The O'Donnells of Philadelphia, an Irish-American saga 1918-1945by James Francis Smith
In The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell, Rory, Liam’s hard-of-hearing brother, preserves an era that is swiftly fading from memory. It’s a story of the sons and daughters of European immigrants raised in the row houses of Philadelphia. A tale not unlike those told by Irish-Americans living in the tenements of New York, the projects of Boston, and… See more details below
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In The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell, Rory, Liam’s hard-of-hearing brother, preserves an era that is swiftly fading from memory. It’s a story of the sons and daughters of European immigrants raised in the row houses of Philadelphia. A tale not unlike those told by Irish-Americans living in the tenements of New York, the projects of Boston, and in Chicago’s back of the yards neighborhood.
Growing up in tight-knit families ruled by loving and at times domineering mothers, putting up with hard working and sometimes inebriated fathers, enduring the rigors of religious nuns and unyielding priests, these youths survived the prejudices of neighborhoods segregated by nationality to become what today we call the Greatest Generation. Most came home from the war to resume a life in the building trades, police force, the clergy, or be educated under the GI Bill to rise above the status of their parents. Others used the skills learned from their wartime experience to choose unsavory careers.
The fictional Philadelphia O’Donnells represent the vast majority of Irish-American families who lived this hard but normal life. A distinct comparison to their next-door neighbors, the McAllisters with their drunken father, mousey mother, an unwed pregnant daughter, and sons bent on a life of crime.
The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell contains all of that and more—much much more.
Two newspaper correspondents befriend the family and report on world happenings. Not just a skimming from the top, but an in-depth year-by-year chronology from the end of WWI through FDR’s death at the end of WWII.
Rory narrates the trials and tribulations of the O’Donnells … participating in union strikes, surviving the Influenza Epidemic, Prohibition, The Great Depression, and WWII. The reporters, one with the London Times the other with the Philadelphia Bulletin, cover local and world events: Hitler’s trial, the Brits in Africa, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Patton’s triumph—battles and events often given the short shift by history, such as The Battle of the Hurtģen Forest and the warriors who remained behind in the Philippines to carry on the fight following the surrender of Corregidor.
The Life and Times of Liam O’Donnell is a story of comparisons:
American boys playing baseball while Germans marched into Czechoslovakia.
About city politics where for example a Philadelphia mayor cut the tops off police cars so officers couldn’t sleep on the job.
Rory attends LaSalle College while Liam joins the Army Air Force.
Everything of importance is included from the trivial (a Chinese baby raised by Marines while the Japanese bombed Guadalcanal) to the unforgettable (Jews in Warsaw’s ghetto annihilated by Germans while the Russians watched from the sidelines).
The story opens with the receipt of a telegram from the war department informing the O’Donnells that Liam lost his life over the Sea of Japan. Rory has no one to share his sorrow at the loss of Liam a brother he loved more than any of the others. Only Jeannie, the tarnished daughter of the disruptive McAllisters, could pull him from his doldrums, encourage him to share the tales of the Irish scamp. From there, he takes the reader back to and through the 20s, 30s, and early 40s.
A family saga and reference book filled with hilarious tales of mischievous boys growing up in Philadelphia’s river wards, filled with episodes, such as, Liam taking a Protestant’s Minister’s daughter to his Catholic High’s senior prom.
Stories from the “good old days” that readers will continually share with their children and grandchildren when they describe their own childhood experiences.
James Francis Smith
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