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- The Story of Irishtown
- The Leightons
- The Enforcers
- The Dockbosses
- The Story of Irishtown
- Mary & Anna Lonergan
- Irish-American, What does it mean?
- Thos Carmody, Lumpy Gilchrist
- The Riddles of Auld Irishtown #1
- Auld Irishtown Trilogy
- Patrick Pearse: Poet
- Honesty, Paul Verlaine & Woman
- Tanner Smith’s
- Interview with CLARION
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- Press Release: Exile on Bridge Street to be Published
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- Interview: Portraits of Faith
- A Night of Pete Hamill
- Dependents: Portraits of 50 Irish People in New York Poorhouses, 1861-1865
- Black Tom Explosion, 1916
- Auld Irishtown Characters & Histories
- July Update
- Battle: Light and Darkness
- Hope and Gerry Cooney
- Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan
- Big Momentum
- Diddicoy Tour & Sales
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- “Wild Bill” Lovett
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- Gangs of Brooklyn
- Malachy McCourt reads from ‘Diddicoy’ (text included)
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The Leighton family is part of the intricate story (and histories) behind the Auld Irishtown trilogy. There are three brothers, Pickles, Darby and Frank. Sadie is a cousin of the brothers, and Sadie’s mother’s name is Rose. The Leighton family is of Irish ancestry, but lived in East London before moving to Brooklyn at various times.
(Listen to: The Story of Irishtown)
Outline – According to what we’ve been told in the first two books, Light of the Diddicoy and Exile on Bridge Street, Pickles and Darby Leighton arrived in Brooklyn first, sometime in the 1890s. Because they were so young, they do not have English accents. Pickles and Darby were original members of Coohoo Cosgrave‘s White Hand Gang in 1900 when Meehan first arrived in Brooklyn. But Pickles and Darby join Bill Lovett‘s Jay Street Gang after Cosgrave committed suicide. By the time Meehan is organizing all the Irish gangs in Brooklyn in 1913, Sadie Leighton is already there. Meehan, using the oldest method known to mankind in bringing enemies together, asks Sadie to marry him in hopes that the two Leighton brothers will join forces with him. But things are much more complicated than that.
Sadie Leighton – We know her as Sadie Meehan, Dinny Meehan’s wife and mother of L’il Dinny in the books. But Sadie arrived in Brooklyn due to her two cousins’s assistance, Pickles and Darby, who were sent at a much younger age. Sadie has a very thick East London accent and a kind, nurturing soul. In 1912, Dinny Meehan forces all of the Irish gangs to follow him, or become extinct. In this act, Meehan, McGowan and a young Vincent Maher come to nineteen year-old Bill Lovett’s gang and offer a truce in the form of a murder. Lovett, seeing Meehan’s power, agrees to allow Pickles, one of his followers, to accompany them in the assassination of Irishtown’s biggest gang leader, Christie Maroney. At the sensational trial of Maroney’s death, Sadie sat next to Harry Reynolds, which, according to lore, Meehan did not like at all. In any case, the trial led to Pickles being convicted, while Meehan, McGowan and Maher were all set free. Many people say Meehan set Pickles up, but in order to control the situation, Meehan asks Sadie Leighton to marry him. Their betrothal, according to the old ways, would mean that Meehan and all of his followers would join forces with the Leightons. But it never actually happens that way, which, if looked at from afar, is a symbol of old cultures dying in the new world. Never at ease with the fact that her husband set up her cousin, there is an underlying source of conflict between Sadie and Dinny Meehan. But Meehan knows that Pickles can’t be controlled, and so he leaves him in Sing Sing to rot.
Pickles Leighton – As mentioned, Pickles joined Meehan, McGowan and Maher in the murder of Irishtown’s biggest gang leader, Christie Maroney in 1912. But this information only comes from stories pieced together in the first two books. By the time Garrity, the narrator arrives in Brooklyn in 1915, Pickles has already spent two years in the penitentiary of Sing Sing. Pickles, a wild young man who can’t be controlled, certainly feels spited, particularly when he finds out Meehan has married his cousin, Sadie. So, when he finds out that McGowan, Dinny Meehan’s righthand man has been charged and sentenced in a separate crime and is sent to Sing Sing too, he decides to get even. With the financial help of Bill Lovett (who has at this point had no choice but to join Meehan’s White Hand Gang), Pickles pays a Screw (a.k.a. prison guard) to beat McGowan to death.
Darby Leighton – With his brother Pickles, Darby originally met Dinny Meehan in 1900, when they were eleven year-old kids. Meehan’s father had just died. The leader of the gang back then was Coohoo Cosgrave, a few years older than his followers. Their headquarters, and where they also slept every night, was underneath an Irishtown pier. Cosgrave, seeing Meehan’s prowess, helps him bury his father and makes Meehan his righthand. This angers Pickles, and by extension, Darby too, who is more as a follower. Throughout the books, Darby is known for one thing, being “eightysixt from the gang,” which means he is banished from the White Hand territory. Lovett wants Darby to work with him in Red Hook, but Meehan shuts that idea down right away fearing more reprisals against him for setting up his brother Pickles. Always on the periphery, Darby is seen in the books being hunted down by The Swede. Eventually though, he hopes Bill Lovett will make a move against Dinny Meehan so that he can avenge his brother and the betrothal of his cousin Sadie. Until then, he must lay in wait outside the gang’s territory.
Frank Leighton – Frank is a minor character who emigrated to Brooklyn due to Dinny Meehan’s assistance after marrying Sadie. He is the eldest brother of Pickles and Darby and has a thick London accent. Meehan got him a job as a manager at the Kirkman Soap Factory a couple blocks from the gang’s headquarters in Irishtown.
Rose Leighton – The mother of Sadie, aunt to the three Leighton brothers, is only mentioned once so far, and that is the story told by The Gas Drip Bard about Dinny Meehan’s being exonerated in the sensational murder trial of Christie Maroney. She sat next to Sadie. It is assumed Rose went back to East London a few months after L’il Dinny’s birth.
The White Hand Gang did not come to power in Brooklyn by being kind and understanding. It was the symbolic murder of Christie Maroney that brought the many gangs together as one. Then, it was the Enforcers that kept members in line, and outsiders out.
In the Auld Irishtown trilogy, Dinny Meehan is the leader of the gang. There is no doubting that. Meehan has never lost a fistfight whether it be in Manhattan, Brooklyn or inside Elmira’s Reformatory or the penitentiary walls.
Meehan’s seat of power is above The Dock Loaders’ Club on Bridge Street in Irishtown. Between him and The Dockbosses that keep power on the dock terminals, the Enforcers both watch over Meehan and show up on the docks when someone refuses to pay tribute to The White Hand.
There are three Enforcers with three different roles. The Swede, Vincent Maher and Tommy Tuohey.
Jimmy “The Swede” Finnigan – The Swede is not Swedish, but he looks it. At 6’5″ with white hair, humungous fists and a psychotic temper, The Swede is a volatile mauler whose demand for control and order in a place where chaos rules, leaves him in a constant state of indignation. Lean and muscularly built, white-skinned and with a “freakishly long, ugly horse face,” he trusts no-one, except his leader, Meehan, who is the only person in the world that can calm The Swede’s rage. Before Liam Garrity arrives in 1915, as the story is told, The Swede ran a gang in Red Hook around 1913 until his sister Helen was kidnapped by the Black Hand. Recently exonerated in the sensational murder trial of Maroney, Meehan appears from Irishtown and offers to pay the ransom if The Swede joins forces under the umbrella gang, The White Hand. After paying, a gang of young Irish “bhoys” invades a Red Hook Italian establishment, kills a man, beats many others, and takes back twice as much money as they’d given for ransom. In the meantime, however, The Swede is so happy to have his sister back, that a strange love grows between them. Months later, his sister gives birth to a child. Non Connors, Bill Lovett’s righthand man, once confronted The Swede by saying, “At least I didn’t fuck my own sister!” Well, Non Connors will have to pay for that.
(Listen to: The Story of Irishtown)
Vincent Maher – Sometimes known as “Masher,” which in those days actually meant a lady’s man, though it can easily be construed in other ways as well. Vincent is the youngest of the Enforcers and Dockbosses, coming in just a month or two younger than Bill Lovett. According to Sadie Meehan, Dinny Meehan’s wife, Vincent was the second of the three orphans the Meehan family took in (Harry Reynolds was first, narrator Liam Garrity third). He was arrested in the murder of Christie Maroney, along with Meehan, McGowan and Pickles Leighton. Maher is a murderer, very simply put, a very handsome murderer who uses his status to bed as many girls as he can. In Exile on Bridge Street, he is described as having, “no moral issue in both separating the virginity from a young female with his blood-filled cock as he does removing the life from a male with his snub-nosed, single-action revolver.” His favorite hangout, other than The Dock Loaders’ Club, is The Adonis Social Club, a bawdyhouse in the Italian section of Red Hook. There, he is treated like a king, and with prostitutes at his calling, he’s in his heaven. But an Irisher in the Italian section means trouble for Maher. Skinny, thick haired, good looking with an open-vest and a .38 in his belt, Maher is a weapon used to enforce the Code of Silence within the gang, and also to keep foreigners out of The White Hand’s territory.
Tommy Tuohey – How Tuohey was brought into the White Hand Gang is still somewhat of a mystery. In fact, much of what Tuohey does and says remains a mystery too. Originally an Irish traveler, or gypsy (i.e. diddicoy), he somehow landed in Brooklyn. An accomplished boxer, Tuohey trains Liam Garrity, the story’s narrator, to help Garrity defend himself. Even though Garrity is from Ireland, even he can’t understand much of what Tuohey says. His dialect is so thick, and he speaks so quickly that most people just look at him quizzically, or ignore him. Except when in a fight with him. At 6’1″ and always at the ready for a bare-knuckled fistfight, Tuohey swears allegiance to no one unless they can beat him, man to man. As the story goes (what little of it we do know) when Meehan asked him to join the gang in 1913, Tuohey laughed. “And who-in da hell is it ye t’ink ye are? Who is it?” Tuohey demanded. When Meehan challenged him to a fight, Tuohey swung first. Within a minute however, Tuohey woke up on his back after Meehan got to the inside of him. From that point on, Tuohey’s honor and loyalty was given to Dinny Meehan and The White Hand.
The Auld Irishtown trilogy begins in 1915, but the histories go back a very long way. Let’s quickly talk about the importance of Dockbosses after Dinny Meehan‘s rise to power in Brooklyn’s Irishtown circa 1913.
(Listen to: The Story of Irishtown by clicking here)
Since The Great Hunger of the 1840s and 1850s, the waterfront territory ruled by Irish gangs in Brooklyn went as far as North Williamsburg, and down to Bay Ridge in the south, with Irishtown in the middle. But since there were more people than jobs available in the cramped tenement neighborhoods along the shoreline, the Irish had to fight to feed their families. Every day multiple gangs of starved young men would brawl against each other over a port terminal for the right to charge laborers tribute. With no central leadership, the Irish gangs were a collection of “wild bhoys” in a brutally violent climate.
When in the 1880s and 1890s Italian immigration to South Brooklyn exploded, the Black Hand sought power and the Irish were forced to work together to hold the northern terminals. By 1900, however, a gold-toothed pimp named Christie Maroney held sway in Irishtown. But Maroney was allowing the Italians into the old Irish territories, prostituting its girls and charging exorbitant rates on loans for his own profit. Maroney was seen by everyone in Irishtown as a traitor, including the storytellers. The feeling was hopeless in Irishtown and the old ways were being lost to time. It would take a giant of a man to save Irishtown.
1912 saw Dinny Meehan’s meteoric rise from nowhere was highlighted when he and a few followers murdered Maroney in a Sands Street saloon between the bridges. After a sensational trial, Meehan was released, and then organized all of the Irish gangs that once fought against each other. His headquarters was above The Dock Loaders’ Club on Bridge Street in, of course, Irishtown.
In order to keep power, and keep the old ways alive in Brooklyn, he needed to enforce a strict Code of Silence and, most importantly, name loyal, violent men to run each of the main port terminals along the Brooklyn waterfront in his gang’s name, The White Hand, to keep the Italian Black Hand out.
All of this happens before fourteen year-old Liam Garrity, the trilogy’s narrator, even arrives. But he learns about the histories from Beat McGarry and The Gas Drip Bard, Irishtown storytellers. He now re-tells the stories in this trilogy for you. The stories that came out of Auld Irishtown.
There are five dockbosses that report to Dinny Meehan (from South to North):
“Wild Bill” Lovett – Red Hook Terminals
Harry “The Shiv” Reynolds – Atlantic Terminal
John “The Lark” Gibney – Baltic Terminal
James “Cinders” Connolly – Fulton Ferry Landing & Jay Street Terminal
Cute Charlie Red Donnelly – Navy Yard
All of these dockbosses have histories of their own, but it is important to understand that Dinny Meehan brought them all under the umbrella of The White Hand, and that is one of the main reasons a gang could still rule labor in Brooklyn as late as the 1910s while so many others gangs had been eradicated, or forced into cover under “legitimate” businesses.
Wild Bill Lovett, well, there’s too much to be said about him for one paragraph. Go here to read more about him.
Harry Reynolds, at first a man who kept to the shadows in Light of the Diddicoy, he emerges in Exile on Bridge Street as a main character. According to Dinny’s wife Sadie Meehan, Reynolds was the first of Dinny’s orphans (Vincent Maher was second, Liam Garrity was third) who was taken under his wing, lived in the Meehan brownstone on Warren Street, eventually becoming an integral part of the White Hand Gang. It is known that Reynolds grew up in the St. John’s Boys Home, an orphanage, where he used to sneak out at night. Climbing down through sidewalk coal holes and crawling up chimneys, he stole into tenements blackened with coal and sold goods to pawn shops. Somehow he meets Dinny Meehan and McGowan in Elmira’s Reformatory before the Christie Maroney murder. Reynolds is handsome, always wields knives (hence his moniker “The Shiv”), but somewhat average in build. He looks remarkably like Dinny Meehan and is very good with his hands. Due to his being an orphan, Reynolds does not have a family nor a wife, yet longs to be included in one. He does not keep a righthand man, but is the most respected dockboss in the gang.
Before Dinny Meehan took power, John “The Lark” Gibney‘s biggest enemy was Big Dick Morissey. Gibney was a member of the Red Onion Gang, led by Garry Barry. Both had gangs that fought violently against each other for power over the Baltic Terminal. Meehan forced the two enemies to work together and in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, they are best friends. The Lark, as he is mostly referred to, earns his moniker because he is constantly larking people. Farting in a water closet that made Lumpy Gilchrist puke on himself, dumping Garrity upside down in a garbage can and learning how to say “kiss my ass” in Gaelic from Tommy Tuohey, The Lark is a heavy drinker who loves song and battle. He is thickly built, though Big Dick is taller and bigger. In some accident, he lost three fingers on one of his hands, leaving only his pinky and ring fingers.
Cinders Connolly was a member of the Swamp Angels, a collection of East River pirates that lived in a rookery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Gotham Court. Beneath it were long sewers that connected to the waterfront, where they pilfered from ships, took the booty through the sewers and sold it to small businesses. The Swamp Angels had been around for a very long time and raided ships moored in Brooklyn too, but were eventually broken up by the Strong Arm Squad around the time Dinny Meehan took power in 1913. To bring together the gangs, Meehan offered Connolly the dockboss position on the two terminals closest to the Dock Loaders’ Club in Irishtown, Fulton Ferry Landing and the Jay Street Terminal. Connolly is tall, somewhat gangly, only violent when need-be, good-looking but with very bad teeth. He is known as being honorable and is often seen smiling and encouraging others, including Liam Garrity, the narrator of the trilogy. He has a wife and four children. Connolly keeps Philip Large, a “fool mute” as his righthand man. Connolly got his moniker “Cinders,” not only because he may be a pyromaniac, but because “that’s how he leaves ships in the harbor when its captains refuse to pay tribute to the White Hand.”
The father of Red Donnelly ruled a turn-of-the-century Navy Yard gang for many years until he was murdered. His father was a child of The Great Hunger and arrived around 1852. Starved, shoeless, red-haired, he made his way after his parents died. The second “Red” Donnelly, who reports to Dinny Meehan in Irishtown, is not as powerful as his father was. He often compromises with people in order to avoid conflict. When making fun of teenager Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan for showing up at the Dock Loaders’ Club with his mother, he is challenged to a fight and is embarrassed by the boy, even as he out-weighed him by fifty pounds. Red does not have a specific righthand man, but often employs lower level gang members until Henry Browne appears in Exile on Bridge Street (Fall, 2016).
The popular books by author Eamon Loingsigh in the Auld Irishtown trilogy are Light of the Diddicoy (2014), Exile on Bridge Street (Oct. 2016) and Divide the Dawn, published by Three Rooms Press. Go here to see more.
There are many characters in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, quite a few of them are female, and of great importance, such as Sadie Meehan (nee Leighton), Emma McGowan and Mary & Anna Lonergan.
Mary is mother of Anna and Richie “Pegleg” Lonergan, a leader of a teenage gang in Brooklyn’s Irishtown during World War I. Mary is in the terrible position of needing to feed her large family, since her husband is mostly a drunk, and wanting to do the right thing. With fifteen children, however, her need outweighs her want.
Quote from Light of the Diddicoy:
“Best chance we got, the gangs. Always has been fer our like.” ~Mary Lonergan
(Listen to: The Story of Irishtown)
Mary, being wise of the violent ego of gangsters, cautions Richie not to choose sides. Young Anna on the other hand, beautiful and sought after, decides on her own that Lovett is who her brother should follow. Not because Lovett is a good man or that he would help pull the Lonergan family out of the poverty they seem stuck in, but because she sees and recognizes in him a terrible cruelty. A cruelty for which she is all too aware of, living in Brooklyn during World War I. That he is a dealer in cruelties, not a recipient, is what most influences her hard pragmatism for which she foresees that one day he’ll lead the gang.
Mary, however, is striving to live a legitimate life and wants to open a bicycle shop on Bridge Street with all the bikes Richie has stolen. One day when Richie is about to fistfight a White Hand Gang member, Meehan sees an opportunity and offers to pay for the opening of the bicycle shop if Richie wins the fight.
Lovett, who grew up close to the Lonergan family, can only stand by and watch.
Daughter Anna may be young and beautiful, but she does not possess the innocence, shame and naiveté of a teenage girl in an Edna O’Brien novel. Although, she is a victim of the “terrible curse” of being yet another sacrificial female in a time of unacknowledged sexism. But Anna is as cruel as she is attractive. And with a viper’s tongue, a strong opinion that won’t be ignored or chalked up as emotionalism, she is a force to be reckoned with.
Mother Mary, having lost multiple children to malnutrition and the Spanish Influenza, as well as a victim of her husband’s drunken abuse, does all she can as her children are sucked into the world of Irish-American gangs. Though it’s not her fault, since there are no other options, she is tormented just the same.
The past has always spoken to the Irish. With a legacy of anguish, the Irish often see the past in the frustrations of the present. A people under attack. Over four hundred years since the introduction of the Penal Laws. One hundred and seventy years since The Great Hunger. Exactly one hundred years since the Easter Rising. Eighteen years since the Good Friday Agreement. . . Ireland has spent hundreds of years trying to maintain a semblance of its own culture.
But for the diaspora, Ireland is not exactly a place trying desperately to retain its culture. On this St. Patrick’s Day, 2016 let’s ask ourselves, what does it mean to be Irish-American?
There has long been a tradition in the Irish-American community of the United States of forgetting. During The Great Hunger (or “Potato Famine”) the Irish tenant farmers that arrived on American shores shoeless, starved to desperation and emotionally broken brought with them the shame of their caste. So many relatives recount stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents who refused to speak of where they came from.
“My grandfather came from (County) Mayo. He never talked about it. . . For me, I saw him coming out of a blank past,” Historian Thomas Fleming once said. “One can only guess from his silence that there was a history of horror there.”
In America, the land of hope, an organic yet wholly unnatural portrait of the Irish has been created by Irish-Americans. Somewhat born from truth, in America the Irish are seen as happy fighters who love to “have a drop” (drink alcohol). Love to gab (talk). And with the cutest accent! Are humbly Catholic. Have wonderful writers and quite a few excellent actors and on St. Patrick’s Day, Americans have an excuse to drink, often to excess while wearing four-leaf clovers.
This has served the Irish-American community well. To be Irish is to be proud, now. The Irish-American community as a whole see that success in America comes to those who assimilate to its Anglo-American strategy of hard capitalism and strict adherence to economic policy.
If I could do anything for this St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to be able to help Irish-Americans understand that there is, and has been a fight for survival of Irish culture. If Irish-Americans can’t, or won’t look at history, then look at the present.
Easter Rising – An embarrassing banner was recently placed by the Irish government in commemoration of the 1916 Easter Rising, which began the successful independence movement from Britain. The Irish government, still to this day, is obviously heavily influenced by England in its treatment of the signatories of the Irish Proclamation of Independence. The banner, hung up in Dublin, is an attempt to affectively whitewash those that organized the Easter Rising. Erase them from history. Instead of including Padraig Pearse, James Connolly, Countess Markievicz, Roger Casement and the other revolutionaries that inspired Ireland to stand against their British oppressors, they put up men who had nothing to do with it. Grattan, Parnell and O’Connell, all who fought for Irish independence well before 1916 are somewhat understandable (though they all died before 1916), but John Redmond was the head of the Irish Parliamentary Party that lost power due to the revolution and was considered pro-British in his attempt to string Ireland along with failed Home Rule acts. A recent video about the centenary to the 1916 Easter Rising features (as Orwellian as Orwellian can be) the Queen of England, Ian Paisley (a vehement anti-Catholic Evangelical minister), musicians Bono and Bob Geldof, and British Prime Minister David Cameron. For most Irish people, to ignore the true Irish revolutionaries of 1916 is to Anglicize Irish history, once again.
Gerry Adams – The struggle for Irish independence and the culture can be summed up simply by looking at Gerry Adams. Effectively tainted as the political wing (Sinn Fein) of a terrorist organization in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) by conservative English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Adams was eventually given an American passport and met with President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. But for many Irish, Adams “sold out” the independence movement by signing the Good Friday Agreement, which leaves power in the six northern counties to Britain. Adams has certainly benefited politically from the agreement, but the movement for Ireland to rule all of Ireland, including the northern counties currently ruled by England, has not. The violence mostly ended, it’s true. But what about freedom to rule one’s own territory?
Water – It should be a right. In many countries it is free, though we do have to pay for it in United States, though it’s quite cheap. In Ireland, a policy charging people exorbitant rates has been attempted to be put in place over the last couple years. Great protests have taken place against utility workers and politicians to no avail. After the recession of 2008-2009 crippled the “Celtic Tiger” economy, many Irish people cannot afford to pay their rent, no less expensive water. But the government is having to pay large sums to European banks for the bailout it agreed to and large cuts in social services due to the “austerity” movement have continued to make things worse.
On this St. Patrick’s Day, if you claim Irish heritage, have a green beer. Wear a shamrock and a stovepipe hat, but remember. Don’t forget. Try to remember that you are here because of the brutal English policy in Ireland that forced your ancestors to flee from their homeland. That although there was a famine on a crop of potatoes, England (the facts cannot be disclaimed) exported food that was harvested in Ireland to India and many other countries while millions of Irish died of starvation, millions more emigrated or died in “coffin ships” along the way, all while England ruled Ireland (see the Act of Union 1800). Remember that you are the result (offspring of a survivor) of what many historians call a genocidal economic policy by England to enforce the message that the famine “was sent by God to teach the Irish a lesson.” (Sir Charles Trevelyan).
Have you learned your lesson?