any combination, with the accent on wholesome ingredients and delicious results.
Every mealtime from breakfast to supper is planned, with easy to follow recipes that are sure to strike a balance between ease of making and joy of eating. Spices are a feature, but Higgins is all about the best flavors coming from the best produce.
Baking, in particular Irish baking, is also a feature, and the desserts on offer here are decadent and delightfully easy to make.
Pick up this book and you’ll expand your own repertoire while learning about what makes some homemade Irish recipes so good to begin with.