The Westside Irish Crew – “The Arsenal Mob”

From the 1910s through the 1960s era, the Irish mob was a viable entity. The top leaders were most often identified as Edward (Eddie) McGrath and Cornelius (Connie) Noonan as his partner.

Hughie Mulligan was a close top  “lieutenant” of McGrath. 

Their base strength lie in their control of the so-called “Pistol Local” — a union local of the International Longshoremen’s Assn., based on Manhattan’s Westside piers — ILA Local # 1730, at 265 West 14th Street in Manhattan. 

This union was used as a base of operations of sorts for them and provided a great income off the many racket operations that emanated from it for decades. 

These operations included kickbacks, extortions, coercion to use certain related companies, embezzlement of union funds, pier theft, and cargo hijacking.

Additional ancillary rackets of policy and loansharking on the docks and narcotics smuggling augmented their income. 

Arsenal members were also prolific as thieves and active in major armed robberies.

An example was the notorious $305,000 bank robbery of the Woodside Bank in 1955.

Italian and Irish hoods pulled together to commit this armed midday heist.

Frank Cocchiaro of the DeCavalcante mob, Irishman Johnny O’Connell and others collaborated to make mob history. 

They also were very active in the gambling rackets throughout New York City. A strong base for that was in the Sunnyside-Woodside and Elmhurst areas of Queens County where there was a very large Irish population.

Mulligan was a first among equals in the area stemming from his “hooks” and connections into the NYCPD that at that time was Irish dominated.

Having grown up with many kids who became policeman,commanders, and other top officials of the police department gave him an inside tract.

He was key to organizing “The Pad”, the systematic bribery of police officials who turned a blind eye to the gambling and other rackets run by the mob.

Interaction with the Italian mob and their mutual cooperation often stemmed from the Irish mobs control of the pad. 

Mulligan was huge in horse and sports bookmaking, operating one of the larger gambling networks in New York City.

They also ran dice games and numbers along the Westside “Hell’s Kitchen” neighborhood where many of them grew up.

He had (Red) McGinnity as his aide and a supporting case, the likes of which included:

• Frank (Machine-Gun Sonny) Campbell

• Albert (Ackey) Ackalitis – a top NJ waterfront racketeer and Arsenal Gang member.

• Joe (Heels) Murphy – another important racketeer and Arsenal member. 

• Andrew (Squint) Sheridan – a top enforcer for them who would later go to the electric chair for murder.

• John (Cockeyed) Dunn – another notorious top Irish hoodlum Boss and electric chair alumni.

• Thomas (Teddy) Gleason – ILA President and an associate of the Irish mob. This man would be key to their continued control and dominance of the Westside docks. He oversaw the ILA on a national level. 

• Michael (Mickey) Bowers and his son Johnny Bowers – ILA officials of Local # 824 and several other waterfront-related unions. They held pivotal control of these unions for decades. Top hoodlum bosses. 

Among others in the Arsenal membership were George Daggett, Austin Furey, Joe Kress, Lou (Bongy Farrell) Bongiorno, and Hugh Gillen to name but a few who collectively made up the notorious “Arsenal Gang”. 

They were a force unto themselves, and were often at odds with the Italians.

There was a base jealousy and prejudice against those “spaghetti snappers” and “dagos” who seemed to smother all racket operations in NYC.

The “guineas” looked dark and swarthy, spoke in a strange tongue, and ate weird looking and smelling foods that unnerved the Irish. There was often no love lost between the two ethnicities. 

But probably the singular and most important Irishman to bridge that wide gap was Eddie McGrath.

He was a smart and tough hoodlum from the Westside who’d started in the 1920s as a bootlegger. He would rise in prominence as the years passed to become the de facto head of the entire Irish mob. And he was very respected by the Italians.

In fact, he was more than respected. He was well-liked!

A head shot of Vincent Alo, a member of the Genovese Family of the New York Mafia

Vito Genovese himself encouraged relationships among his men and McGrath.

Vincent (Jimmy Blue Eyes) Alo, an iconic figure and mob powerhouse, was said to be a close personal friend and golfing buddy of McGrath. Alo was even alleged to be his “rabbi” and protector within the overall underworld in dealings with the Italians. 

McGrath’s word was his bond. And the Italian mob knew it.

That gave Eddie and the Irish validity in their dealings with other mobs. Some of the other Irish hoods were not liked or trusted, but when Eddie put his rubber stamp on an agreement at the “sit down” table, everyone knew it was good. 

Years later after the NY/NJ Waterfront Commission expelled McGrath and others from the New York docks, Eddie relocated down to South Florida. From there he would operate in a semi-retired state in tandem with the likes of his old buddy Jimmy Blue Eyes and Alo’s partner Meyer Lansky

In between rounds of golf, Eddie still kept his hand in what was happening on the streets of New York and the dock rackets.

It was said that he still received his tithe monthly and held a sort of hoodlum emeritus position, intervening and solving problems as they arose for his various Irish minions. 

By the 1970s era forward, the Irish no longer occupied a place of importance in the underworld.

The only exception was in the Boston, Massachusetts area where the notorious James (Whitey) Bulger ran his South Boston Irish mob like it was still the 1930s shoot-em-up era.

“The Southies” as they were sometimes called, worked with, but more often against, the interests of their North Boston “Little Italy” neighbors — The Patriarca Family”.

In fact, Bulger and his Italian partner Steve (The Rifleman) Flemmi were both long time — 30- year — top FBI informants.

They survived and thrived by a surreptitious agreement reached with the FBI that they would be allowed to operate rackets so long as they provided steady information on the operations and racket activities of the Italians.

It would later come home to bite the FBI in the ass after it was publicly exposed that they had knowingly allowed Bulger to murder over 30 innocent victims for his cooperation over the years.

This major scandal would tarnish the FBI’s reputation immensely. 

As for today? In the year 2019?

The Irish mob is a distant memory, gone the way of Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, and other such American fables.

There may be an individual Irish hoodlum or two operating among the Italian underworld, but he is the proverbial “needle in the haystack”….. They are no more! 

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