The Irish Mob is the oldest organized crime group in the United States, in existence since the early 19th century. Originating in Irish American street gangs of the 19th century—depicted in Herbert Asbury's 1928 book The Gangs of New York—the Irish Mob has appeared in most major U.S. cities, including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago.
The Irish Mob also has a strong presence in Ireland; however, unlike in the United States, the group has only been present in Ireland from the 1960s and onwards. Predominantly active in Dublin and Limerick, the group most often works under crime families focusing on the drug trade.
Irish-American street gangs such as the Dead Rabbits, led by future Congressman John Morrissey, and Whyos dominated New York's underworld for well over a century before facing competition from other, primarily recently arrived Italian and Jewish gangs, during the 1880s and 1890s. Although gang leaders such as Paul Kelly of the Five Points Gang would rise to prominence during the early 1900s, gangs such as the Hudson Dusters and the Gopher Gang would remain formidable rivals during the period.
In the early 1900s, with Italian criminal organizations, such as the Morello crime family, encroaching on the waterfront, various Irish gangs united to form the White Hand Gang. Although initially successful in keeping their Black Hand Italian rivals at bay, unstable leadership and infighting would lead to their eventual apparent downfall. The murders of Dinny Meehan, Bill Lovett, and Richard Lonergan led to the gang's apparent disappearance by 1925, and the waterfront was taken over by Italian mobsters Vincent Mangano, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis. Meanwhile, the Irish reemerged in Coal Country and remained strong.
During the early years of Prohibition, "Big" Bill Dwyer emerged among many in New York's underworld as a leading bootlegger. However, following his arrest and trial for violation of the Volstead Act during 1925 and 1926, Dwyer's former partners were split between Owney "The Killer" Madden, the English-born former leader of the Gopher Gang, and Frank Costello against Jack "Legs" Diamond, "Little" Augie Pisano, Charles "Vannie" Higgins and renegade mobster Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll.
In the Irish/Italian Mob War of the 1970s, the Irish mob saw an increased threat from the Italian Mafia as the Genovese crime family sought control over the soon-to-be-built Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Since the convention center was located in Spillane's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, Spillane refused to allow any involvement by the Italians. Although the Italian gangsters greatly outnumbered the members of the Irish mob, Spillane was successful in keeping control of the convention center and Hell's Kitchen. The Italians, frustrated and embarrassed by their defeat to Spillane, responded by hiring a rogue Irish-American hitman named Joseph "Mad Dog" Sullivan to assassinate Tom Devaney, Eddie "the Butcher" Cummiskey, and Tom "the Greek" Kapatos, three of Spillane's top lieutenants.
Also around this time, a power struggle emerged between Mickey Spillane and James Coonan, a younger upstart from Hell's Kitchen. In 1977 Spillane was murdered in a hail of bullets by assassins from the Genovese crime family. This prompted Coonan to form an alliance with Roy DeMeo of the Gambino crime family. The Genoveses decided that the Westies were too violent and well-led to go to war with and mediated a truce via the Gambinos.
Coonan was imprisoned in 1986 under the RICO act. Featherstone became an informant after his arrest in the early 1980s.
Boston has a well-chronicled history of Irish mob activity, particularly in the heavily Irish-American neighbourhoods like Somerville, Charlestown, South Boston ("Southie"), Dorchester and Roxbury where the earliest Irish gangsters arose during Prohibition. Frank Wallace of the Gustin Gang dominated Boston's underworld until his death in 1931, when he was ambushed by Italian gangsters in the North End. Numerous gang wars between rival Irish gangs during the early and mid 20th century would contribute to their decline.
The Winter Hill Gang, a loose confederation of Boston-area organized crime figures, was one of the most successful organized crime groups in American history. It controlled the Boston underworld from the early 1960s until the mid-1990s. It derives its name from the Winter Hill neighborhood of Somerville, Massachusetts, north of Boston, and was founded by first boss James "Buddy" McLean.
While Winter Hill Gang members were alleged to have been involved with most typical organized crime related activities, they are perhaps best known for fixing horse races in the northeastern United States. Twenty-one members and associates, including Howie Winter, Joe McDonald, Johnny Martorano, and Sal Sperlinga were indicted by federal prosecutors in 1979. The gang was then taken over by James J. "Whitey" Bulger and hitman Stephen Flemmi and was headquartered in South Boston. Bulger's criminal associates consisted of Thomas Hall, Kevin Weeks, Patrick Nee, and Billy Shea.
The present Winter Hill Gang operates in secrecy and often avoids drawing public attention and scrutiny. With the activation of RICO law, the Winter Hill Gang's ranks were quickly thinned with federal indictments against key players like George Hogan and Scott "Smiley" McDermott. The Winter Hill Gang quickly disbanded in the early 2000s after many of the federal indictments failed to stick due to a lack of evidence and cooperating witnesses, making room for younger predecessors like Tommy "Two Guns" Attardo, Sean "Irish Car Bomb" McKenna, and Mickey "Mean Machine" Murphy to join the ranks.
Irish-American organized crime outfits are still active and form the backbone of organized crime in South Boston and the greater Boston area.
The Irish Mob War is the name given to conflicts throughout the 1960s between the two dominant Irish-American organized crime gangs in Massachusetts: the Charlestown Mob in Boston, led by brothers Bernard and Edward "Punchy" McLaughlin, and the Winter Hill Gang of Somerville (just north of Boston) headed by James "Buddy" McLean and his associates, Howie Winter and Joe McDonald. It is widely believed that the war began when George McLaughlin tried to pick up the girlfriend of Winter Hill associate Alex "Bobo" Petricone, also known as actor Alex Rocco. McLaughlin was then beaten and hospitalized by two other Winter Hill members. Afterward, Bernie McLaughlin went to Buddy McLean for an explanation. When McLean refused to give up his associates, Bernie swore revenge but was soon killed by McLean in Charlestown City Square.
The war resulted in the eradication of the Charlestown Mob with its leaders, Bernie and Edward McLaughlin, and Stevie and Connie Hughes all having been killed. George McLaughlin, the one who started the war, was the only one who survived by being sent to prison. McLean was also killed, by Charlestown's Hughes brothers, and leadership of The Winter Hill Gang was taken by his right-hand man, Howie Winter and mentor, Joe McDonald. The remnants of the Charlestown Mob were then absorbed into the Winter Hill Gang, who were then able to become the dominant non-Mafia gang in the New England area.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, another mob war was taking place in South Boston between two other Irish-American gangs: the Killeen Gang, which controlled bookmaking and loansharking, and the Mullen Gang, which was made up of thieves. In 1972, mob boss, Donald Killeen, was murdered and the remaining members of both organizations were absorbed into the Winter Hill Gang. One of Killeen's key enforcers was Whitey Bulger. In 1973, Bulger was appointed by Winter to operate the South Boston rackets. Throughout the 1970s, Bulger used his influence to have rival mobsters murdered. Among his victims were Spike O'Toole, Paul McGonagle, Eddie Connors and Tommy King.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the FBI's Boston office was largely infiltrated through corrupt federal agent John J. Connolly, by which Whitey Bulger was able to use his status as a government informant against his rivals (the extent of which would not be revealed until the mid to late 1990s). This scandal was the basis for the book Black Mass and served as an inspiration for the fictional film The Departed.
The prominent Irish street gang pre-twentieth century were the Schuylkill Rangers headed by Jimmy Haggerty, whose boyhood home was located on Arch Street in the area between Eighteenth and Nineteenth Street known as "McAran's Garden".
After numerous arrests for theft and similar offenses, Haggerty and Schuylkill Ranger Hugh Murphy were convicted of the robbery of a Ninth Street store and sentenced to ten years imprisonment on December 12, 1865. He was pardoned by Governor Andrew G. Curtin eight months later, in part to Haggerty's political connections and his promise to leave the country upon his release, and lived in Canada for a brief time before returning to the city to resume his criminal career. Haggerty remained a major underworld figure in Philadelphia until January 1869 when he was arrested on several counts of assault with intent to kill; during his arrest, he shot the arresting police officer. He was caught trying to escape from prison but was later released on bail and fled the city. Staying in New York City for a brief time, he returned to Philadelphia in April to surrender himself to authorities after the wounded police officer had received "hush money". He won both court cases against him, but was ordered at the second trial to return to the Eastern State Penitentiary by the District Attorney for violating the terms of his release. While his lawyers argued the ruling, Haggerty disappeared from the courthouse during a recess in what was suspected to have been a planned escape.
In the years following World War II, the K&A Gang was the dominant Irish gang in the city's underworld. A multi-generational organised crime group made up of predominantly Irish and Irish American gangsters, the gang originated from a youth street gang based around the intersections of Kensington and Allegheny, which grew in power as local hoods and blue collar Irish Americans seeking extra income joined its ranks. In time, the group expanded and grew more organised, establishing lucrative markets in gambling, loan sharking, and burglary.
The gang moved into the methamphetamine trade in the late 1980s and expanded into the Fishtown and Port Richmond neighborhoods. John Berkery, a member of the K&A burglary crew, became leader of the gang, and was influential in expanding the drug trade. In 1987, Scarfo crime family soldier Raymond Martorano, Berkery, and dozens of others, were indicted for their involvement in a large methamphetamine ring.
The successors of Michael Cassius McDonald's criminal empire of the previous century, the Irish-American criminal organizations in Chicago were at their peak during Prohibition, specializing in bootlegging and highjacking. However, they would soon be rivaled by Italian mobsters, particularly Al Capone and the Chicago Outfit.
The organizations existing before Prohibition – including the North Side Gang, which included Dion O'Banion, Bugs Moran, Hymie Weiss, and Louis Alterie; the Southside O'Donnell Brothers (led by Myles O'Donnell) with the McKenna Crime family; the Westside O'Donnell's; Ragen's Colts; the Valley Gang; Roger Touhy; Frank McErlane; James Patrick O'Leary; and Terry Druggan – all were in competition with Capone for control of the bootlegging market.
The West End Gang is one of Canada's most influential organized crime groups. Active since the early 1900s and still active today, their rise to notoriety did not begin until the 1960s when they were known simply as the "Irish gang". Their criminal activities were focused on, but not restricted to, the west side of Montreal. Most of the gang's earnings in the early days were derived from truck hijackings, home invasions, kidnapping, protection racket, drug trafficking, extortion and armed robbery.
The gang, which is dominated by – but not exclusively limited to – members of Irish descent, began to move into the drug trade in the 1970s. They began to import hashish and cocaine and developed important contacts in the United States, South America and Europe with some members working out of Florida.
During the 1960s, the majority of crime in Dublin was petty crime, while murder and gun-related crime was extremely rare. There was a strong sense of community between families, and the church had an influence on creating the law-abiding state of mind in Dublin. A breeding ground for criminals was at Catholic Reform School, which had harsh policies in teaching and looking after children, aiming to turn them away from petty crime. Cahill and Dunne were noted to be at these schools.
During the 1970s, Dublin saw an increase in gun crime. One cause of the increase was the upheaval and violence in Northern Ireland. The main culprit for bringing in gun crime into Dublin was a paramilitary group called Saor Éire, which conducted multiple bank robberies to fund their organisation. During one such robbery at Allied Irish bank, Garda officer Richard Fallon was killed. One notable person who joined Saor Éire was Christy Dunne, who would go on to make one of the first Irish crime families, with connection to Britain's gun and drug trade.
Soon ordinary criminals (with little political influence), would join/cooperate with the Dunne crime family. Mainly partaking in co-operative robberies, this included Christy’s eight brothers, and many recruits who would then pursue their own crime families such as Martin Cahill, John Cunningham, George Mitchel, and John Gilligan. The majority of these criminals coming from the poor and uneducated industrial slums of inner-city Dublin.
In the beginning, Dunne specialized in kidnapping. In 1978, the Dunnes broke into an Antigen pharmaceutical factory, stealing pharmaceutical drugs which would go for a high price on the black market. Due to the profit, the Dunne's would put their priorities in the drug trade as their main source of income.
What also occurred during this period is the emergence of the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA, who did the bulk of bank robberies and murder. This allowed crime families to conduct their activities under the radar.
While the Dunnes (headed now by Larry Dunne) would be the first crime family to get involved with drug trade, Gilligan brought drug-smuggling to a whole new level. Money was earned in the millions in the 1980s through the heroin epidemic. It was considered easier money and more lucrative than bank robberies.
The heroin crisis destroyed communities of working class inner-city neighborhoods, which were once considered to be safe. Despite this many citizens protested and took their own actions against the epidemic, most notable was Concerned Parents Against Drugs. Some of these vigilantes took extreme actions such as murdering or blowing an apartment of a believed drug-dealer.
Often Larry Dunne could not meet the demand for heroin, so many others got involved, but Larry was still considered the main source. One was Tony “King Scum” Felloni, once in the prostitution business, he would move into the drug-trade. Overall there was mutual respect, and practically no conflict between crime families and drug king-pins, around the 1980s.
In 1983 Larry would finally be arrested and not be able to post bail when drugs were found in his mansion. This led Larry to leaving the country. But was caught in 1985 in Portugal. With the Criminal Justice Act in place, it would make life harder for drug -traffickers. As a result, by the mid-1980s, the majority of the Dunnes were in prison or fled.
With the end of the Dunne family, many saw it as an opportunity to join the drug trade and be number one (it was estimated to be roughly 40 groups). The person who became the next drug-kingpin was John Gilligan, once a small-time crook, he would form a mob of 6, during his sentence in Portlaoise Prison. Gilligan’s small mob would consist of Bryan Meehan, Peter Mitchel, and Paul Ward. Gilligan started off selling marijuana as it was less of a priority for the guard and the buyers had more money. Later however Gilligan's membership would grow to a much larger number, but with that came lack of loyalty.
The Gardai’s focus was still paramilitary groups (with the odd taskforce combatting drugs).
Veronica Guerin was a reporter who wrote a series of articles in the early 1990s, reporting on multiple members of the Irish mob such as John Traynor, Gerry Hutch and John Gilligan. This led to Guerin surviving multiple murder attempts. On the outskirts of Dublin on the N7, she was killed by Bryan Meehan, Peter Mitchell, Seamus Ward, and Charles Bowden, all members of Gilligan's crime syndicate. As a result of her murder, the Criminal Assets Bureau was formed in Ireland.
With 400 subsequent arrests, this led to the end of Gilligan's mob. But once again this led to factions hoping to replace the leader. This included George Mitchell, Christy Kinahan and John Cunningham, often dealing with their finance overseas, in order to avoid the Criminal Assets Bureau. These events would later be depicted in the 2003 Irish film Veronica Guerin.
By the early 2000s, many of Dublin’s crime bosses had fled to Spain, due to the harsher laws combatting crime families. One of the more notable is Christy Kinahan and his mob.
In Crumlin and Drimnagh in South Dublin, a gang dispute led to two factions (one led by Freddie Thompson and the other by Brian Rattigan) engaging in a gang war with 16 people dead as a result. Rattigan was sent to prison after shooting a police van, but continued leadership of his gang while in prison. 2005 saw the peak of the murder per day ratio, with three people killed in two days, plus a murder earlier in the year. Three people were murdered on 8 October 2007 and three more in the next two years.
Much like Dublin, Limerick had little crime in the 1960s, despite having overcrowded neighborhoods suffering from poverty and unemployment. Many were forced to move to Southill, which saw an increase in antisocial behavior. No organised crime was present, but there were very disorganized gangs of youths often doing vandalism.
Brothers Mike and Anthony Kelly committed robberies in their youth. Mike would frequently get into fights at pubs (which would later get out of hand, after someone was killed). During the pub fighting days (which he was known for) he would also take-up armed robbery and other serious crimes. Later Kelly and associates would set up protection rackets, which would also combat antisocial behavior, by using harsh and violent action towards vandals. Every day, Mike Kelly collected a pound from each house, supplying a form of protection. The main purpose for earning money was to fund his drinking problem.
He is now a reformed criminal and lives in Southill.
During the 1990s Keane's were considered the most powerful crime family in Limerick. The Keane's turf was mainly Saint Mary's Park. They had a neighborhood allies being the Collopys (including Brian Collopy and Phillip Collopy). They'd also hire a violent hitman named Eddie Ryan, to be an enforcer. In the late nineties the drug-trade would have two major mobs. These being The Keane-Collopy (led by Christy Keane and younger violent brother Kieran Keane) and The Ryans (led by Eddie Ryan). There was a dispute between these two factions, and at one stage Eddie Ryan tried to kill Christy Keane, but his gun jammed. With motivations of revenge the Keanes executed Ryan. This would be considered a catalyst in the Limerick Feud. This led to war between the Ryans and Keanes, and eventually McCarthy-Dundon.
Another crime family would appear on the sideline, after Wayne Dundon came back from Hackney, England (as he was deported back to his home country). Wayne would form the McCarthy-Dundon gang which involved his brothers; John Dundon, Ger Dundon and Dessie Dundon. Along with their cousins the McCarthy family. At first they would pose as allies to both The Ryans and Keane-Collopy. But in the background, schemed their own plans to defeat the two gangs. Eventually they would make their move and kill Kearan Keane (one of the bosses of the Keane-Collopy) in 2003. This would result in the demise of the Keane-Collopy's reign. And to be replaced by McCarthy-Dundon. However many murders between the factions would occur, roughly 20 killed and 100 arrested (in relation to the feud).
Today organized crime is the main focus by police in Limerick. The amount of arrests have significantly increased, and the number of crimes have significantly decreased. Gang warfare still occurs, but not as prevalent. Turf wars over council housing/working class estates, are particularly common in Southill (McCarthy-Dundon turf) and Moyross (Keane-Collopy turf). Also executions or intimidation of civilians that get in the way of the crime organisations have decreased. However the example of Ryan Collins is still not forgotten.
Many Limerick crime families' higher-ups are said to operate on a global scale. On the other hand, of the few gang gang-killings related to the Limerick Feud are done by those who are in their teenage years. These teenagers also partake in drug-related crimes (such as drug-dealing for McCarthy-Dundon and Keane-Collopy crime families).
Irish mobsters appeared as characters in the early "gangster" films of the 1930s and film noir of the 1940s. These roles are often identified with actors such as James Cagney, Pat O'Brien, Frank McHugh, Ralph Bellamy, Spencer Tracy, Lynne Overman, and Frank Morgan (although Bellamy and Overman were not of Irish descent), as well as stars including Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson.