Wicklow, Rathnew and Garston in Liverpool have a long lasting connection, not one recognised by councils and authorities but one long know about among residents and families. The One Road is a collection of short stories you can download free here. https://jackbyrne.home.blog/
The stories set the scene for ‘Under The Bridge’ a novel that will be published in January 2021 the excerpt below sets out a friendship in the main story Liam had known Jack for over fifty years.
Brought up in Wicklow, they had lived in Strand Street on The Murragh, a thin strip of land with the River Varty on one side and the Irish Sea on the other. Post-war England needed men for construction, and so they set out on their journey together. They talked their way onto a ship from Arklow, loaded with timber. Their task was to help at the Garston end, mainly cleaning, sweeping out the deck and hold, after the dockers had unloaded.
Liam went on to London, lured by a cousin with promises of work in building trade, but he was soon back ‘under the bridge’ with money in his pocket and looking to settle. Jack decided to stay local to Garston docks until his travels with the ‘Merch’ opened the world for him. Jack found his first jobs in the pubs on King Street. If you were young and fit enough, an uncle,brother or cousin would make the introductions and in the next few days he walked down King Street with kitbag slung over his shoulder—a walk of 500 yards that ended in the brothels and bars of Lagos, Cape Town, and Sierra Leone.
Except for the war years, the Merchant Navy was a good life. Contrasting weeks or months of boredom and hard work in engine rooms or sea whipped decks with the rush of weekends in far-flung ports. Prostitutes and tricksters of every kind queued to divest the unwary sailor of his months of hard-earned and jealously guarded wages.The war years were different. Tens of thousands of seamen were killed. There were no fanfares, parades, or welcome home for these men, many of whom never survived the North Atlantic convoys or the freezing Baltic. Irishmen, whose lives were used in the service of Britain’s war aims, were spat at and called cowards for not wearing a uniform when walking the streets of home ports. Chinese seamen, abused and ridiculed as ‘Chinks’ but recruited in thousands during the war, were rounded up and deported from Liverpool in early morning raids after the war was won. Families and children were robbed of fathers who had risked their lives on British ships.
Liam heard that Jack was ill and knew he had been living somewhere in Wales. In the end, Jack couldn’t walk without gasping for breath. The fabric of his lungs had been eaten away by Mesothelioma, lung cancer caused by breathing in asbestos fibres. If he had the foresight to photograph all the engine and boiler-room pipes lagged in asbestos that he worked on over the years, then maybe at the end of his life, he would have been able to claim compensation, but without ‘evidence’ what could anyone do except watch a vigorous and energetic man turn slowly into a thin and fragile old man, an old sailor who could see his ship sailing out of port on its final voyage.
“Okay, we’re off!” Vinny put the van in gear, and to the cheers and claps of the remaining well-wishers outside the pub, they were on their way.
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