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 (it is mentioned, however, that Meehan sent McGowan “inside” to kill Pickles and to take control of the plethora of possible gang recruits in Sing Sing). Pickles, though, decides he is going to kill McGowan and a war inside Sing Sing begins. 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. And therefore, Pickles won the “inside” for Lovett, even as Lovett reports to and pays tribute to Meehan.
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 of 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 Meehan’s enforcer, 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. In Light of the Diddicoy, Frank helps a couple of Meehan’s enforcers kill a man that ran into the soap factory Frank manages.
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.
Watch a video trailer of Exile on Bridge Street: