No true Irish story is complete without treachery from within. The White Hand Gang, featured in the Auld Irishtown trilogy, has many outside forces putting pressure on them, but the biggest source of tension comes from it’s own members. In this story, William “Wild Bill” Lovett personifies this classic Irish dilemma.
From what we know about him, he is seen either as a great leader, or a ruthless drunk with an incredibly wild temper.
Before Liam Garrity, the trilogy’s narrator, arrives in Brooklyn in 1915, we learn that Lovett grew up close with the Lonergan family. At a young age, he was leader of the Jay Street Gang in Brooklyn. Some of Lovett’s followers include Non Connors, brothers Pickles & Darby Leighton, the Frankie Byrne Gang and others.
(Listen to The Story of Irishtown here)
The Jay Street Gang, along with so many other gangs before 1913, primarily controlled the streets that connect to the terminals. The Jay Street Gang essentially owned the right to charge laborers tribute at the Jay Street Terminal, but would have paid tribute themselves to Christie Maroney, the leader of Irishtown at the time.
(Note: Maroney, a gold-toothed pimp and bartender, was engaged in nefarious dealings such as prostitution, gambling, drugs and was allowing the Italian Black Hand into Irishtown, ruining it’s prized history of keeping outsiders, well, out).
In a violent takeover, Dinny Meehan organizes the murder of Maroney by including one of Bill Lovett’s followers, Pickles Leighton, so that he could bring the Jay Street Gang in line with The White Hand.
Then something crazy happens. In the sensational trial for the murder of Maroney, Pickles Leighton is actually indicted and sent to Sing Sing in 1913 while the other three charged (Dinny Meehan, Vincent Maher and McGowan) are set free.
Released, Meehan demands everyone in Irishtown work together under his umbrella gang, The White Hand, for which they will pay him tribute at his headquarters above the saloon called The Dock Loaders’ Club on Bridge Street. In return, Meehan is naming the most loyal to him as dockbosses to the gang’s port terminals. These dockbosses will make very good money, stabilize the labor racket under the Irish and will be treated with respect. But first, the Italians will have to be dealt with, as the Black Hand has been taking advantage of the death of Irishtown’s leader, Maroney, and trying to take over the docks.
(To read about the real life Bill Lovett, go here, but there are mistakes in his biography on wikipedia)
Remember all of this chronologically occurred before Light of the Diddicoy and Liam Garrity’s arrival.
Having already spurned him by double-crossing Pickles Leighton, a Jay Street Gang member, 19 year-old Bill Lovett must have been weary of Meehan’s offer to join The White Hand.
In the meantime, however, Dinny appoints his most-trusted friend McGowan as the dockboss of Red Hook until McGowan is charged with another crime and sent to Sing Sing himself. Dinny Meehan now needs a new dockboss in Red Hook tough enough to keep the Italian Black Hand of South Brooklyn from crossing the Gowanus Canal into White Hand territory. The nasty, Italian-hating Bill Lovett is who he wants.
Quote from Light of the Diddicoy:
“Dinny was accommodating and courting and respectful, and offered Bill both security and a stable income, not to mention the two fierce gangs wouldn’t have to go to war, which Dinny reminded Lovett could only end in the Jay Street Gang’s demise since the Whitehanders had so many more men.”
So Lovett’s gang was essentially forced into joining The White Hand and took over as dockboss of Red Hook, the most dangerous area in The White Hand’s territory.
Watch a video trailer of Exile on Bridge Street:
In Sing Sing though, McGowan is beaten to death by a “Screw” (a.k.a. prison guard). Everyone in the gang knows who ordered McGowan killed, but no one can say it. Bill Lovett. With his old follower Pickles Leighton (who was framed by Meehan) in Sing Sing, the two paid a guard to kill McGowan, Dinny Meehan’s childhood friend.
Now, Bill Lovett is entrenched as the dockboss of Red Hook and seems to have made all the right moves to one day take the gang over from within it.
But all of this, just as a reminder, happens ahead of Light of the Diddicoy. In fact, the first time McGowan’s name is ever mentioned in the book is when he’s already dead. But as we know about Irish history, the dead speak to us, and McGowan haunts throughout the Auld Irishtown trilogy.