The Irish Gangster
Paddy Whacked:The Untold Story of the Irish American Mobster by T.J. English
Or how we learn where Scorsese got his Gangs of New York material from
Full disclosure, I read this book more than ten years ago, but it has stuck with me and it fits with my Irish theme for this month, so this Tuesday we are talking about what might be the definitive work on the subject of the Irish mob in America. I initially picked this book up after I read Black Mass and Mystic River, which are very different from this book. .
English’s book focuses mainly on the Irish mob in New York, which is understandable as they were most powerful there at the beginning of the 1900s. It was Prohibition that helped the mob grow its power, with booze and gambling. English highlights the tension between the Irish and the Italian mob and shows how, at least in New York, the Italians were able to take over as the predominant mob families. English also highlights how certain Irish families, for example the Pendergasts in Kansas City, could set up a machine and control a town with a relatively small Irish population. Similar situations happened in New Orleans and Boston. In those cities, though the Irish mob’s influence declined, their work in infiltrating the police lasted well beyond their short heydays.
Politics was another area where the mafia exerted its influence and no book on the Irish mob would complete without a discussion of the Kennedy family: how Joe Kennedy’s bootlegging helped him amass a fortune and a huge number of contacts that would help him get his son elected president of the United States. The book looks at how another Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, helped take down the Italian mafia which in some ways helped lead to the resurgence of the Irish mob. Here is were we talk Whitey Bulger and South Boston, so here is where I was most interested.
As I mentioned, this is much more of a straight history. Though there are plenty of gruesome stories, it is not a fast-paced story that reads more like fiction than real life. Instead it is an in-depth look at a power structure that ran a lot of the country in the first part of the twentieth century.