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A refugee of the Great Famine, Jack Hennessey lands as an infant in Baltimore in 1848. On the death of his mother in 1864, he moves to Washington, DC, finding work at a saloon in Swampoodle, an Irish slum just north of the Capitol. From here, the story picks up in 1936. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jack Hennessey is determined that Hennessey Construction, his life's work, will survive for those he leaves behind, most importantly Paddy Riley, a son in all things excepting blood, and his wife and children. There are flashbacks throughout as Jack Hennessey relives his early years, marked most tragically by the death in 1892 of his wife, Christine, and their only child. On travelling in 1893 to Ireland to spend time with Christine's family, he also travels to the place of his own birth. It is here that he meets and uncle and over the course of a summer comes to a grounding that not only reconciles him to his mother's memory, but also to a clear understanding of who he is and where he belongs - an American in America.