drum-belly
JOE takes a look at some of the most famous Irish American gangsters who made it big Stateside in the seedy underbelly of crime.

Us Irish have a great affiliation with the United States, and have done for quite a long while. However, some of those who headed over from our fair shores in search of the land of opportunity haven’t always kept their noses clean when it comes to the law.

With thanks to the folks behind the production of Drum Belly, in the Abbey Theatre now, we take a look at some of the most famous Irish American gangsters, from the streets of Boston to Hell’s Kitchen in New York.

Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane

Mickey Spillane

Michael “Mickey” Spillane is one of the most iconic names when it comes to Irish-American gangsters, and was known as the last of the gentleman gangsters. He had control of Hell’s Kitchen in the 1960s and ’70s and made his money through bootlegging, bookmaking and loansharking.

He was eventually whacked by members of another Irish gang (or so the rumours go) during a fight between the two rival forces, one of whom was allied with the Italian Mafia and wanted Mickey out of the picture. You can still visit the family bar if you travel to New York, called “Mickey Spillane’s Hell’s Kitchen”….not the most imaginative name, we know.

 

 

Whitey Bulger

Whitey Bulger

Whitey Bulger

Whitey Bulger is perhaps the most famous name on the list, as he had the FBI running around after him for nearly two decades. He has a fairly decorated career when it comes to criminal activity, and was one of the major figures in South Boston, which was run by the Winter Hill Gang.

In the mid ’70s, he became an informant for the FBI, but after some investigation found out that he’d committed a lot of crimes while on their watch, they went after him, only to find he’d disappeared. Sixteen years after they first started looking, they finally got their hands on him in California, and is currently in prison in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The epic film The Departed was loosely based on the life and times of Whitey.

Jimmy “The Gent” Burke

James Burke is believed to be the gangster behind one of the biggest robberies ever committed in the United States, the Lufthansa Heist in 1978, where he and his associates got away with $5 million (around €13.4 million in today’s money) and a fair whack of jewels.

When Burke realised he’d netted a whole lot more than he bargained for, he started killing off his accomplices, because he didn’t know who he could trust. Eventually, one of them got wind of his plans, and grassed him up to the Feds, and Burke died in prison in 1988. The Lufthansa Heist was one of the events portrayed in the iconic gangster movie Goodfellas.

 

Jack “Legs” Diamond

Jack “Legs” Diamond

Jack “Legs” Diamond

Jack was known as both “Legs” and “Gentleman Jack”, and he made his name and his money running booze during prohibition in New York. Born to Irish parents in New York in 1897, and after getting involved with the mob, became a bootlegger during prohibition when he brought a haul of liquor from Europe to New York.

He survived a series of assassination attempts and was a bit of a character, becoming a pretty big celebrity despite being a crime boss. He was eventually killed in 1931, but there still remains some doubt over whether it was the police or a rival gang.

Danny Walsh

Another bootlegger, but this time in New England, Danny Walsh was one of the last, and biggest, Irish-American gangsters in the area. He was a veritable beer baron, with a huge operation that included planes, cars and boats (including the legendary Black Duck), all filling the local speak-easy joints with plenty of booze for their customers.

An air of mystique was added to his death when, in 1933, during the last days of prohibition, he disappeared. A ransom was demanded and paid, but he was never returned, and Walsh’s body was never found.