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 (Dockboss Harry Reynolds was first, narrator Liam Garrity third). Maher was arrested in the murder of Christie Maroney (along with Meehan, McGowan and Pickles Leighton). Vincent 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 too, he can’t understand much of what Tuohey says. Tuohey’s 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.
Watch a video trailer for Exile on Bridge Street: