It wasn’t planned this way, but we recorded our episode with writer Brian McDonald on Sept. 11, a date that looms large in his new book Five Flights Up, which traces the Irish American story of four generations of the Feehan family in the Fire Department of New York, the FDNY, a story which would tragically culminate with the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
From the days just after the horse-drawn firetruck, to the devastation of the 1970s when the Bronx was burning, to the unspeakable tragedy of 9/11, to the culture-busting department of today, a Feehan has worn the shoulder patch of the FDNY. The tale shines the spotlight on the career of William M. Feehan, the only person to have held every rank in the FDNY including Fire Commissioner, who died in action at “Ground Zero” in the 9/11 attack.
Born in the Bronx and raised in the Irish enclave of Pearl River, NY, Brian shares stories of his Irish roots, his police officer father who was the focus of an earlier book My Father’s Gun, and colorful tales from his years serving drinks to the denizens of Elaine’s, New York’s unlikely literary and celebrity hangout, captured in the pages of his Last Call at Elaine's.
A Fordham University and Columbia School of Journalism graduate, McDonald contributes to such publications as The New York Times, teaches writing and journalism, has authored multiple books, and co-wrote with Malachy McCourt Death Need Not Be Fatal.
Join us as we see the Irish experience in New York, the social history of the city, and the human stories of 9/11 through the eyes of the Feehans of the FDNY.
Brian McDonald Links:
Once upon a time, there was a famous restaurant called Elaine’s. For forty years or so, Elaine’s was the beating heart--and crusted liver--of Manhattan’s literary scene. As a bartender there for over a decade, I had a front row seat to watch some of the greatest novelists and non-fiction writers of the 20th Century in their most contemplative moments. I once saw Hunter S. Thompson set himself on fire drinking flaming shots of 151-proof Bacardi rum. We had to smother him with a tablecloth. Perhaps it was that night, or one like it, when I began to believe that maybe I too could become a writer.
Since that impertinent beginning, I've been able to assemble a modest body of work that includes the memoirs Last Call at Elaine's: a Journey From One Side of the Bar to the Other (St. Martin's Press 2008); and My Father's Gun: One Family, Three Badges, One Hundred Years in the NYPD (Dutton 1999). “My Father’s Gun” was made into an award-winning feature-length documentary aired on the History Channel (click arrow above for preview).
More recently, I’ve ghostwritten or acted as a book doctor on a half dozen successfully published memoirs and collaborated with Malachy McCourt on Death Need Not Be Fatal (Hachette, May 2017), a humorous and poignant memoir of facing the Great Hereafter. My new book, Five Floors Up: The Heroic Family Story of Four Generations in the FDNY published by Grand Central is out September 6, 2022.