I may as well quit denying that I am not a gangster book groupie – looking through my library I just have so many different books on various aspects of the underworld that I have to throw my hands up and say I am all in when it comes to a good non-fiction book about the underworld.
Paddy Whacked did not disappoint. While so many of the books focus on the Italian’s and the Sicilian’s, there are many, many aspects of the underworld that go by the wayside but whose stories are either closely intertwined with or run parallel to La Cosa Nostra.
The Irish are as entrenched in the American underworld as the Italian’s but their story is unique and completely different. The book is laid out in a very interesting way: it covers the period from when the greatest influx of Irish came to New York and then covers the growth of the gangs regionally which changed every few decades. The book was written prior to Whitey Bulger being captured and so ends with Whitey still on the run.
The earliest period starts in New York with the 5 point gangs as depicted in Gangs of New York. The Irish gangs at that time, and through other periods in other cities, were always an integral part of the political game. In New York, they were definitely part of the Tammany Hall crowd and were frequently used as enforcers to get the votes swinging the right way for ward bosses.
Quite surprisingly, the next city to fall sway to the Irish was New Orleans. I was taken aback as that is not a city frequently associated with the Irish mob but the proliferation of Irish longshoreman and New Orleans role as a seaport on the Gulf and the mouth of the Mississippi made it fertile ground for the Irish mob.
Following that, the book looked at Kansas City and the political machine there who were entrenched with Irish politicians using Irish muscle to control the rackets and the votes. It did not surprise me, in fact I thought the city would make an earlier appearance, but from Kansas City, the story swung north to Chicago.
Chicago really came into the underworld/organized crime game in the 1920’s. Capone, seeing fertile ground with boats coming in from Canada using Lake Michigan, was successful in seizing the city and making it familiar as a bootlegging capital. But the Irish were not far behind. Like many other immigrant groups, they moved west. The Stockyards were full of Irishmen doing the heavy, dirty work of slaughtering and the Irish underworld, like Capone, was able to seize wards politically and use Irish muscle to ensure votes. The Irish even today still dominate ward politics in Chicago.
The book then delves into Joseph P. Kennedy’s run as a bootlegger and how he used underworld connections as well as his wealth, to help secure political strength in Massachusetts. He was able to unseat some long standing politicos in order to get John Kennedy seats in the state senate and ultimately into the White House. It was interesting to note that he and Robert Kennedy had a long standing feud due to RFK’s stance against organized crime – the very same people he father had dealt with to secure wealth and votes.
The book then moves to the more modern era. The Irish gangs that dominated Hell’s Kitchen in New York in the 1960’s and 70’s and their running battle with the Irish Westies. Cleveland was next up with Danny Greene and finally, Boston and the Winter Hill gang and Whitey Bulger’s domination until he went on the run.
The Irish, unlike the Italian’s, organized themselves largely by neighborhood and did not seek to corporatize in the way the Italian’s did by forming a syndicate or commission. Each neighborhood was dominated by either one gang or one boss and the rackets were run by the Irish and for the Irish.
There were certainly times when the Italian’s and Irish would work together to carve up certain business interests but by and large, until the 1970’s and beyond, the Irish were left to their own devices. As the rackets were smaller and centered on their own neighborhoods they were free to terrorize their own at will.
The book is long but holds your interest. In fact, I found it hard to put down and ended up reading well into the early morning hours a few times. A really great addition to the organized crime genre. I had actually looked at the book several times to purchase but a friend had bought it and I snagged in out of the box that was on the way to be traded in – I know a bargain when I see one! Five stars. No reservations!