Meet Joe Doyle. A character in my upcoming book who’s story is based on my Grandfather, Joe McNally. A proud Irishman and American.
Doyle stood and walked over to a window that looked out on the Hudson River. He leaned against the frame and crossed his arms.
“Soldier to soldier. I have spent my entire life fighting against tyranny.” He suddenly slipped into a heavy Irish Brogue. “I was just a lad in Donegal when I saw my first act of terror. It was the local mail man. Rode around on a bicycle. If you can believe it, a bicycle was a big deal in our remote region. We were far out of any town, by the coast. The Brits thought that he was passing messages to the Republicans, the freedom fighters. They took him and strung him up from a tree not a hundred yards from my home. He hung there for days. No man was brave enough to cut him down for fear that they may be suspected of cooperating. I could see him from our window. One night I snuck out, climbed that tree and cut him down. I dragged him to a field and gave him a decent burial. The troops came back. No doubt there was an informant in our very town. They lined up the men and boys and asked who did the deed. I stepped forward and told them. A soldier hit me with the butt of his rifle straight on the forehead. I woke up a day later with a goose egg on my head and hatred in my heart. That’s when I became a soldier. I worked for the republican cause. I worked for the right to own land, to vote, to work in the factories that paid a living wage. Five years I fought. I avenged the life taken in my small town many times over. I was one of the young leaders of the cause when my name, my true name not the one I use now, was leaked to the British. They waited outside my house. I was in Belfast by then. When my girlfriend left they chased her down. She got away god bless her, but they took me that night. No charges, no arrest. I was sent to Derry Goal. Goal means prison in America. They wanted me to inform on my comrades. To tell them the who the leaders were. The bloody dolts did realize that I was the number two man in the cause by then. The number one man I never gave up to this day. Oh they worked my over though. They wanted names that I wasn’t giving. I got the whip daily. There were beatings and other forms of torture I’d rather not talk about. They gave me all they had, and I gave them nothing.”
He walked back to the table and poured himself a drink and took a long sip. Merritt sat riveted. Doyle sat down and put his elbows on the desk and leaned in.
“After a year they sent me to the prison ship Argenta. That’s when the real interrogations began.”
“A ship?” Merritt asked.
“Yes. They were picking up so many men that the prison was overflowing. They used the ship for hard cases like me. By then the man in the street had learned of my capture and the way it was done. The Republicans were starting to organize and recruit on the news. I was becoming a folk hero. When the news got back to me I went on a hunger strike until some of my fellow inmates were let go. You see, the Brits knew that if I had died on that ship they would have upheaval in the streets. Fifteen days I went without a bite. They relented and set a dozen men free. I ate. After that stunt they threw me in the hull of the ship alone for over a year. One year. The only light was from a crack in the wall that streamed across the dark cell. It was the only way to tell night from day. That light kept me sane. This is something I haven’t told anyone because I hardly believe it myself.”
He paused and took another drink. “One day that crack in the cell, that beam of light was a rainbow. To this day I don’t know if I was seeing things but there it was. The next day I was taken out of that cell and taken to a steamship heading to New York Harbor. I didn’t know why or how I was released but I was thankful for it believe me. So you see mister Merritt. I have suffered under the whip of the oppressor, I have been beaten and starved and kept from my family. Imprisoned and tortured for no reason other than the prejudice and immoral lust for power from the ruling party.”
Doyle stopped himself from speaking further. He sat straight up in his seat and took a long deep breath. He stared over Charles’ head at something that seemed to be in the great distance. Something lost and never to be found. They sat. Two soldiers with their demons. Their scars of war.
When Doyle spoke again it was without the brogue. “I’ve officially been in America two years, but I was released over five years ago. I can’t tell you who got me out or what I have been doing during that gap in time, I can say that I took the oath of the Volunteers not long after my feet touched American soil.”
Merritt didn’t know the proper thing to say so he said the first thing that came to mind.
“What about your girlfriend?’
“Ah yes. I never thought I would see her again. Shortly after my arrival, my employer brought me a bag filled with her letters. The bloody bastards kept them from me. Over a hundred of them. One a week until near the end of my time on the ship. She was here in Brooklyn when one of the Brit agents told her I died in captivity. They were trying to get her to talk, but they knew she didn’t know anything. Mostly they did it to be cruel. I ask you, what kind of man breaks a young lass’ heart just for the sport of it. Heartless bastards.” He banged his fist on the table in a controlled rage.
“You said you never thought, does that mean you reunited?”
Doyle smile broadly. “Ah yes. My May and I married not six months ago.”
“Well that’s nice to hear.”
Doyle got serious again. ‘So you see my friend. You won’t meet a man more determined to put a boot to the neck of these Tammany bastards. Most of them Irishmen themselves using the same methods they fled their mother-land to escape. I will not rest until we have put the lot of them behind bars. Are you with me now man?”
“Yes sir I am.”
Doyle stood and raised his glass. “Et Omnia Recta.”
“Et Omnia Recta.”