Irish Mob

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Irish Mob
Founded Early 19th century
Founding location Ireland
Years active Early 19th century – present
Territory Ireland, United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia
Ethnicity Primarily Irish, Irish American, Irish Canadian
Criminal activities Racketeering, horse-race fixing, illegal gambling, drug trafficking, murder, extortion, prostitution, weapons trafficking, loan-sharking, hijacking and corruption

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, Chicago, Cleveland, the Twin Cities, and New Orleans.

Outside of Ireland itself, Canada, Australia and Great Britain also have histories of Irish gang activity.

In the United States[edit]

New York[edit]


Irish-American street gangs such as the Dead Rabbits 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 organisations, 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 Italian rivals at bay, unstable leadership and infighting would prove their downfall. The murders of Dinny Meehan, Bill Lovett, and Richard Lonergan led to the gang's disappearance by 1925, and the waterfront was taken over by Italian mobsters Vincent Mangano, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis.


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, a 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.

The Westies[edit]

The Westies are an Irish American gang hailing from Hell's Kitchen on the West Side of Manhattan.

The most prominent members have included Mickey Spillane, Eddie McGrath, James Coonan, Mickey Featherstone, and Edward Cummiskey.

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[edit]

The Winter Hill Gang, a loose confederation of Boston-area organised crime figures, was one of the most successful organised 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 neighbourhood 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 organised 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 and his right-hand man and bookkeeper, Salvatore Sperlinga, were indicted by federal prosecutors in 1979. The gang was then taken over by James J. "Whitey" Bulger and hitman Stephen Flemmi.

Irish Mob War[edit]

The Irish Mob War is the name given to conflicts throughout the 1960s between the two dominant Irish-American organised 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. 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 hospitalised 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. 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.

Recent years[edit]

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.[1]



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.[2] He was caught trying to escape from prison but was later released on bail and fled the city. Staying in New York 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 escaped from the courthouse during a recess in what was suspected to have been planned.[2]


Daniel "Danny" O'Leary fought with Maxie Hoff over control of Philadelphia's bootlegging throughout Prohibition. Jack "Legs" Diamond was a prominent mobster in both Philadelphia and New York City.

Post-World War II and the K&A Gang[edit]

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 neighbourhoods.[3] 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.[4]

Philadelphia Badlands and recent activity[edit]

The Philadelphia Badlands is an Irish American section of North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States that in the 1980s and '90s became known for an abundance of open-air recreational drug markets and drug-related violence. The Badlands are now known to be the current turf for the K&A Gang, who may be responsible for the nickname of this neighborhood, due to their drug related ties.



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 organisations 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); 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.

Other areas in the United States[edit]




  • George Horace "Kid" McCoy held the Jefferson County and Shelby County, Alabama underworld under his control in the 1920s and 30s until Donald "Little Man" Popwell had McCoy killed on 24 December 1938 at a Christmas Party in Bessemer, Alabama.
  • In Birmingham, Alabama, Carlton C. "The General" Russell was named boss of the Celtics in Alabama by the New Orleans Commission. Not long after "The General" ordered a hit on Georgia's Celtic Boss, Roy Sirus. The murder is currently a cold case file in the Fulton County Sheriff's files. A Grand Jury failed to take action in the case (2002).
  • In Savannah, Georgia, Johnny Bouhan, an attorney, held significant influence over county and city government until the late 1960s. He was loosely allied with the Dixie Mafia but a falling-out after Bouhan's death led to the arson of his law firm, Bouhan, Williams, and Levy. This was widely believed to be a retaliation for the law firm filing suit against a Toombs County, Georgia judge who was a leader in the Dixie Mafia.
  • In Jacksonville, Florida Johnny King Leads a group known as the Irish 7 (I7) which started in an Arlington neighborhood nicknamed Sin City in the early 1980s. The group was named the Irish 7 for the original 7 members. This group ruled the Arlington neighborhood until 2008 when most of the members moved away from the neighborhood in an expansion move. The group now has operations in all parts of Jacksonville and parts of Middleburg and Callahan. the group moved away from drugs in the 1990s and now controls most of Jacksonville's illegal gun trade. The Irish 7 manufactures and sells fully automatic assault rifles. In early 1997 after the death of one of the original 7 the group formed alliances with the Russian mafia as well as members of the Mexican mafia to strengthen their import and export of illegal weapons. It has been rumored that the group conducts contract killings for the Mexican mafia group La Eme although there isn't any concrete evidence to prove their involvement. The source of the information provided is testimony of a low ranking member of I7 who turned states evidence in August 2014 the name of the witness cannot be provided as he is part of an ongoing criminal investigation.[citation needed]



  • Small Indiana, Illinois,and Ohio towns have reported activities from a group calling themselves KOIN led by a former MMA star and Irishman

In Ireland[edit]

Northern Ireland[edit]

  • A trend of street gangs arose during the social unrest of the mid-20th century. The gangs were composed of poor Catholic teens. These “hoods” are known for stealing cars as well as small-time criminal behavior. Their trouble with authority extends to the IRA who act violently towards them.


  • Starting in 1969, Martin "The General" Cahill rose from a burglar to Mob crime boss, during the violence movement in Northern Ireland. Cahill grew to prominence in the media for several massive crimes. He took part in lesser burglaries as well as money van robberies. His gang found media attention after the robbery of a jewelers in which the take was over 2.5 million euros. Cahill was involved in the art heist of Russborough House. In 1993, Cahill’s gang attempted to kidnap the CEO of a bank and his family to be held for ransom. The plan ultimately failed and all members of the gang were arrested. On May 21, 1994, after being released on bail, Martin Cahill was assassinated while driving to a local video store to return a DVD. The Provisional IRA released statements claiming responsibility for the assassination only hours after the murder took place. The IRA claimed he was working with the Ulster Volunteer Force.
  • Another major event involving the Irish Mob in Ireland, was the assassination of Veronica Guerin. Veronica was a reporter that put a lot of pressure on the Dublin drug trade, through articles, circa 1990. She reported on multiple members of the Irish mob such as; John Traynor, Gerry Hutch and John Gilligan. This led to Veronica having multiple assassination attempts. Finally at the outskirts of Dublin on M7 motorway, she was assinated by Brian Meehan, Peter Mitchell, Seamus Ward and Charles Bowden), all members of Gilligan's crime syndicate. As a result of her assassination the Criminal Assets Bureau was formed in Ireland.


  • The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) began in 1966 as a rebirth of an earlier group of the same name. The UVF fought a campaign against the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as well as Catholic civilians for over 30 years. The UVF has acted in many armed robberies as well as art heists. The group operated black taxi services as well as extortion. The gang was responsible for several terrorist attacks throughout the 1970s. The UVF declared a ceasefire in 1974 and ceased official campaign in 2007.

See Also: Crime in Northern Ireland

Elsewhere in the world[edit]


  • The Shiners were gangs of Irish immigrants that formed in the early days of Bytown, later Ottawa, mainly active during the 1830s-1840s, and famously known for their involvement in the Shiners' War.
  • The West End Gang, a primarily Irish criminal enterprise, is one of the three organisations that makes up Montreal's "Consortium," making it one of the most influential criminal organisations in the country.


  • In Australia, Melbourne has a long history of Irish organised crime stemming from the poor Irish Catholic working classes. Many Melbourne trade unions have been infiltrated or brought under the mob's control. Originating from waterfront workers in the Melbourne docklands after World War II, they controlled a large part of the drug trade until the old Painters and Dockers Union was disbanded in 1984. Since the late 1990s, the Moran family is one of the more powerful Irish crime families in Melbourne and allegedly played a significant role in the 1998–2006 Melbourne gangland killings.

United Kingdom[edit]

  • The Clerkenwell crime syndicate, most often known as the Adams Family or the A-team by the British press, is alleged to be one of the most powerful criminal organisations in the United Kingdom.
  • The Noonan family is a criminal group in Manchester headed by Dominic Noonan.
  • The Healey family, East London & Sligo, Ireland, are a very powerful organised Irish crime family operating in the UK.[citation needed]

Irish mob in popular culture[edit]


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.


  • Oz (1997), the Bridge Street Gang led by Ryan O'Reily is featured prominently as one of the criminal organisations wielding influence in the fictional Oswald State Correctional Facility.
  • Brotherhood (2006), set in Providence, Rhode Island and revolving around the alliance between two Irish-American brothers. Michael Caffee, played by Jason Isaacs, is an aspiring mob boss and Tommy Cafee is one of the state's most powerful politicians. It developed a cult following during its three seasons on Showtime.
  • Paddy Whacked: The Irish Mob (2006), a documentary tracing the rise and fall of the Irish mob, including an alleged involvement in the John F. Kennedy assassination.
  • The Black Donnellys (2007), a cancelled crime drama on NBC that follows four young Irish brothers in New York's Hell's Kitchen and their involvement in organised crime.
  • Underbelly (2008), Australian drama series based on the Melbourne gangland killings. It stars Gerard Kennedy as Graham Kinniburgh and Kevin Harrington as Lewis Moran.
  • Boardwalk Empire (2010), an HBO series set in Prohibition-era Atlantic City and featuring gangsters of various ethnicities, including Irish-American gangsters.
  • Madso's War (2010), a television film about Mike "Madso" Madden (Matthew Marsden) who is drawn into the underworld when a power vacuum opens following the departure of a mob boss, inspired by Whitey Bulger.
  • Love/Hate (2010), Series depicts Dublin's underworld.
  • The Chicago Code (2011), set in Chicago, undercover police investigate corruption involving the Irish Mob.
  • Archer (2011), In the episode Placebo Effect, Archer not only battles cancer, but also the Irish Mob.
  • Outlaw Empires (2012) Episode 3 of season 1 looks at the Boston Irish mob.
  • Castle, The Westies were referenced in two episodes as well as a syndicate of the Irish Mob operating on Stanton Island.
  • Gotham (TV series), The Irish mob operates as a subdivision of Don Carmine Falcone's Cosa Nostra crime family, led by mobsters Bannion and Connor.

Video games[edit]

  • Shadow Hearts: From the New World (2005), set in 1929, is a game that features a subplot about Irish gangster Roy McManus (Jamie McGonnigal), whose intentions were to take over Chicago's criminal syndicate from Al Capone and to kidnap her little sister, Edna Capone.
  • The Darkness (2007), Irish mobster Tommy Sullivan makes an appearance at the start of the game. He is to be assassinated by the protagonist Jackie.
  • Grand Theft Auto IV (2008), protagonist Niko Bellic associates himself with the McReary crime family, an Irish Mob from Liberty City, a fictional version of real-life New York City.
    • Grand Theft Auto V (2013), one of the members of the McReary crime family, Packie McReary, reappears in Los Santos which he can be saved from a robbery. He can be recruited as an experienced gunman for heists.
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (2009), The Irish mob makes a return in Chinatown Wars (which is set in the same Liberty City in Grand Theft Auto IV). They officially go by the name Irish-American Killers. They don't make any major appearances. They appear in one mission, and you can deal drugs with them, in their turf Steinway.
  • Mafia II (2010), set in the early 1950s, protagonist Vito Scaletta frequently gets into conflict with the O'Neill Gang, a group of Irish criminals operating on the fictional city of Empire Bay.
  • Omerta – City of Gangsters (2013), Within this Tactical RPG, the Irish Mob is one of the three rival factions.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steve Sailer (6 November 2006). "Good Will Killing: The Departed". The American Conservative. Retrieved 3 May 2008. 
  2. ^ a b "The Haggerty Homicide.; Formal Investigation by Coroner Herrman Evidence by the Eye-Witnesses to the Affray No Verdict Rendered Reddy Admitted to Bail Departure of the Remains for Philadelphia". New York Times. 28 Jan 1871
  3. ^ Brendan McGarvey (18 December 2002). "Pole-Vaulting – Another group of Eastern-European gunsels makes its mark". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  4. ^ Josepha Daugen (4 August 1987). "Tough Sentence To Be Sought For Berkery". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 


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