The Story Of The Irish Mob In New York

When we think of the notorious crime syndicates of New York, the Italian mafia families immediately come to mind. But before the rise of the Italian mob, the Irish gangs dominated New York’s underworld for over a century. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary: From the mid-1800s to the 1930s, Irish immigrant gangs controlled significant pockets of racketeering, gambling, and vice in New York City neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen. Their grip weakened following Prohibition due to Italian competition and police crackdowns.

This article will dive deep into the origins, rise, peak power, decline, and legacy of Irish American organized crime in New York City. We’ll learn how and why the Irish mobs formed, their operations and strongholds, their most influential leaders, their bitter feuds with other groups, and their gradual fall from the top of New York’s criminal hierarchy.

Early Irish Gang Formation in New York

Poverty and Discrimination Faced by Irish Immigrants

The formation of Irish gangs in New York can be traced back to the 19th century when a wave of Irish immigrants arrived in the city. These immigrants faced extreme poverty and discrimination, often living in overcrowded and unsanitary tenements.

They were met with hostility from other established ethnic groups, leading to a sense of isolation and a need for protection.

The discrimination faced by Irish immigrants was fueled by deeply ingrained prejudices and stereotypes. They were seen as lower-class, uneducated, and prone to criminal behavior. Many were denied employment opportunities and forced to take on menial and dangerous jobs, further exacerbating their economic struggles.

These challenging circumstances created a breeding ground for the formation of Irish gangs. These gangs provided a sense of belonging and protection to Irish immigrants who felt marginalized and oppressed by society.

They offered a means of survival in a hostile environment and became a source of pride and identity for the Irish community.

Criminal Activity Centered in Impoverished Neighborhoods

The criminal activity of the Irish gangs in New York was predominantly centered in impoverished neighborhoods, such as Five Points and Hell’s Kitchen. These areas were characterized by high levels of poverty, crime, and social unrest.

The Irish gangs engaged in various criminal activities, ranging from petty theft to more organized forms of crime such as extortion, illegal gambling, and prostitution. They formed close-knit networks and operated through a hierarchical structure, with leaders exerting control over their members.

One notorious Irish gang that emerged during this time was the Dead Rabbits, known for their fierce loyalty and willingness to engage in violent confrontations. The gang’s name was derived from the rabbit-tail hats worn by its members as a symbol of their Irish heritage.

The criminal activities of the Irish gangs in New York eventually caught the attention of law enforcement agencies, leading to increased efforts to dismantle these organizations. However, the legacy of the early Irish gangs in New York remains an important part of the city’s history, highlighting the struggles and resilience of Irish immigrants in the face of adversity.


Growth and Height of Irish Mob Influence

The Irish Mob in New York City rose to power during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, becoming one of the most notorious criminal organizations in the United States. Their influence reached its peak during this time, as they gained control over various aspects of the city’s political and economic landscape.

Takeover of Tammany Hall Political Machine

One of the key factors in the growth of the Irish Mob’s influence was their takeover of the Tammany Hall political machine. Tammany Hall was a powerful political organization that controlled much of the city’s government and had a significant influence over elections and appointments.

The Irish Mob, led by prominent figures such as Owney Madden and James “Big Jim” Sullivan, successfully infiltrated Tammany Hall and used their connections to gain political power and protection. They were able to manipulate elections, bribe officials, and ensure that their criminal activities went unpunished.

This control over the political machine allowed the Irish Mob to expand their criminal enterprises and solidify their influence in the city. They were able to operate with relative impunity, as they had the backing of corrupt politicians and law enforcement officials.

Control Over Dockyards and Vice Economy

In addition to their political influence, the Irish Mob also gained control over the city’s dockyards and vice economy. They extorted money from dockworkers and controlled the flow of illegal goods, such as alcohol during Prohibition.

The Irish Mob also had a stronghold in the vice economy, which included activities such as gambling, prostitution, and illegal gambling dens. They operated these establishments and profited greatly from them.

Their control over the dockyards and vice economy allowed the Irish Mob to amass significant wealth and power. They used this influence to expand their criminal activities and maintain their grip on the city.

It is important to note that the information provided here is based on historical records and accounts of the Irish Mob’s activities in New York City. For further reading on this topic, you can refer to and

Prominent Irish American Crime Bosses

Throughout the history of New York City, there have been several prominent Irish American crime bosses who have left their mark on the city’s underworld. These individuals were known for their influence, power, and ability to control various criminal enterprises.

Let’s take a closer look at three of the most notorious Irish American crime bosses: Paul Kelly, Dinny Meehan, and Bill Dwyer.

Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly, also known as “Paul Jawbreaker,” was one of the most influential Irish American crime bosses in New York City during the early 20th century. He was the leader of the infamous Five Points Gang, which dominated the criminal underworld in Manhattan.

Under Kelly’s leadership, the gang engaged in various illegal activities, including extortion, gambling, and bootlegging during the Prohibition era. Kelly’s cunning and strategic mind earned him respect and fear among both his allies and rivals.

Despite his criminal activities, Kelly was also involved in legitimate businesses, such as running nightclubs and theaters. He used these establishments as a front for his illicit operations, allowing him to maintain a veneer of respectability in society.

Dinny Meehan

Dinny Meehan, also known as “Dinny the Soldier,” was another prominent figure in the Irish American mob scene in New York City. He was a member of the Gopher Gang, a criminal organization that operated primarily in Hell’s Kitchen.

Meehan was known for his ruthless nature and willingness to resort to violence to maintain control over his territory.

During the 1920s, Meehan became heavily involved in bootlegging, smuggling alcohol into the city during the Prohibition era. This lucrative business allowed him to amass significant wealth and power. However, his reign came to an end when he was arrested and convicted for the murder of a rival gang member.

Bill Dwyer

Bill Dwyer, also known as “Big Bill,” was a prominent Irish American bootlegger and crime boss during the Prohibition era. He was involved in the illegal alcohol trade, smuggling large quantities of liquor into New York City.

Dwyer’s operations were so extensive that he was dubbed the “King of the Rumrunners.”

Dwyer’s criminal empire extended beyond bootlegging, as he also controlled various gambling enterprises and had connections with corrupt politicians and law enforcement officials. He was known for his ability to evade arrest and maintain a low profile, making it difficult for authorities to bring him to justice.

It is important to note that while these individuals were involved in criminal activities, their influence extended beyond the underworld. They were known for their philanthropic efforts, providing financial support to various charities and community organizations.

This duality often made it difficult for law enforcement to apprehend them, as they enjoyed a certain level of protection and support from the communities they operated in.

For more information on the history of organized crime in New York City, you can visit

Battling the Italian Mafia and Police

The Irish Mob in New York City faced numerous challenges as it sought to establish its presence and control in the criminal underworld. One of the biggest obstacles they encountered was the violent clashes with the Italian Mafia over territory.

These clashes were often brutal and bloody, with both sides fighting fiercely to protect their interests and expand their influence. The streets of New York became battlegrounds as these rival gangs engaged in turf wars, resulting in numerous casualties and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Violent Clashes Over Territory

The struggle for control over lucrative criminal enterprises such as gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging led to intense confrontations between the Irish Mob and the Italian Mafia. Both groups were vying for dominance and were willing to resort to extreme measures to achieve their goals.

These clashes often played out in public spaces, leading to a sense of fear and insecurity among the city’s residents. Innocent bystanders would sometimes get caught in the crossfire, highlighting the ruthlessness and disregard for human life displayed by these criminal organizations.

The violent clashes between the Irish Mob and the Italian Mafia were not limited to physical altercations. The two groups also engaged in a battle of wits and strategy, using tactics such as intimidation, bribery, and sabotage to gain the upper hand.

This constant struggle for control created an atmosphere of tension and paranoia within the criminal underworld, as both sides tried to outsmart and outmaneuver each other.

Crackdowns Under Mayor La Guardia

The Irish Mob not only faced opposition from rival criminal organizations but also from the police force. During the early 1930s, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia launched a series of crackdowns on organized crime in an attempt to clean up the city.

These efforts included increased surveillance, raids, and arrests targeting members of the Irish Mob and the Italian Mafia.

Mayor La Guardia’s crackdowns were not without controversy. Some critics argued that the methods employed by law enforcement were heavy-handed and violated civil liberties. However, the mayor remained steadfast in his determination to rid the city of organized crime and restore law and order.

Despite the efforts of the police and the rival Italian Mafia, the Irish Mob managed to adapt and survive. They operated in the shadows, constantly evolving their tactics and diversifying their criminal enterprises to stay one step ahead of the authorities.

Their story is a testament to the resilience and tenacity of these Irish-American criminals who carved out their own place in the criminal underworld of New York City.

Decline and Legacy

Reduced to Minor Rackets and Dwindling Power

The Irish Mob in New York, once a powerful force in organized crime, saw its influence and power gradually decline over the years. As law enforcement agencies cracked down on their illegal activities, the mobsters were forced to shift their focus to smaller rackets to maintain their income.

They no longer dominated the major criminal enterprises as they had in the past.

With the rise of other criminal organizations, such as the Italian Mafia, the Irish Mob found themselves pushed to the sidelines. They were no longer able to compete with the resources and connections of these larger criminal groups.

The Irish Mob’s power and influence continued to dwindle, and their criminal activities became increasingly marginalized.

Despite their diminished power, the Irish Mob still found ways to make money. They engaged in activities such as loan-sharking, extortion, and smuggling. However, these were minor rackets compared to the large-scale operations they had once controlled.

The decline of the Irish Mob in New York highlighted the changing dynamics of organized crime in the city.

Influenced Gangster Mythology and Hollywood

The story of the Irish Mob in New York has had a lasting impact on popular culture, particularly in the realm of gangster mythology. The exploits of Irish mobsters have been romanticized and dramatized in books, movies, and television shows, perpetuating their legacy and creating a sense of nostalgia for a bygone era.

One of the most famous Irish mobsters, Owney Madden, has been a source of inspiration for numerous fictional characters in gangster films. His larger-than-life persona and involvement in organized crime during the Prohibition era have made him a popular figure in Hollywood’s portrayal of the Irish Mob.

The Irish Mob’s influence on gangster mythology can also be seen in the iconic character of Jimmy Conway, played by Robert De Niro in the film “Goodfellas.” Conway, based on real-life Irish mobster Jimmy Burke, is portrayed as a charismatic and ruthless criminal, showcasing the allure and danger associated with the Irish Mob.

Furthermore, the Irish Mob’s decline and legacy have been explored in various documentaries and non-fiction books, shedding light on the history and impact of this once-powerful criminal organization.

These works serve as reminders of the Irish Mob’s place in New York City’s criminal history and its lasting influence on popular culture.

For more information on the Irish Mob in New York and its decline, you can visit FBI’s website which provides a comprehensive overview of the topic.


For nearly a century, Irish American gangsters held an iron grip on many of New York City’s working class neighborhoods and criminal rackets. Though other ethnic mobs and police pressure eventually reduced their power, the Irish presence remains an integral part of New York gangland lore. Tracing their journey provides crucial insight into the masses of immigrants struggling to survive in a new land, sometimes resorting to illicit means in the process.

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