NEW YORK — Larry Kirwan traces the roots of his novel “Rockaway Blue” to the Saturday night after Sept. 11, 2001, when the band he led, Black 47, played Connolly’s Pub in Manhattan. The crowd would look to the door each time it opened, and cheer at the sight of a familiar face.
Black 47 attracted a heavily working class Irish American audience, a reflection of what they saw onstage, including many of the cops and firefighters whose ranks suffered after responding to the World Trade Center attack.
The characters that populate “Rockaway Blue” are drawn from that audience, from the Rockaway Beach section of Queens, N.Y. That’s “Black 47 country,” filled with people Kirwan says he knows well.
“There’s a lot of pain that’s still out there,” said Kirwan, 66, a prolific writer of novels, plays and songs. “I lost two good friends, but I didn’t lose a family member, and that’s really intense. I really wanted to give it back to the people, to tell their story, because no one else is going to do it.”
In the book, Jimmy Murphy is a retired New York City detective whose golden boy son, Brian, also a cop, died after rushing in to the North Tower. The father embarks on a search for the secret Brian died with.
Through it all you learn the varied and complex ways Brian’s death affected the wife he left behind, his firefighter brother, his mother and, most poignantly, the father he had climbed past on the career ladder.
Kirwan dedicates “Rockaway Blue” to two friends of Black 47 who died on Sept. 11. Father Mychal Judge was well-known as the chaplain of the New York City Fire Department. Kirwan frequently saw him from the stage at Black 47 gigs in New York, dressed in Catholic priest’s attire with an elbow on the bar.
Richard T. Muldowney Jr., a firefighter for Engine 16, Ladder 7, was less well-known but no less important to the band. He often attended Black 47 gigs out of town, where he’d whip up the audience’s enthusiasm for a band they might have been unfamiliar with.