Bridge & Tunnel Books
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The Commute

"The Rose of Kerry" by Paul Kennedy

Bridey McGuire knew she was pretty. Her thick, dark brown hair—a gift from her mother—framed her pleasing face in just the right way. She had a nice figure and a slim waist, and she fancied she could turn any man’s head.

She lived on Thomas Street in Homewood, Pittsburgh’s most exclusive suburb, as a domestic servant for the Shaw family. George and Elizabeth Shaw had a beautiful eleven-bedroom house with two children and three servants. The other servants were Peggy Griffin, who was Irish like Bridey, and Gretchen Lantzy, a German girl. Mr. Shaw had done well as an executive in Andrew Carnegie’s iron and steel empire. Most of the Homewood mansion dwellers were captains of Pittsburgh’s thriving industries. Penn Avenue, just two blocks up from Thomas, was called “Millionaires’ Row.” Some of its residents were quite famous, like H.J. Heinz, Andrew and Richard Mellon, and Thomas Carnegie, Andrew’s brother. George Westinghouse, inventor of the air brake, lived only two blocks from the Shaws, at Thomas and Lang. Most of the homes had servant girls, the majority from Ireland or Germany, but a few from places like Scotland or Sweden. Some had black girls, and a few had resident butlers, who were black. It was a great place to work for an Irish immigrant girl like Bridey, far from the smoke and grime of the poorer Pittsburgh neighborhoods near the factories. The air was fresh and clean like in her native Kerry.

The work was constant. She had to cook and clean, wash and iron clothes, do the dishes, serve the food, and empty chamber pots. Mrs. Shaw could be demanding, but Bridey wasn’t afraid of work, having grown up in rural Kerry. She was strong and energetic, and the Shaws liked her.

Her Uncle Pat and Auntie Kate had arranged for her to come to America and stay with them until she found a job. Pittsburgh had lots of jobs for men and women. She was grateful to leave Ireland. It was 1877 now—the Famine had been over for a good twenty years—but the people were still beaten down from its effects. Her father and sister had died young, too weak to fight off disease. Her mother wailed about those awful days, with so many children dead. Ireland had nothing but drudgery and hardscrabble subsistence farming. The threat of eviction loomed over everyone. Any young person with ambition left for America or England, with their booming industries and good jobs. America was a great place to Bridey—the people had spirit and a sense that things were getting better.

Her relatives lived in Bayardstown, which they called “the Strip,” a lively, crowded, mostly Irish enclave near the Allegheny River and its many factories. Sure, it was dirty and smelly—with black smoke shooting up into the red skies over the rivers—but that meant work for anyone who wanted it.

 

Today was Saturday. She would walk to the nearby Homewood Station and take the train to the Strip. The trains were new and wonderful. They allowed wealthier people to work downtown and live in Homewood or East Liberty, away from the city grime. And people like Bridey could travel around the city quickly.

She was to attend a St. Patrick’s Day dance that night with Seamus Cronin, who owned a saloon with his brother in the Strip. Uncle Pat had arranged for her to meet Seamus, a man of means and good prospects. He was much older—35 to Bridey’s 19—but had a good reputation. Upon meeting Bridey, he was taken with her beauty and eager to court her. She wasn’t so sure about him, but she agreed to go.

Bridey noticed how men looked at her. Young, handsome men smiled and looked at her longer than was polite. Seamus was a good man, but he didn’t thrill her. Was it wrong to wish for a “thrilling” man? She didn’t ever have to marry. She could stay at her servant job forever, and the Shaws would be happy to have her. She could live in their nice house in Homewood rather than in a hovel in the dirty Strip. Maybe it was better to be paid to cook and clean than to do it for a husband for free. And she could still send money to her family in Ireland. But she thought it would be nice to have children someday—sturdy Irish Americans, raised in Pittsburgh. And Seamus was a good man. Everyone said so.

Uncle Pat met her at the Lawrenceville Station at 33rd Street and Liberty Avenue, about a five-block walk from his home. He didn’t like for her to walk alone, though she didn’t feel there was any danger.

“What a fine girl! The Rose of Kerry!” he greeted her.

“Ah, Uncle Pat,” she responded.

Pat McGuire worked on the railroad. Although in his fifties, he was strong and agile. He was of average height with a scruffy, graying beard and a reddish face. He was cheerful as always, but Bridey thought he looked tired. The Strip was a bustling place, full of railroad tracks and yards with freight cars screeching and grinding, and smells of smoke and oil. The factories—iron, cork, and glass—spewed smoke into the air, creating a dark pall with dirty cinder track roads. It was impossible to keep anything clean. The crowded little houses of the working poor filled in any leftover space, along with packed tenement buildings of single men there to work, sleep, and drink.

Uncle Pat epitomized the railroad. He had spent his life there. They walked past the big Union Depot building at 33rd Street. At 28th and Liberty, they saw freight cars being serviced at the Roundhouse. As they walked toward Mulberry, they passed by street vendors with vegetables, meat, tobacco, and various other goods. They heard music from several basement saloons. There were lots of shoppers and many children shouting, urchins with dirty faces in their little caps and coats. Being from Homewood, Bridey noticed the dark, dusty air right away, but it didn’t seem to dampen the spirit of the people. The Strip was crowded and poor, but a part of America’s ever-growing industrial might.

Auntie Kate and her daughter Mary were waiting at the door. Kate was tall with a narrow face, a little paunchy in the middle. Her sinewy, rough hands were typical of a poor housewife. Mary was growing up, fourteen now, and would soon go to work. “Welcome home, Dearie,” Auntie Kate greeted her. Mary smiled, impressed with Bridey’s dress and bearing. Pat and Kate still spoke with the Irish brogue, although they had been in Pittsburgh for many years. Their three youngest—Johnny, Tommy and Mary—still lived with them and spoke pure Pittsburgh. Bridey had been in America for four years but still had a strong Kerry brogue. The Pittsburghers found it cute, especially the way she said her “o” and “i.” She said “shtove” for stove and “shtar” for “store.” She referred to the “cark” (cork) factory. Pittsburgh speech was flatter and broader, especially the way they said words like “house” with a peculiar unrounded “o." They said “you’uns” for plural you; Bridey said “ye.”

The little house on Mulberry was humble compared to her place at the Shaws’. It had no indoor plumbing and was always too cold or too hot. But she never complained. She had stayed here when she first came to America. Pat and Kate had shown her warmth and love, more than her family in Kerry could. The boys never seemed to be home. They were always working at the cork factory or at a saloon.

Seamus Cronin came to the door promptly at seven. Auntie Kate answered it.

“A fine man yourself!” she greeted him. “Please come in.”

“Evenin’, Mrs. McGuire,” he said, doffing his top hat. He looked nice in a dark vested suit with a white shirt and thin black tie. He was a broad-shouldered, rugged man with dark, slicked-back hair and a bushy moustache. He had thick eyebrows above serious hazel eyes. He looked at Bridey, who was sitting with Pat at the kitchen table. She looked beautiful in her long black dress, her comely figure evident. Thick dark hair set off her pretty face and radiant green eyes.

“Evenin’, Mr. McGuire . . . Bridey,” said Seamus.

They both stood up. “Hello, Seamus,” they said in unison. Bridey offered her hand, which he kissed.

“You look beautiful,” he said to Bridey, who smiled.

“A real Rose of Kerry,” chimed Pat.

“We’ll miss ya tonight, Mr. McGuire,” said Seamus.

“I need my rest, Seamus. Long hours . . . and the wage cuts and extra work shifts . . .”

His voice tailed off. Seamus nodded in sympathy. The railroad workers had been hit with a ten percent cut and layoffs, increasing the work for those remaining.

They said their goodbyes and began the short walk to the Hibernian Association Hall on 26th Street. “It should be a grand affair tonight,” said Seamus. Some of the boys have already had a few too many, but they’ll be OK. Lots of us marched in the parade downtown, y’know. There were bands and war veterans, police, firemen, and the politicians, of course.”

She noticed he used the peculiar Pittsburgh “dahntahn.”

At the hall, the president of the Association, William Bulger, opened with a brief speech about the importance of remembering Ireland and the starving poor, of keeping strong in the Catholic faith. “We must never forget we’re Irish, patriotic Americans, and Catholics faithful to the Holy Father in Rome . . .” Unable to refrain from the irreverent quip, he added, “. . .even if he is a Dago.”

The traditional ham and cabbage with potatoes and soda bread was served buffet style, along with mugs of dark strong porter. Bridey took the occasional porter, but wasn’t fond of it. Seamus recommended a lighter lager beer, Iron City. “Made right up the street from here in Lawrenceville.” It wasn’t bad and went well with the dinner.

The crowd included men of various ages but mostly younger. Some brought wives or dates; some came alone. They were a rough crowd, men who worked hard in the dirty factories or on the railroad and liked to let loose when they had the chance. Most would end up drunk or close to it tonight and stagger into Mass the next morning with a hangover. But they knew how to have fun and liked to dance.

After dinner the band started playing lively jigs and reels from Ireland, and the dance floor quickly filled. Bridey could dance well, and she noticed Seamus wasn’t too bad either. After a few fast ones, they sat down for a break. She noticed a tall and wiry dark-haired young man dancing with girl after girl. My God he was handsome! His graceful movements added to the aura, along with laughing eyes and an alluring smile. She wanted to ask Seamus who he was but thought better of it. At one point their eyes met, and her heart melted. She hoped Seamus didn’t notice. Rory she heard them call him.

A fight between two over-imbibers broke out but was quickly stopped by two stout security men. They threw the troublemakers out roughly—the “bum’s rush.” It only amused the crowd, who were used to such shenanigans. Fighting was common among young men in the Strip. It was usually a quick row over some minor offense, followed by the opponents making up and getting further drunk together. But sometimes it got nasty, with eye gouging, ear biting, and bashing each other with objects.

Near the end of the night, the Civil War veterans gathered to sing “Battle Cry of Freedom.” Seamus had been a Union soldier—he was at Gettysburg and Antietam with the 64th Pennsylvania Regiment—and joined in.

Bridey was getting to like Seamus. He was a good and decent man, like everyone said.

The affair ended with a rendition of “A Nation Once Again,” the Irish anthem of hoped-for freedom, sung by all.

It was loud and rousing, and the singers cheered themselves when it ended. Bridey felt exuberant from the music. How tragic that Ireland couldn’t be free like the United States. As they left the hall, another fight erupted outside. It sounded like a good one from the cheering.

Seamus walked her home and kissed her nicely at the doorstep. She felt guilty because she wished it was Rory.

 

After Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s, Bridey had tea and scones with Pat, Kate, and Mary. She gathered her things and prepared to walk to the train station. Tired old Uncle Pat was preparing to walk with her.

“I’ll be fine Uncle, ya needn’t walk with me. The gang boys and ruffians are all sleepin’ it off.”

“It is Sunday. I suppose you can manage.”

The shops were closed and not many people were on the streets. She saw a tall young man walking toward her in cap and jacket—headed to work? It was him! Rory from the dance! He looked at her and smiled. She felt weak in the stomach.

“The iron works never stop,” he announced in a pleasing, resonant voice.

She nodded weakly.

“A good day to you, Bridey!”

His presumption jolted her from her stupor.

“And how d’ya know my name, Mister?”

“A good guess. It’s either Mary or Maggie or Katie or Bridie. Irish girls don’t get too imaginative in their names.”

“Well, Bridey it is, but I spell it differently—with an e-y at the end. If ya know how to read.”

“I can read—and write and cipher too. Just ask the Sisters of Mercy at St. Patrick’s.”

“Well, good for you.”

He doffed his cap. “Rory O’Grady it is, Miss Bridey McGuire.”

“And ya know my last name, do ya?”

“It’s a small Strip, colleen. Now I have to get to work. Have a fine trip home.”

He turned and walked off. Rory O’Grady. She thought of him the whole way home.

 

Three weeks later, it was Sunday, April 8th, the week after Easter. The servant girls were given time to attend church. Most were Irish and German Catholics. Since it was a crisp, sunny morning, Bridey and several others walked the mile or so to Sacred Heart Church on Centre Avenue in East Liberty. After Mass, they began the walk home.

“Top o’ the mornin’, ladies,” she heard from behind. It was Rory’s sweet voice.

Bridey turned and answered, “And a fine rest o’ the day to you.”

He was clean and handsome in a dark suit and top hat, his Sunday clothes.

“Ya can’t get rid of me so easily, Miss Bridey McGuire.”

“I wasn’t hopin’ to.”

He smiled. “Ah, music to my ears. Can I walk ya home?”

“You can, indeed.” The other girls walked on ahead.

“So, ya work out here in one of the big mansions, I take it.”

“I do. The Shaws, on Thomas.”

“And how did Mr. Shaw steal his money?”

“Shteal it? He’s a vice-president for McClelland Iron Works.”

“I’ll tell ya where he got his money. Yer lookin’ at it. From me and the other workers. He pays next to nothing and then pockets a big profit. They always try to keep down our wages and keep out unions. It isn’t fair.”

“Fair or not, ye still have work.”

“You don’t understand, Kerry girl. When the Panic hit in seventy-three, they cut our wages. We have to fight for every penny. Now we have the Amalgamated Union, which they despise.”

“Who’s they?”

“The rich people, like the ones you work for in Homewood. They got their wealth by exploiting the working man.”

Bridey pondered his assertions. “All I know is there’s work. If you want to see poor, go back to Ireland.”

“But that’s how they do it,” Rory answered, excited. “They bring in people who don’t know any better, who are desperate. Ignorant bog men from places like Kerry, then the Polish and others . . .”

“I beg your pardon. I’m not ignorant,” she interrupted.

“I didn’t mean that. It’s just the way they operate. No, you’re not ignorant a’tall. Not a’tall.”

They walked by the Point Breeze Inn at Penn and Fifth, noticing the hacks with their horse-drawn carriages. The trains were putting them out of business. They walked by mansions, which Bridey pointed out were owned by Mellon, Heinz, and Carnegie. Rory explained how each had exploited the poor.

As they approached the Shaw house on Thomas, Rory asked, “Can I see you again?”

“Yes, but leave the soapbox behind,” she laughed.

“It’s what I believe, Bridey. It’s the truth.”

She gave him a quick kiss. “I’m usually off Sundays. I’ll look for you at the Inn.”

They held each other’s eyes for a moment, then parted.

 

The following Sunday Rory was waiting for her at the Point Breeze Inn. He looked handsome in his white shirt and tweed coat, which was a little worn but somehow comely on his well-formed body.

“A fine afternoon, Bridey. Where wouldja like to go?”

She carried a small picnic basket. “There’s a fine wee meadow above Penn, on the Wilkins estate. I brought a bit of bread and cheese and some cake. We can make a nice little picnic there.”

“All from the table of the great Mr. Shaw, no less."

“The very one.”

They walked down Penn and made a right onto Homewood Avenue, which was no more than a dirt road with ditches alongside it. They passed Edgerton, another dirt road, and came upon Bridey’s meadow, a clearing within stately oak and maple trees on rolling hills.

“The girls and I found this place, we did. It’s owned by Mr. William Coleman, but no one ever bothers us. They call it the Wilkins estate. Judge Wilkins owned it before Mr. Coleman. When he died, Mr. Coleman bought it.”

“And who is this great Mr. Coleman, who lets a Kerry girl grace his property?”

“He’s a coal and oil man, a partner of Carnegie. He has the grandest estate around here. It’s lovely land—like Kerry.”

Rory looked around and took it all in.

“So Mr. Coleman owns all this land?”

“As far as you can see. Take a deep breath, Shtrip boy, but slowly—the fresh air might shock you.”

“What if he and Carnegie and all the other rich men bought everything and told us poor folks to get off the earth?”

“Why then they’d have no workers to exploit, no way to keep the money rolling in.”

Rory laughed. He had no answer for that. He liked the way Bridey could defuse his ranting with her wit.

After eating, they laid on a small blanket. Rory put his arms around her and embraced her tightly. Bridey looked into his bright blue eyes, and they kissed. She hungered for his full lips and chiseled face. She felt his hair falling over her cheeks, his tongue, his strong body. Her face felt hot. She tingled through her stomach, her loins, her legs. She wanted this moment to never end. Rory was hers. They laid there for a long time, the sun moving in and out of the clouds as they clutched each other.

When it was time to return home, Rory walked Bridey across Penn and over to Lang, turning down toward Thomas.

“George Westinghouse lives there,” she pointed out. “The one who owns the air brake factory in the Shtrip. He’s an inventor. His girls tell me he’s a brilliant man. He has invented many things, not just the air brake.”

“He should invent a way to share his profits with his workers.”

“Oh shtop!" She slapped him playfully on the shoulder. They stopped in front of the Shaw house and kissed politely.

“I wouldn’t want to dirty the parlor of the great Mr. Shaw,” said Rory.

“Rory . . . so bitter always.”

His expression changed—harder—and he spoke slowly.

“My father died in the mill. An accident, they said. Ya know what we got for it? Nothin’. And my mother died from childbirth, and my baby sister from the cholera . . . both too poor to receive any medical care. So don’t tell me I’m too bitter.”

She put her hands on his cheeks. “Oh, my poor boy . . . my poor boy.”

He softened and looked at her lovingly again. They stared into each other’s eyes, not wanting to part. Rory broke the silence.

“See you next Sunday?”

“I work next Sunday. See you in two weeks.”

“Surely.”

 

Bridey and Rory met several more times and walked to the meadow on the Wilkins estate. One hot June Sunday, Rory announced that he had prepared a song for her. He looked into her eyes and sang in a fine baritone.

The pale moon was rising above the green mountain,

The sun was declining beneath the blue sea.

When I strayed with my love to the pure crystal fountain,

That stands in the beautiful Vale of Tralee.

She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,

Yet ‘twas not her beauty alone that won me.

Oh no! ‘Twas the truth in her eye ever beaming,

That made me love Bridey, the Rose of Tralee.

Bridey was touched and pulled him to her. He kissed her all over, her lips, eyes, ears, cheeks. He fondled her thick dark hair, kissing it and spreading it over his face. Writhing against each other, they rolled behind a tree. He took her face in his hands.

“I love you, Bridey,” he gasped, breathing hard. “I want to marry you. We can be . . . happy together.”

Their lips pressed hard, hurting. She grasped his broad shoulders, feeling his upper arm muscles rippling through his shirt. She felt his strong, calloused hands on her hot face and neck, their lips never parting as they pulled closer . . . closer . . . lovers uniting in thrilling passion. She wanted all of him. Her whole body tingled, overwhelming her. She had never felt this good. She knew it was wrong, but she didn’t care. She wanted Rory more than heaven itself.

Walking her home, Rory told her he would ask Uncle Pat for her hand. Bridey’s thoughts raced. What to do about Seamus Cronin? She knew Uncle Pat wanted her to marry him. She must tell him that Rory was her man.

“Oh Rory, I gladly accept. Even if he doesn’t agree, I’m shtill yours. Always.”

“Shtill?”

They laughed and squeezed each other tight.

 

Uncle Pat met Bridey Saturday afternoon at the Lawrenceville station.

“Ah Bridey, ya never looked so beautiful. I have great news. I’ll tell ya at the house, with Kate and Mary.”

She walked in silence. Poor, tired Uncle Pat. She would have to displease him.

Kate and Mary were waiting at the kitchen table, all smiles. Pat cleared his throat.

“I think ya know what’s comin’ lass. Seamus Cronin wants to marry ya, a fine man himself.”

Bridey was silent, motionless. How to say it? She didn’t want to hurt Uncle Pat, but it was her decision, not his.

“Didja hear me, girl?”

“Yes, Uncle, I did,” she said firmly. She looked down, took a deep breath, and looked up. “And I can’t do it. I’m in love with Rory O’Grady, and it’s him I intend to marry.”

Uncle Pat’s head flew back. “What? Who’s Rory O’Grady?” He rubbed his whiskers, pacing. “Ya mean that hell raiser from Smallman Street—from the tenements? He’s just a common laborer, Bridey. He’ll never even make puddler or roller. Ye’d marry him over a man with means and decency of Seamus Cronin?”

She spoke softly. “I would. I’m in love with Rory.”

“In love? Ya don’t know what yer sayin’ lass! That amadan!”

She looked him in the eye, defiant. “I know what I’m sayin’. And I know what I’m doin’. And you can’t stop me. It’s . . . it’s a free country!”

“I won’t have it! So you’ve been sneakin’ around? You get that Rory O’Grady out of your mind!”

“I won’t! I can’t!” she screamed. “And he’s no amadan!”

“Then go! And come back when you’ve come to your senses!”

She stormed out of the house, not saying good-bye, and nearly ran the half mile to the train station. On the ride to Homewood she felt pangs of guilt. Uncle Pat had been so good to her, had taken her in, had helped her get her job. But he didn’t know love. He had no right to keep her from Rory. She put her hands to her face and sobbed.

In the ensuing weeks, Bridey became alarmed—she missed another period. She had never been reliably regular, but it had never been this long. She knew in her heart what it meant. The Shaws would never let her stay and work there with a child. Lots of servant girls she knew had been dismissed for pregnancy. And she knew she would never let her baby be raised by others. She must tell Rory and they must marry quickly. And to hell with Uncle Pat.

 

On June 10th, the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pat McGuire’s employer, cut wages 10% for the second time that year. On Thursday morning, July 19th, the company ordered that all trains run as doubleheaders, two engines and two trains run by one crew, doubling the work for men who had just had their wages severely cut. The workers went on strike, taking over the trains and stopping all movement on the tracks. Over 1500 freight cars stood idle in Pittsburgh. A Pittsburgh militia was sent to the Strip but refused to use force to disperse the strikers, many of whom were their neighbors, friends, and relatives. On Friday, the state sent 1000 militia from Philadelphia. They arrived the next afternoon. The strikers still defied them, refusing to relinquish railroad property. When the militia began dispersing them with bayonets, some strikers threw stones at them. The militia responded with gunfire, quickly killing twenty and wounding scores more.

At that time, most Pittsburgh factories closed Saturday at noon and remained closed on Sunday. As news of the killings spread, thousands of workers from all over the city swarmed to the Strip. They broke into a gun factory and stole 200 rifles. The militia, faced with overwhelming odds, retreated into the Roundhouse at 28th and Liberty. At its peak the mob comprised of 20,000 angry men. They attempted to burn the Roundhouse by running a flaming oil tanker into it. By dawn on Sunday the smoke forced the militia to exit, resulting in a gun battle with twenty more killed, including three militia. Both sides suffered many wounded. The area became a sea of blood with dead and wounded bodies strewn across the road and pavement. The militia was forced across the Allegheny River to Sharpsburg and took refuge in a county workhouse.

The fury of the strikers continued unabated. On Sunday they burned the Union Depot building, railroad offices, freight cars, locomotives, passenger cars, and a hotel. The flames stretched from 33rd Street to the railroad station at 14th Street. Mobs looted the freight cars, offices, buildings, and stores.

  

Bridey and her friends walked to Sunday Mass on July 22nd at Sacred Heart. The trains weren’t running because the railroad workers had gone on strike. She worried about Uncle Pat. She hadn’t spoken to him since their argument over Rory. Now he had lost his income, at least for a while. At Mass Father Ferris asked everyone to pray for the victims of the violence in the railroad strike. Bridey worried. What violence? God save Uncle Pat! She knew he was not a rash man but a peacemaker by nature. Surely he wasn’t involved.

A woman said, “The whole Strip is in flames! Hundreds shot by militia!”

Bridey rushed to her. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! What have you heard?”

“There’s an insurrection. The workers are rioting, burning everything. The soldiers are shooting them down!”

The woman’s companions nodded in agreement. A bunch of old biddies spreading rumors, Bridey thought. But her heart beat fast with worry. She hurried home. Mrs. Shaw greeted her with concern in her eyes.

“There’s big trouble in the Strip. The workers are setting fires. Militia have been called in and there have been shootings.”

Bridey panicked. “God help and save us! My Uncle Pat is there! I must go!”

“You can’t, my dear. The trains aren’t running. And it’s too dangerous." Mrs. Shaw put her hand on Bridey’s shoulder. “You must stay here. Stay here and pray. It will end.”

“Shtay? Shtay here with me blood in the midst of a riot? And maybe dead? I won’t shtay. I’ll run there if I have to.”

She noticed Mr. Shaw sitting in his chair in the living room. She knew how he felt about strikes, unions, and the like. He would be angry. He didn’t make eye contact with her.

She changed into her work clothes and bolted out the door.

“Bridey! Stop!” yelled Mr. Shaw.

She stopped and turned. “I’m sorry, Mr. Shaw. I must go . . .” she stammered, her voice breaking. She ran on. She had never disobeyed him before.

Bridey knew she couldn’t run all the way to the Strip. She had brought money with her to pay a hack. She might find one at Point Breeze Inn. She ran across Thomas and up Dallas and saw a man sitting idle with his horse and buggy.

“I must go to the Shtrip,” she told him, panting.

“Lady, you can’t go there. It’s a war zone. And I’m not going near there.”

“I live there!” she screamed at him. “Just take me close, down Penn to the Arsenal.” She showed him her money.

“OK, Arsenal’s as far as I go. You’re on your own from there. But if you ask me, I’d say stay here until it settles down.”

“I’m not asking you!”

She climbed in and they took off. The smell of horse manure reminded her of Kerry. Her heart was beating so fast she thought it would give out, pumping through her neck and temples. She could see smoke from the Strip as they neared the Arsenal at 40th Street. She would walk the rest of the way.

“God Bless you!” she told the hack.

“Lady, you’re gonna need it more than me.”

She ran seven blocks down Penn Avenue to 33rd Street and saw the burnt-out Union Depot building. She stopped to catch her breath. She could hear commotion. Crying? Moaning? God save Uncle Pat! She walked quickly to 28th, too tired to run now. She could not believe what she saw. Burnt-out railroad cars and buildings . . . the smoke thick and black, even for the Strip. To her left she could see men lying in the streets, with women bending over them. She saw a priest in black cassock, hearing confessions and giving last rites. She hurried to Mulberry, to home, hoping to find Uncle Pat there alive.

People milled around on Mulberry Street, looking dazed and hot. She burst through the door, to see Uncle Pat on a makeshift table, a bloodstained cloth wrapped around his head. Mary hugged her and started to cry.

“Oh Bridey, it was terrible . . . so many dead.”

Bridey went to her uncle, whose eyes were closed. She noticed caked blood on the ears and in his shaggy beard.

“He’ll live . . .” Auntie Kate said. “But he took a helluva beatin’ from them bastards . . . killin’ people for tryin’ to make a decent living.”

Bridey touched his face. His eyes opened.

“Ah, Bridey, you’ve come home.”

“Oh, Uncle, I’m sorry for everything I’ve said. You’ve been so good to me. A better father than my own.”

Pat spoke weakly, “I’m sorry too, lass, for what I said about your Rory. He was a brave lad . . .” Pat’s voice tailed off.

“What do you mean?” Bridey’s heart thudded.

Kate put her hand on Bridey’s shoulder. “Oh dear, you didn’t know. Rory was killed by the soldiers—shot while trying to save a wounded man. He’s a hero.”

“NO! NO! HE’S NOT A HERO!” she screamed. “HE’S MY RORY! He’s to be my husband.”

“Oh, Dearie,” said Kate. “He’s gone . . . gone to the Lord.”

Bridey broke into a savage, otherworldly scream, the keening she had heard at funerals in Kerry. The room fell silent, the others watching as Bridey knelt and keened, tears running down their cheeks. Shaking, she rose and headed for the dying men on 28th Street. Arriving there and hearing the moans, she was numb. She couldn’t cry anymore.

“RORY!” she yelled to the women. “Have ye seen Rory O’Grady?”

One woman approached her. “He’s among the dead,” she said bluntly. “Are you Bridey?”

She clutched at the woman’s arm. “I am Bridey . . . I am.”

“He said your name as he died. And he sang a song, how curious . . . The Rose of Tralee. A fine voice he had.”

She grabbed the woman’s arm. “I must see him.”

“Don’t . . . he’s gone,” said the woman.

Bridey glared and the woman led her to a makeshift morgue, a tattered tent. The young men were lying in rows, blood running all over the ground. She recognized Rory’s corpse by his hat, curiously stuck on his head by matted blood. His eyes were closed, and he seemed to be smiling.

“May God have mercy on yer soul,” she whispered, kneeling. She sobbed quietly. The woman put her hand on Bridey’s shoulder, weeping with her.

Bridey would stay the night at Pat and Kate’s. She hated to put the boys out—they would have to sleep on the floor. She knew her days at the Shaw house were numbered. She would miss its spacious rooms, fine furnishings, and cleanliness. But what to do? A baby was growing inside her—Rory’s baby. She had known girls fired for becoming pregnant. If unmarried, they could put the child in an orphanage or keep it. Either way, it was a difficult struggle, a social stigma, and some even rejected by their own families.

That night Kate commanded, “Johnny! Go down to the saloon for whiskey for your father. Perhaps Seamus can spare a bit for a friend.”

Seamus! Bridey hadn’t seen him in months. “I’ll go,” she said. “I can pay for it.”

Johnny piped up, “A woman can’t go into a saloon.”

“I’m paying for the whiskey and I’ll fetch it,” Bridey told him.

Johnny looked at her like she was crazy, but backed off. He was old enough to know better than to argue with a determined Irish woman, especially his cousin Bridey. She looked around the little house. Not even a mirror in this godforsaken hut.

 

Bridey walked into the smoky saloon, crowded with dirty, sweating men. Bluish-whitish cigar smoke burned her eyes and nose. She heard shouts. Everyone was angry. Heads turned as they noticed her. A few men whistled. “NO LADIES!” yelled one. “A fine lass—maybe she’ll dance for us,” said another.

“SHUT UP!” boomed the voice of Seamus Cronin, who took Bridey by the arm into the back room.

“I need whiskey for Uncle Pat,” she told him. “I can pay.”

Seamus was pensive, slow to respond.

“I won’t take your money,” he said. “Let me pour you a bit of the stuff.”

Their eyes met. Despite her rejection of him, to Seamus she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, the Rose of Kerry, as her uncle called her.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “Rory was a brave lad. I saw many like him in the war, most of them dead on the battlefield.” He gave her the whiskey and hesitated. Looking into her eyes, he spoke. “Bridey, after a decent period of mourning, I’d like to pick up where we left off.”

Seamus! My salvation! But she couldn’t deceive this good man, no matter the consequences.

“You don’t want me, Seamus.” She looked down. “I have sinned. I have sinned with Rory and am paying the price.” A tear ran down her cheek.

Seamus put his big arms around her and pulled her head to his chest. She felt comforted. He held her for a long time and then spoke. “I’ll raise the child as my own. You’ll be safe here with me.”

Bridey began to cry softly and hugged him back tightly. Rory was her true love, but he was gone. She would always have him in the little child that grew in her womb, but she would make a life with Seamus. He was a good man. Everyone said so.

 

Born in Lawrenceville and raised in Point Breeze, PAUL KENNEDY graduated from Central Catholic High School, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon University. As a freelance writer, he has written more than 60 articles for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and has been featured in Boxing Illustrated and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His poems and short stories have been published in Laurel Highlands Scene, Raystown Review, Miraculous Medal, and Loyalhanna Review as was a memoir in Pittsburgh Quarterly. In addition, he self-published A Pittsburgh Gamble and a biography of a Pittsburgh boxer titled Billy Conn: The Pittsburgh Kid. Paul lives in Aspinwall with his wife Patty and is a docent at the Fort Pitt Block House.

Heather McAdams