Read this story along with referenced Dropkick Murphys songs!



Dorchester - Larkin, Cornelius "Connie," Beloved husband of the late Margaret "Peg" Larkin (nee Brosnahan), suddenly, on January 1, 2011. Veteran of the Korean War, where he earned a Purple Heart. Served as Union Chief with the ILA. Survived by seven sons and nine grandchildren. A funeral mass will be said at 9AM Wednesday, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta Church (St. Margaret's) in Dorchester. Wake to be conducted by James A. Murphy and Son Funeral Home, 1020 Dorchester Avenue. Visiting hours Tuesday, 2pm – 4pm and 7pm – 9pm. Interment at Mount Calvary Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to local charities working with families in crisis.

When young Cornelius "Connie" Larkin first arrived on these shores, for once he thought to himself, Truly I am the luckiest guy in the world …"

Just eleven days earlier he'd stood at Cóbh Harbor, dressed in his good suit, and said goodbye to a trickle of friends and relations (what few had not yet emigrated) who had followed him to the port for what little send-off they could muster. As Ireland's redundancy rates soared in 1949, and its young people fled in record numbers, the fanfare long associated with Cóbh's port – the legendary "American Wake" which entailed days and nights of song, dance and drink for a compatriot who would soon be as good as dead – had dissipated. Instead, the goodbyes at Cóbh had turned to quiet handshakes or hurried pats on the back.

From the gangway, sixteen-year old Cornelius waved to his two aunts, one cousin, and his best chum Jimmy Traynor. Only then was he reminded of the whistle he'd been clutching all the way from Gleann na nDeor; always ready for a seisún. He lifted it high now in salutation to those he was leaving behind, giving his best look of celebration, and confidence.

To him, the eeriness of that evening was only made worse by the circling gulls and crows, who seemed to make more noise these days — whether lamenting or singing or generally raising hell — than the people bidding farewell. The boy's lonesome feeling only occasionally gave way to sudden bursts of excitement for the loads of friends who'd be awaiting his arrival in Boston. Of late he had started to joke around, saying that all his friends were on "the other side," by which he meant America.

Cornelius gripped the woolen pouch filled with scapulars and medals and sewn shut by his mother before she'd been taken from this world (she had succumbed to TB just a year ago to the date). "Sure, you'll be needing this now," said his aunt before he had walked away. She'd pressed it firmly into his hand, and a hidden pin pierced the flesh of his palm. He said nothing, let out no cry. He looked at his minor wound now and laughed, but then wondered what she meant by his "needing" the holy objects. His heart sank for only a moment as he wondered, What does she know that I don't know about what awaits me? His aunt always was a spooky one. All he knew about the scapulars and medals was that they belonged to ancestors and relatives he'd never met, including his own father who, having died "suddenly" while Cornelius was in the womb, had simply joined the pantheon of family saints.

Cornelius picked up his suitcase and moved to the ship's bow. He couldn't remember what Jimmy Traynor had told him he'd read in a letter from the other side — whether one ought to face forward or backward on a ship, to avoid getting sick. But since he could no longer see his aunts, his cousin, and his best chum Jimmy, and since looking backward was making him queasy now, he decided to try the only other option: face forward. Besides, Ireland was becoming a speck in the distance, barely distinguishable from the encroaching night. And though he'd convinced himself he was glad to leave such a Godforsaken place, he still couldn't bear to see home disappear forever.

His ship sailed toward a blackness blacker than he'd ever known, even in rural Ireland. Still, he had no choice but to face it, only occasionally stooping out of the sight of other passengers to heave. Connie Larkin did not know what lie in store for him in America (or even if he'd make it there) but there was one certainty he would insist to himself throughout that night: that the passage out of Gleann na nDeor was a luxury beyond luxuries.

* * * * *

Dé Máirt, 17 Bealtaine, 1949
Ní raibh a fhios agam cé chomh fada is a bhí mé i mo chodladh, ach Dhúisigh mé go "Jesus Christ, what a mess! Get your act together kid! …

Connie awoke to the sound of a brash American accent and thought he must have arrived on the other side. In the morning glare a silhouetted figure barked, "C'mon man, get up! It's a whole new day!" The ship's horn blew and Cornelius felt queasy again, realizing that the journey was only beginning, and that the days and nights ahead would be long. "I always say, if you sleep on your only chances, they'll never come around again." The trumpeting of such words of encouragement and optimism only made things worse. In his disorientation the night before, he had made a bed of his coat and a pillow of his suitcase. He figured now that he most likely looked as if he'd drank too much the night before, since the American silhouette was clapping his hands with religious fervor and ordering him to "sober up!"

"Word got out about the knacker who passed out clutching his feadóg mhór," said the American. "Don't know what that means, but the party's just beginning down below, and they sent me to rouse you." The American paced back and forth and Cornelius noted his gait: head high, both hands in pockets — almost a cartoon of Yankee confidence, or cockiness. "I'm J.B., Jimmy Brosnahan," he offered with an outstretched hand to lift Cornelius, who immediately thought of his own ancestor named Jimmy Brosnahan, who, as a boy in 1848, escaped An Gorta Mor with his widowed mother, as a teenager joined the Fenian plots stateside for Irish independence, and died in America's Civil War. He'd always felt a strong connection to this particular ancestor, whose legends his mother and aunts had brought to life more vividly than those of his own dead father.

"Is that your blood?" asked the American Jimmy Brosnahan, who pulled out a handkerchief to clean his hand of the reddish crust. Cornelius wiped his own palm on his pants. He had forgotten about his wound from a hidden pin in the pouch his aunt had given him. He didn't want to explain the pouch of ancestral scapulars and medals (or his spooky aunt), so he just shrugged, laughing it off. Following his new best friend and American guide across the gangway, Cornelius couldn't help but compare his own tromping and bent frame with the straight shouldered jaunt of this "narrow-back" (as his friends had called Yanks who appeared unfit for hard labor). How odd that a character the like of yer man would have the same name as his family's patron saint of Fenian struggle and sacrifice.

It was on that day, Cornelius Larkin would always remember, that his life changed forever. His whistle — or "feadóg mhór" as his fellow gaeilgeoirí called it — and his ability to transform every melancholy silence with his own upbeat rendition of The Irish Rover made him the most sought-after passenger on that boat of émigrés who knew not what awaited them on the other side. Cornelius would forever attribute the magical qualities of his signature tune to Jimmy Brosnahan's boisterous hand-claps that kept time and echoed loud bursts of determination, lifting the worry-weighted ship. That day, every time Cornelius ventured into a dark corner to mull over all that was lost, or the people he would never see again, Jimmy Brosnahan shook him out of it. "Ya gotta pull yourself up by your bootstraps!" was how the tough-talk always began, with a refrain about "fighting" and holding on to "dreams." Cornelius was reared on putting up a fight. But he had no bootstraps – didn't even know what they were. And, until now, he'd never given thought to such luxuries as dreams. From this day forward, though, that would change; and every time he would play The Irish Rover, he'd always infuse it with Jimmy Brosnahan's loud up-beat claps … and with his own dreams.

With each day of that eleven-day journey, Cornelius felt luckier and luckier, until he walked off that ship in Boston, to the cheering throngs of strangers awaiting other passengers, the luckiest guy in the world!

* * * * *

Dé Luain, 30 Bealtaine, "Memorial Day" 1949
Níl a fhios agam cad a tharla le Frank D'Arcy, ach fuair mé amach go raibh tháinig me ar an saoire Meiriceánach ar a dtugtar "Memorial Day." Paráidí na saighdiúirí agus bannaí ceoil líonadh na sráideanna an Dorchester …

"It's Memorial Day!" shouted Jimmy Brosnahan through the ruckus on the crowded pier. "What a day to arrive!" J.B. urged Connie to come to Dorchester for the annual Memorial Day Parade. But Connie was expecting to meet Frank D'Arcy and a few others from Gleann na nDeor, and couldn't imagine Memorial Day as a celebration anyway. No one had shown up, though, for Connie's arrival at Commonwealth Pier. The cheers were only for the relatives of other passengers. And when the crowds quickly dissipated, he was left alone with his suitcase and whistle. He decided to catch up with J.B., and to catch the trolley to Dorchester.

Once in Dorchester, watching the colorful remembrance of battles fought and lives lost too soon, Connie was brought back to the stories of his maternal great-grandfather, and wondered about his dreams.

No one had ever mentioned dreams in the tales of Pvt. James "Jimmy" Brosnahan. Connie only knew of the fight in the Famine exile who had fled An Gorta Mor with his mother at six-years of age, her only surviving child. He was, after all, barely sixteen when he was among the founders of the Fenian Brotherhood in New York City. As the American branch of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Fenians took their name from ancient Celtic warriors, the Fianna, and were dedicated to the establishment of an independent Irish Republic, free of British Imperialism. Constantly traveling from his neighborhood of Brighton, Boston to New York City, from 1858-1860, young James Brosnahan of Gleann na nDeor attended many secret gatherings with his compatriots, John O'Mahoney and Michael Doheney. Both men had survived the failed 1848 uprising in Ireland, had fled, and regrouped in Paris and America, plotting future risings against Anglo landlords and British tyranny. Both men had known James Brosnahan's own father who had been killed in the rising of '48. Like many Fenians of his time, James Brosnahan joined The Fighting 69th Regiment, of The Irish Brigade, and was committed to learning soldiery so as to teach it to the I.R.B. back home, who would someday strike for Ireland's freedom.

On this Memorial Day in 1949, watching Americans celebrate their own dead warriors — from The Revolution to the recent World War — Connie Larkin decided that perhaps his great grandfather's dreams were inseparable from "the fight" … the fight was, after all, for the dream of freedom, or Saoirse as he knew it in his native tongue. Pvt. James "Jimmy" Brosnahan never made it back to Ireland. He was killed in April of 1862 in the Peninsula Campaign. After burying him in Boston, his mother, wife, and two-year-old son did make it back home. That son, Connie's grandfather, joined in the Land Wars against the Anglo landlords; and as a senior member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, he helped to plot the Easter Rising of 1916.

A stranger in a strange land, Cornelius wondered now what his own dreams might be. Dreams beyond, say, a job and a roof over his head — luxuries these days in Gleann na nDeor. As he wondered, a band dressed as a Civil War Regiment passed by. He couldn't help but return again to thoughts of his ancestor who had possibly stood on the same ground he now occupied.

"Where'd they bury the Civil War dead anyway?" he asked.

"Up the road," answered Jimmy, joining the march. "C'mon, that's where this parade winds up. For-ward!" They laughed.

Lugging what few worldly possessions he owned, Connie followed.

* * * * *

How do we know what Cornelius Larkin was thinking and feeling when he was a sixteen-year-old immigrant? Because when he passed away on New Year's Day, 2011, at age seventy-eight, his son Robert found that very same suitcase filled with letters, songs, and poems the man had kept throughout his life, beginning on that day in 1949 when he set sail from Cóbh Harbor.

Cornelius Larkin Jr. (who, as an adult changed his name to Robert, and prefers "Bob"), is the eldest of eight children. The eighth and youngest son, Michael, died in 1980, a tragedy the Larkin siblings still rarely discuss. Robert checked in on his father, having been unable to reach him on New Year's Day. What he found was a man who looked as if he was resting before heading to a party: he was wearing his one good suit.

What convinced Robert that his father knew he was taking his final journey, though, was what he wore draped from his neck: the pouch that was reportedly filled with ancestors' scapulars and religious medals, a most treasured possession given to young Connie by his aunt as he embarked on his first journey out of Cóbh.

On his night table lay a pile of songs. The top one looked freshly penned, and was based on recent news stories about 57 Irish immigrants who'd laid a mile of train track in 1832 and had allegedly died of cholera. New forensic reports suggest the men had been murdered. Larkin's song expressed a kind of kinship with the forgotten men, immigrants and workers like himself. On top of the scrawled song lay Cornelius Larkin's well-worn whistle. And pulled from underneath the bed was the open suitcase.

"I reached down and picked up the most ragged scrap of paper, dated Memorial Day 1949," reflects Cornelius' son Bob. "I knew that was the day he'd arrived into the port of Boston. The hand-scrawled notes in Gaelic filled me with regret for not understanding my father's words; for not understanding my father, I guess." Reading an English-worded song, called "Memorial Day," penned by his namesake, Bob was reminded of the thing that had estranged him most from his father: the constant tirades about pulling oneself up "by the bootstraps." In Bob's estimation, it was this type of "preaching" that came to dire consequence, when in August of 1980, Bob's youngest brother was found overdosed. Word on the streets of Southie and Dorchester was that Michael had been given a "hot-shot," a lethal dose usually meant to kill informants or junkies who owed too much money. As with most hot-shot deaths, no investigation followed, and it was called a suicide.

"The night before Michael was found dead, my father tore into him, accusing him of being afraid to live, afraid to die …" Bob held back tears as he remembered listening from the kitchen downstairs while Cornelius screamed at the drug-addled seventeen-year-old, and told him to lie in the bed he'd made for himself, with all his demons. "Nothing was the same in our house after that day," said Bob. "I mean, Michael was probably already dying, and here was my father giving this tough-love bootstrapper bullshit, calling him a coward instead of calling an ambulance." Reading his father's writings from the day of his arrival sixty-two years ago, Bob, struggled to understand where his father was coming from. The notes to the song referred to an American on board who'd apparently given the sixteen-year-old Cornelius the lesson of his life, about fighting and holding on to his dreams. "… stuff I would have called empty platitudes. Bullshit. But, you know, I've never really tried to imagine what it was like to be a scared sixteen-year-old orphan, as good as dead to all those you've left behind, arriving in a strange land. He had nobody when he got here. I mean, no one he could depend on."

Bob had once been told by his father that the one person who was supposed to show up for him upon arrival at Commonwealth Pier, and who did not show, was Frank D'Arcy, the famous bank-robber Bob and the entire Larkin family would see on nightly news reports. D'Arcy, also from Gleann na nDeor had already been swept into the lucrative world of bookmaking by the age of seventeen, and forever apologized to Cornelius for not showing up. "He claimed he'd gotten the date wrong," Bob remembered of D'Arcy, who died in the Federal Penitentiary in 2010. "I guess it was just my father's luck that Frank didn't show up that day … or fate."

* * * * *

Seanín, the second-youngest of the Larkins, was the second to show up at Cornelius' bedside. Bob had thrown the letters he couldn't read — the ones in Irish Gaeilge — into a separate pile, and that was the pile that Seanín immediately went for.

Korea 1952 (Níl a fhios agam an data cruinn)
Níl a fhios agam cé chomh fada is a bhí mé gan aithne … Dhúisigh mé go dtí níos mó screadaigh i Sínis, agus níos mó cré-uafás pléascanna. Dhealraigh sé go deireanach ar feadh an tsaoil Go tobann bhí gach rud ciúin. A Scairt mé le mo mhíle de chairde trí huaire. Níl aon fhreagra ar chor ar bith …

While many of Cornelius' later journals and songs had been written in a mix English and Irish, his most personal thoughts were entirely in his native language, a forgotten language that no one — least of all his children — would even want to understand. Yet, unbeknownst to his father or anyone else in the Larkin family, Seanín had been studying his ancestral language in recent years.

"Korea, 1952 (I don't know the exact date) … I don't know how long I was unconscious … I awoke to more screams in Chinese, and more earth-shattering explosions. It seemed to last a lifetime. Suddenly everything was quiet. I yelled to my dearest of friends three times. No response at all…"

"How the hell can you read Irish? Hand me that paper!"

Bob grabbed the yellowing sheet of paper from Seanín and peered at word formations that bore no resemblance to English or any of the languages he'd studied throughout his life: Spanish, German, or French. "Neel a … fahios agam … que chomha fa da" He turned the sheet around as if looking for hidden clues.

"Níl ‘s agam … that means ‘I don't know.' Cé chomh fada is ‘how long'" Seanín explained that he'd been studying Gaeilge and was hoping to impress their father this year with his fluency. "See? Dad says it again at the bottom of the page … ‘Níl a fhios agam cé chomh fada' … ‘I don't know how long … I will … live …" Seanín's voice dropped off as he finished, "… or if I would want to return anyway without my truest of friends, Jimmy Brosnahan."

Everyone knew Cornelius had gone to war in Korea. But they never knew any details. They didn't know about his actually wanting to go to Korea, since all his newfound friends from Boston's Gaelic Athletic Association were conscripted. They didn't know about Cornelius changing his age on his green card by a few months, since one had to be 18 ½ to enlist. Or about what it was like to lose your "deartháireacha" — "brothers" — on a nameless hill in Korea. "The Chinese attack at night," Seanín continued in translation. "First you hear the screams in Chinese, and all you can do is fire in the dark. And pray for luck."

Not only did Cornelius' letters from Korea reveal the terror of an 18-year-old boy at the gates of hell, later letters revealed his unending grief for his brothers-in-arms, a grief Cornelius would never dare let his children see. "Not even for our brother Michael," Bob said before stopping himself from speaking ill of his dead father. "Our father never told us about that night in 1952 when his ‘luck ran out' on that hill in Korea. As far as we knew, this was ‘the luckiest guy in the world' and he was never going to allow it to be any other way."

The Larkin children didn't even know that their father was awarded a Purple Heart. "He walked with a limp for the rest of his life," Seanín said. "But it was just part of who he was." He added that not only did he not complain, Cornelius Larkin had turned that limp into a rhythmic gait. "Just part of that upbeat presence of his; that obsessive tendency to always look on the bright-side." Seanín laughed, adding that his friends said Cornelius walked "like a pimp."

"I guess I never asked many questions about the war," Bob admitted. "In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, I became a pacifist and I was always afraid of getting into it with my father over politics." Bob remembered that his father, a staunch Irish Republican would tell him stories of Wolfe Tone and the rising of 1798, the Rising of 1848, "… which killed some great-great grandfather," and about his ancestor Pvt. James Brosnahan, who'd enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War to learn soldiery for the Irish Republican Brotherhood only to die on an American battlefield. "And then there was the Easter Rising of 1916, which of course his grandfather and father had planned," laughed Bob.

"And the impossibility of crushing the Irish desire for ‘Saoirse,' freedom!" Seanín added more seriously, and proud.

"I don't know… I was sick to death of Irish battles," Bob said. "As a kid I'd be on the couch watching Cowboys and Indians, and he'd relate the story to this or that Irish uprising. He even wrote a song for me as a little kid, a spaghetti western style song called "Hang ‘Em High." A blood-lust song if ever there was one. Then he'd always explain that in these battles, ‘the Irish were the Indians,' whatever that meant."

"He meant they were the colonized, the ones whose land and freedom was taken from them," said Seanín.

Bob looked at Seanín confused. He didn't care about the details, and wanted nothing to do with Irish history lessons. But Seanín said he did care about the details, and explained to Bob how he had personally come around, and had recently been learning to embrace all that their dad — and their ancestors — came from. "All that I come from," he added. Seanín, more than any of the Larkins, had become estranged from the family after the loss of his baby brother Michael to the streets. Like everyone in the neighborhood, he knew who had murdered Michael. And more than anyone else he wanted revenge. "I saw my father and older brothers as weak for not taking these guys out. Everyone knew who'd killed Michael." Then Seanín dropped out of school, started numbing his grief with booze, and sneaking away to all-ages punk rock shows at the height of the Hardcore scene in the early 80s. "I would just get fucked up morning, noon, and night." But then, he said, he stopped drinking when he started a hardcore band himself, and instead "found a place to put all that rage."

Seanín recited a line from the band's song "Deeds Not Words," which was his revenge fantasy song about mauling Whitey Bulger and his boys, the people who killed his brother: Where you gonna run to; Where you gonna hide; Bodies on the floor; No one's getting out alive. "For me that part of my life was kind of like being in a ‘warp spasm.'" He explained further: "In a state of battle-frenzy, Celtic warriors such as Cú Chulainn would physically transform themselves into these terrifying monstrous creatures, scaring the shit out of their enemies." He laughed, adding. "I don't think Whitey Bulger ever heard my songs when we were banging them out on "A" Street at The Channel Club, but that song definitely felt good."

In later years, Seanín discovered an Irish history and culture with deeper roots than those of his neighborhood's plastic shamrocks; one that included the story of a people colonized, and of his own Fenian and Irish Republican ancestors' struggles against tyranny. But it wasn't until he recently began to study the language that, as he puts it, "I really understood just how little I knew of both of my parents; of how they saw the world." The tone of Seanín's music has changed, too. He had even recently penned a song called "Cruel," which he hoped to translate to Gaeilge for his father, as a gift. "It was too late to ever tell my mother that I knew she had done her best. But I was really hoping I could tell my father."

I was young and I thought I knew everything. It's so hard to change a fool's mind. When you're stubborn by nature and quick to the draw; And you're full of inherited pride.

They were cruel, they were ignorant; they were beauty, they were kind. They were patience, they were virtue; They were crazy, they were mine.

Folded and tucked underneath Cornelius Larkin's Sacred Heart of Jesus statue, the brothers found a letter that looked as though it had been through the wash a few times over. Seanín translated it aloud. It was a letter written by Cornelius upon the murder of their brother, Michael. In it they learned of a father who, like them, was angry, vengeful, and even at times suicidal over the murder of his buachaill is óige, his youngest boy.

"How could he not be?" murmured Bob, feebly. "How did I ever imagine that he might not be?"

* * * * *

Later that New Year's Day, five more Larkin sibings arrived at the house of Cornelius. Each of them looked detached, as they dutifully set themselves to the task of making arrangements for their long-estranged father. Bob stepped away from the bedroom to hand his other siblings some of the more upbeat letters he'd found; ones that were, of course, in English. Stapled to a faded mimeographed copy of the classic song "Peg o My Heart," was a song titled "1953," a love song he'd penned to his own Peg mó chroí, as he called their mother. 1953 was the year Cornelius had been discharged from Korea, met the love of his life at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury, and was married. Then there was a sealed envelope to open. Inside was a letter in which Cornelius had called for something much more grandiose than the typical American "arrangements." Known to have never been afraid of dying, Cornelius had imagined for himself an all-out hooley, complete with invitations to heroes the like of Van Morrisson, and even Bobby Orr. Everyone got a great kick out of that, as if celebrities would pay any mind to Cornelius Larkin. "We'll be lucky if old Mrs. McAuliffe can even make it up the stairs to glare at the old geezer one last time," said Eithne, the Larkins' oldest girl. "One thing for sure, Sr. Barbara will be there. She loves bad news, doesn't she?"

Bob went back to his father's bedside while his brothers and sisters met around the kitchen table to figure out a decent-enough send-off. After laughing off the bizarre impossibilities of their father's plans, they finally gave in to the spirit of their father and decided that the least they could do is throw a party; including the gallons of whiskey Cornelius had set his heart on. And as the rest of the Larkin family got busy, preparing the house for the traditional Irish wake, Bob sat on the bed next to Cornelius' cold body, while Seanín made sense of more strange words and tried to resurrect a father they both wished they'd known better.

"Did you know dad was this deep with Union organizing? Holy shit! He knew Mike fucking Quill!" Seanín held up a letter from a Mike Quill on Transportation Workers Union letterhead.

"That's in Gaelic too! Who's Mike Quill? And wasn't old Cornelius with the Longshoremen's Union anyway?"

Seanín explained that Mike Quill was also from Ireland, had been in the IRA, came to New York City, and formed the Transportation Workers Union along with other members of Clan na Gael.

"Clanna wha? Give it to me in English!" Bob said, exasperated at this point.

"Clan na Gael, an Irish republican secretive organization in America. Like the 19th Century Fenians that dad always went on about. Revolutionaries."

"Is that your blood?" Bob asked startled. "On the letter!"

Seanín looked for the source, and saw that his palm was bleeding. "I guess so," he said, wiping his palm on his pants. "I was just adjusting that pouch around dad's neck and got pricked by something."

"Have you ever gone into that thing to see what's inside?" asked Bob.

"No," said Seanín. "All I know is that his one wish was to be buried with it. Religious stuff that his aunts gave him when he left Ireland."

They were both staring at the pouch when their sister Eithne came into the room to tell Seanín he had a day to learn The Irish Rover on their father's whistle. "We need someone to play it at the wake," she said. "What the hell! He asked for it."

"I already know it," he said. He picked up the feadóg mhor and, though he'd never played the song before, he began to play their father's signature tune perfectly. To Bob it was as if Cornelius Larkin had indeed come to life again. A movie played out before his eyes: of young Cornelius on the boat from Cóbh to America with the young J.B. Brosnahan clapping loudly at at his side; of Pvt. Cornelius Larkin in Korea, playing the tune in the barracks where the song's title had become his nickname; of the bachelor Cornelius playing the tune at Hibernian Hall the night he met Peg; and of the dad he never understood playing the tune even at the wakes of their brother and their mother.

Bob thought of the morbid shame he had once had at the sound of such an upbeat song being played at, of all things, a wake. He looked at Seanín, still playing the song, and stared back at his father's pouch. When the song ended, Bob asked for some time alone with his father.

Seanín and Eithne left the room and Bob stared at the pouch for a long time before lifting it from around Cornelius' neck. He didn't know what he was looking for, but with all the letters he and Seanín had gone through, the one thing he did know was that he wanted more. He tried to open the pouch but it had been sewn shut decades — seemingly centuries — ago. The zigzags and knots of thread had blended somewhat with the pouch's burlap material. He tore at it until a thread came undone. The opened pouch slipped then from his left hand, and he caught it with his right. Bob dropped the entire pouch, having been pierced by the very same pin that had gotten Seanín. He held back a scream, wanting to remain alone with Cornelius. On the floor lay the old pouch, its contents of raggedy scapulars and religious medals spilled out. Bob pressed his tongue to his wound, and picked up the offending medal that had a sharp pin the size of a small nail. The medal was carried by a bronze eagle, which hung from red, white, and blue cloth. It wasn't religious, and it wasn't Irish at all. Bob immediately knew the origin of the pin that had pierced his flesh. It was a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor presented to the mother and widow of Pvt. James Brosnahan, and carried back to Gleann na nDeor in 1862.

Bob Larkin put all of the contents back inside the pouch. He found himself not wanting to part with such an auspicious connection to all that he came from. He thought about his ancestor, Pvt. James Brosnahan, a life-long warrior who had died for the American Union and who had great hopes for an Irish revolution. He thought of the long line of warriors he'd come from as he placed the ancestral pouch once again around his dad's neck. Bob knew right then that a certain aspect of the family history must be buried with Cornelius, but he also knew that that the warrior had to live on. Not being one for the battlefield, however, he knew he'd have to find in himself, Cornelius Larkin Jr., another kind of connection to the fight for Saoirse.

* * * * *

A wake like no other in the history of Boston ensued. The celebration of Cornelius Larkin went three days and three nights, and even Boston Mayor Thomas Menino could not close it down. Cornelius was indeed laid to rest. And yet he was resurrected. The circle would not be broken.

In the following months, Cornelius Larkin Jr., who had legally returned to his birth name, became a force in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and was at the forefront of strikes in Madison Wisconsin against Governor Scott Walker's attempts to take away bargaining rights from workers. Until his father's passing, Cornelius Jr., although a hospital worker and member of the SEIU, was not very involved as an activist. But after just a week of Seanín's translations of their father's journals from his days as Union Chief with the I.L.A., including more letters from Mike Quill, the connection between Irish freedom and workers' rights was made clear. Cornelius Jr. was ready to walk into a whole new life, one connected to his father and to an abiding sense of social justice, an inheritance he now embraced.

For his part, Seanín regrouped his band, and recorded the union organizing song that Cornelius Larkin Sr. had written in the 1960s, called "Take ‘em Down." The band brought the song to Wisconsin and performed it before thousands of striking workers. Soon it would become the anthem for the Madison Wisconsin strikes, and for the rebirth of the American Labour Movement.




READ MORE by Michael Patrick MacDonald.