Irish Struggles: The Great Hunger

Series historical adviser, Daniel Czitrom, offers a closer look at the Irish potato famine that brought ‘Copper’ characters Maguire and O’Brien to Five Points.

Detective O'Brien visits Maguire.

Detective O’Brien pays Maguire a visit in the Tombs.

In the second season premiere of Copper, Detective Andrew Maguire pays a visit to his old friend ex-Detective Francis Maguire, now held on murder charges in the city prison known as “the Tombs.” There they talk about the struggles of their Irish childhood, and how Maguire’s family barely managed to escape “the Great Hunger” on a “famine ship.” Their lives, like hundreds of thousands of others, were forever re-made by the stark reality of the Irish potato famine.

In 1845 a mysterious blight began spreading through the potato fields of Ireland, causing widespread failure of the most important staple crop in the Irish diet. Widespread starvation and malnutrition related diseases followed in the blight’s wake. Over the next ten years as many as 2 million Irish, out of a total population of 8 million, died from “the Great Hunger.” Desperate for relief, some 1.8 million Irish emigrants left their homeland, with a large fraction of these landing in the United States and Canada. Those who managed to emigrate often received a shove from their landlords who found it cheaper to pay the ship passage for their tenants than to support work houses and poor relief at home.

Woman, on shore of Ireland, holding up a sign for help to American ships; her foot rests on rock inscribed "we are starving". Family huddled behind her. (via

Woman, on shore of Ireland, holding up a sign for help to American ships; her foot rests on rock inscribed “we are starving.”
‘The Herald of relief from America,’ Thomas Nast

New York had long been a magnet for European immigrants, but the unprecedented poverty and wretchedness of these newcomers drew widespread comment. Describing a group whose way had been paid by Lord Landsdowne , County Kerry, in March 1851, the NY Herald editorialized: “It is really lamentable to see the vast number of unfortunate creatures that are almost daily cast on our shores, penniless and without physical energy to earn a day’s living. Yesterday groups of these hapless creatures were to be seen congregated about the City Hall Park and in Broadway, looking the very picture of despair, misery, disease, and want.” New York City became home for hundreds of thousands of these immigrants, and by 1860 the city’s 800,000 people included over 200,000 born in Ireland. The vast majority were Roman Catholic, poor, and perhaps a third spoke Gaelic but no English.

The Irish made the Five Points neighborhood their hub, transforming the Sixth Ward; by 1860  the Irish constituted about two thirds of the Sixth Ward. The Points had a reputation as a center for crime, prostitution, drinking, and vice of all sorts. But most Irish immigrants were industrious. They toiled mostly as menial laborers: ditch diggers, porters, cart drivers, washerwomen, seamstresses, and peddlers. Recent historical research reveals that a surprising number of theme were able to start accounts at the Emigrant Savings Bank, accumulating nest eggs for their families,  and sending money to loved ones in Ireland.

Unearthed Civil War Letters: My Darling Caoilinn

Read a letter from General Brendan Donovan to his wife, written during his tour as a brigadier general in the Union Army.



Friday Eve

My Darling Caoilinn,

I write to you from my tent, unable to sleep as the wind howls through camp, canvas flapping and echoing, and so, here I sit, scribbling into my portfolio.

I trust life in New York continues at it’s usual pace. I miss you and the family terribly. Did you stop by so and so’s place this week?  After losing Rebecca, I worry for her. Company should help.

Daughter’s birthday is coming soon. It pains me to be away, and so I hope she understands. With any luck, Anna’s constant pestering of her suddenly older sister should aid. Their Da misses them very much.

We are moving within the week. Write soon. Reading your words provides a balm for my loneliness.

Your loving husband.


Don’t miss Brendan Donovan’s official introduction to Five Points in the season premiere of ‘Copper,’ airing this Sunday, June 23 at 10/9c, only on BBC America.

Unearthed Civil War Letters: Brendan Donovan

Curious about Irish immigrant and Boss Tweed’s trusted lieutenant,  General Brendan Donovan? Read Donovan’s correspondence with a friend, written during his tour as a brigadier general in the Union Army.



This month has proved to be a particularly savage time for our forces.  More of our men have been struck down in the past three days than during the entire span of the Mexican campaign.  The sheer depth of the brutality is something to behold — beyond anything we witnessed as young men — and forcing one to question what sort of injury these young minds endure as they bear witness to such horror.

I tell you, my friend, the fields down here are sewn with bodies — bloated and bursting — left to lie fallow until the cart of some poor soul finally arrives to carry them away.  If they arrive at all.  It is a different world. What we once found exhilarating in our boyhood now appears senseless on such a scale as this.

Consider yourself fortunate to be home, retired from this life, away from the turmoil of war.

Until the eve when you and I may toast each other once more, I remain your brother-in-arms,

Watch Brendan Donovan’s official introduction to Five Points in the season premiere of ‘Copper,’ airing this Sunday, June 23 at 10/9c, only on BBC America.

‘Copper’ Season Two Premiere Script Sneak Peek


Copper‘s second season is set in post-Civil War New York City, in the beginning of February, 1865. Take a look at a page from the Season Two premiere script, “Home Sweet Home,” for notable historical events centered around the time Copper swings back into action.

Copper - Episode 201 - WHITE - 01-04-13-1_Page_04

February 1st
The New York Times publishes an advertisement for Colgate’s Honey Soap: “This celebrated Toilet Soap, in such universal demand, is made from the choicest materials, is mild and emollient in its nature, fragrantly scented, and extremely beneficial in its action upon the skin.”

February 1st
J.S. Rock is admitted to the bar. He becomes the first Black lawyer to practice in the Supreme Court.

February 3rd
James Devlin (also known as Patrick Dimond and Patrick Sully), a three-time deserter of the Union Army, is put before a firing squad at Governor’s Island. Devlin was turned in by his estranged wife after he abandoned her to live with another woman. Missus Devlin watches her unfaithful husband’s execution, shaking with paroxysms of guilt, regret and grief.

February 4th
At noon, one hundred guns are fired in Manhattan’s City Hall Park in honor of the January 31st ratification by the New York State Legislature of the amendment to the United States Constitution abolishing slavery. Many passersby assume that peace had been proclaimed between the Union and the Confederacy, and that the salute is in honor of that event. For some time there is considerable joy and excitement – until the true reason is learned.

Copper premieres Sunday, June 23rd at 10/9c on BBC America.

Improv Everywhere: ‘Copper’ 1860s Bar Prank

Improv Everywhere: For our latest mission, we surprised random people by turning back the clock 150 years at a local bar, completely transforming it into 1860s New York. We worked with accomplices to invite unsuspecting friends to the Black Rabbit Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The bar was completely lit by candles and kerosene lanterns and was filled with actors in period dress. Beer cost pennies, and music was provided by a live band. By the end of the night, our surprised guests found themselves in the middle of an old-fashioned bar fight.

Created and Directed by: Charlie Todd
Production: Generate
Shot by: TV Boy
Edited by: Deverge
Music: Tyler Walker
Photography: Katie Sokoler – (photo credit for all photos on this page.)
Principal Cast: (in order of appearance) Ryan Karels; Erik Dies; Kent Lanier; Alan Starzinski; Josh Sharp; Cody Lindquist; Amber Nelson; Tyler Walker; Joe Exley, Stefan Zeniuk, Brian Belcinski, Jonathan Erdman, Matt Adams; Kevin Hines

For more Improv Everywhere, visit

Buzzfeed: Facial Hairstyles We Wish Would Make a Comeback

From our partners at Buzzfeed: These days, everyone’s all about the scruff. Boooooring! Take a page out of the history books and inspire your modern day look—just like these guys. Then, see the origins of some of the most famous facial hair in season two of Copper, premiering on Sunday, June 23rd at 10/9c only on BBC America.

1. Handlebar Moustache

Handlebar Moustache

There’s no arguing against the handlebar moustache being the most dignified of ‘staches. So why is it no longer en vogue? Simple: Millennials are too damn lazy. Who has time to be waxing your facial hair when you could be Vining your breakfast cereal? Listen: Take the time. In the above picture, we see a very good-looking dog. Clearly this man knew there was only one way he could look more put-together than that dog: by maintaining a handsome handlebar moustache. (Source: berzinsky  /  via:

2. Chin Curtain

Chin Curtain

Conceptually, the chin curtain sounds a bit upsetting. It’s a style based on highlighting one’s chin and jawline—ONLY one’s chin and jawline. But let’s think about it. Who’s the guy that popularized the chin curtain… oh. Abraham Lincoln—heard of him? Well, he did a ton of great stuff back in the 1860s, and though he might not have been strictly a “ladies man,” he did pretty well for himself. (Source: jpellegrini1983  /  via:

3. Fu Manchu

Fu Manchu

The fu manchu has a storied history. Kind of. There are some documented instances of it throughout history, starting with Joshua Chamberlain back in the mid-1850s, but it wasn’t till the literal Fu Manchu serialization came out in Britain in 1923 that there was finally a name for such an aggressive dedication to one’s moustache. Though it started in Britain, with this guy’s dye job, it’s a wonder this style hasn’t taken off in the US (yet). (Source: rossvp61  /  via:

Writer’s Room: Kevin & Kevin


Writer Kevin Deiboldt interviews actor Kevin Ryan (Maguire) behind the scenes of ‘Copper.’

Kevin Deiboldt: Alright. Here we go. So, this is “Kevin on Kevin.”

Kevin Ryan: (singing soulfully) Yeah, yeah, yeahhhhhh…

First question: Without spoiling anything, what has been your favorite moment about season two?

KR: I think it’s the journey that Maguire goes on through the first few episodes and then [SPOILERY STUFF]. And then from there, it’s the dynamic between [MORE SPOILERY STUFF], we may [STILL MORE SPOILERY STUFF], we may not, who knows?

That was still a little spoilery.

KR: Ah, well.

Number two: Would you say Maguire is a bad man who thinks he’s good  or a good man who can’t help but doing bad things?

KR: Well, for me I’d never judge my character. I always approach my character as if he were doing the right thing. You have to. Even if you’re playing Hitler, he’s not going to say “I’m a bad guy.”

From his perspective.

KR: Right, exactly. So approaching it from Maguire’s perspective  he’s a good guy. Yeah, he’s made some mistakes along the way, sure. But, ultimately, I think he believes he’s good.

Question three: Do you miss the long hair, and were you afraid (like Samson) you’d lose some of your powers if it was cut off?

KR: (laughing) Yeah, I was very afraid I would lose my powers! I’ve wanted to cut it for a while, though. Initially I think we looked into going with a shaved head in the jail  I was reading into lice and all sorts of things  and then we realized there would be no way of shaving it because he wouldn’t be allowed blades or anything. It was interesting to have it at the start and then transition to a whole different look. But, I think it was part of the transition Maguire went through  when people go through any traumatic experience in their life, they usually change not just internally, but they’re also trying to deal with the exterior as well.


Now, this one’s difficult: Is Maguire more like a lion or more like a tiger?

KR: I think he’s a super tiger, mixed with the paws of a lion.

That’s actually wrong. He’s just a lion. But, that’s okay…

KR: Where did you come up with that question?

I can’t tell you. But I was curious if you’d know the correct answer, deep down. This tells me that you still might need to do some more work on your character.

KR: [At this point, Mr. Ryan proceeded to reference a television show called “BraveStarr” – suggesting that Maguire possesses the attributes of many spirit animals. Mr. Deiboldt, not familiar with this show, thought Mr. Ryan was making it all up. But, according to Wikipedia, he wasn’t:]

Last question. If Maguire wanted to kill me, how would he do it?

KR: He would look at you, and he would process it.

He’d analyze the situation.

KR: I think he likes to personalize things.

He’s showy.

KR: So, I think he might kill you with a pen.

He’d want it to be poetic.

KR: Yeah.

But… what if I don’t write with a pen?

KR: Well, then he’d have to whack you with your MacBook.

Mac me to death?

KR: Death by an apple  THAT’s what he’d do. He’d kill you with an apple.

I’d say that’s fairly appropriate.

KR: Thank you.

I would also like to state for the record that I now have this all on tape, so if I ever am killed with a pen, an apple or some sort of computer  they’re coming after you. You’ll never get away with it, you bastard.

KR: That’s what they said about Maguire.

Buzzfeed: Ways You Can Relive the 1800s In New York

From our partners at Buzzfeed: Though the city has been around for a couple hundred years now, it’s still tough to experience the time period where it came into prominence. Here’s some places where you can come close—and if you want to see exactly what New York was about in the 19th century, tune into the season two premiere of Copper on Sunday, June 23rd at 10/9c only on BBC America.

1. Katz’s Delicatessen

Katz's Delicatessen

Located in the Lower East Side, Katz’s has changed little since it was first opened by Russian immmigrants in 1888. Although the deli has seen some notable changes (like moving across the street when the subway was being constructed), the famous pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs have stayed true to their original recipes (though you’ll probably be in line a lot longer than back in the 19th century!). Still, the queue at 205 E Houston St. is definitely worth it. (Source:  /  via:

2. Gin Palace

Gin Palace

In the 1800s, “gin palace” was a broad term for any particularly lavish bar that also specialized in gin. Though this genre of bar has inexplicably never been as popular since, recently New York got its very own—aptly named “Gin Palace.” Not only do they offer almost every type of gin imaginable, the decor mimics the Victorian style AND they have G&Ts on tap. Like, have you ever even heard of such a thing?! Order up a round of G&Ts at 95 Avenue A promptly, please. (Source:  /  via:

3. McSorley’s Old Ale House

McSorley's Old Ale House

At McSorley’s, you can sit down and grab a drink at the same place former presidents Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt once did. Opened in 1854, every wall is adorned with relics of New York’s past. The bar is so tied to its past, in fact, that it still only offers two beers on tap—McSorley’s Light and McSorley’s Dark. So pick a side—light or dark—and grab a draft at 15 E. 7th St.  (Via:

Buzzfeed: 19th Century Slang That Should Totally Be The New “Swag”

From our partners at Buzzfeed: Kids these days with their FaceSpace and Instantgram and their always-waking-up-feeling-like-P-what’s-his-name. It’s time for the new to make way for the old. Here’s ten examples of slang from our forefathers that’s got even more swagger than swag. Take a step back in time to NYC 1865, with an all-new season of Copper premiering Sunday, June 23rd at 10/9c only on BBC America.


A mouth. Sure, “claptrap” and “pie hole” are pretty good, but “bone box” has that great alliteration and really makes a statement when you say it. Just try it! Then shut your bone box.


Wife. “Rib.” Simple. Elegant. Maybe even a little bit meaningful! Because it’s like your wife is a part of you! And that’s how it should be. Really romantic and everything.


Drunk. There’s no shortage of euphemisms for drinking, but none of them are quite as dignified as calling yourself disguised. Plus, it makes you sound like you’re an investigator on a secret mission! (You’ll like that when you’re feeling disguised.)


A large, clumsy guy. Few words sound exactly like what they’re describing, but could anything more accurately describe someone who’s tall and clumsy? Gollumpus. It’s completely perfect.


Pants. This one’s just too cute to pass up—and the whole “pants” thing has really gotten stagnant.


Have a drink. Not only have you probably not seen these words before (except “your,” hopefully), but imagine going out to sluice your gob instead of the decidedly plebeian-sounding “happy hour”? Sold.


Gothamist: It’s Time to Stop Thinking of Donal Logue as “That Guy”

From our partners at Gothamist: Finding himself in South Central L.A. in the early ’90s, working as a janitor and seeking sobriety through volunteer work, Donal Logue wasn’t really thinking of acting. He’d been in a couple TV movies before moving to California, sure, but the hopelessness of the Hollywood scene had put him in a bad enough place that a turkey sandwich at the end of the day was a blessing.

It wasn’t until a 1992 part in a star-studded Sneakers that his career took off. From there it’s been a journey from Hollywood’s affable everyman to cultish character actor, with success—and some heartbreaking cancellations—along the way. He’s “That Guy,” and he’ll be appearing in the second season of BBC America’s original series, Copper —but where else have you seen him? Here’s a look at the cult favorite’s defining roles.


“Jimmy the Cab Driver” was a long-running MTV promo, a staple of the network’s golden years. Spend a few minutes re-watching; children of the ’90s will definitely feel a pang of misty-eyed nostalgia. The series showcases Logue’s early comedic grasp—the bits were largely improvised—and the best is definitely his take on that Alanis classic-which-must-not-be-named. “It’s like rai-ain… on a rainy day.”

1998: BLADE

Logue’s turn as a villainous minion makes this one of his first “oh right, him!” roles and paves the way for his somewhat offbeat characters in the future. A friend bizarrely offered to braid Logue’s red mane before the audition, which put him in favor with an unorthodox casting director. “So that’s about how hard it was to get Blade,” the actor says, and the look is now iconic.


Here’s the actor’s breakout everyman role, this time as a lifetime underachiever with a brilliant method for wooing women. The film is beloved for its dialogue and Logue’s acting impressed Roger Ebert himself: “[It’s] an easygoing but bright comedy that focuses on Logue’s effortless charm… It creates the feeling of settling in comfortably with old friends.” For his effort that year, Logue earned the outstanding performance award at Sundance.

FULL ARTICLE:  “It’s Time to Stop Thinking of Donal Logue as ‘That Guy'” via Gothamist >