Three Hills

The Priest and the Fireman

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Rockaway Blue was written for the many Black 47 fans who perished on 9/11. The Priest and the Fireman spring instantly to mind—Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, and Richard T. Muldowney Jr., NYFD, Ladder 7. I’m not even sure that Mychal liked our music, but he adored being part of the buzz, and there was buzz aplenty around Black 47 in the years leading up to the attack. Richie, on the other hand, was a hard-core fan who loved to pop up unexpectedly at pubs and clubs all over America.

I often wonder how these two very different personalities would have fared in the post 9/11 world? Mychal, no doubt, would have continued his ministry devoted to easing the pain of others, while I heard Richie had begun a new relationship shortly before his death. Truth be told, though, many survivors were in a daze in the months that followed.

Truth be told, though, many survivors were in a daze in the months that followed.

Black 47 immediately resumed its Saturday night, mid-town residency at Connolly’s. The streets were empty—I remember walking diagonally across a deserted Times Square. Yet our concerts were packed with first responders and fans who craved music and physical contact. The intensity was riveting, especially when the door opened and someone entered.

“Oh, my God, he (or she) is alive!” Despite the throbbing beat and overdriven amplifiers, you could hear that psychic line reverberating; for we didn’t always know names, but we recognized faces, and it was all-important that another friend or comrade was alive.

I wanted to capture that feeling in Rockaway Blue—that sense of loss and love, hope and redemption. For the longest time, I didn’t even know how to begin the novel, but when in doubt trust the ancient Greeks and their rule of thumb—“from character comes story.”

I knew there had to be a Jimmy Murphy driving the action: someone in command who distrusted authority, a Vietnam vet with his own secret, determined to unearth the truth about his dead son, Brian. But would that truth destroy his wife Maggie who was finally beginning to recover from her loss?

But would that truth destroy his wife Maggie who was finally beginning to recover from her loss?

And as Jimmy’s truth became more complicated, I faced a dilemma of my own—would a reader be able to see, hear, and touch the mysterious and absent Brian, because to my eyes, Brian personified the thousands of victims of 9/11. He was one of those who did not come in the door of Connolly’s on those incredibly intense Saturday nights.

He was now a creature of pre-9/11 days, I call them Clinton’s children, those who looked out on the vibrant New York of the ’90s and saw only promise and opportunity. They never lost their innocence. They never confronted the lies and deceit that led to the invasion of Iraq; Donald Trump was just another buffoon they scoffed at on Page 6 of the Post. “President Trump? You gotta be kidding me!”

How to contrast that feeling of optimistic abandon with what we’ve become, and still experience redemption? So I set the story on the Rockaway Peninsula where the Atlantic washes away the detritus of disillusionment twice a day, and where the ocean is your backyard, be you prince or pauper.

How to contrast that feeling of optimistic abandon with what we’ve become, and still experience redemption?

And now, the book is a reality and there are many people to thank, in particular Dean Smith and Michael McGandy who demanded that I dig deeper. They recognized that this story of regular New Yorkers rising to an unbelievable occasion needed telling. And to think it all began with the Priest and the Fireman. Sleep tight Mychal and Richie, we’ll never forget you.

*Featured photo: 9/11 Memorial in New York City. Credit: Magnus Olsson.


Larry Kirwan was the leader of the New York-based Irish political rock band Black 47 for twenty-five years. He is the author of five previous books, including Liverpool FantasyRockin’ the Bronx, and Green Suede Shoes, and sixteen plays and musicals, including Hard Times and Rebel in the Soul. Kirwan also hosts Celtic Crush, a popular radio show on SiriusXM.

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