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Boardwalk Empire: The Irish Gangsters of Prohibition

paul newman road to perdition Boardwalk Empire: The Irish Gangsters of ProhibitionBy Matt Goldstein

Nucky Thompson and Jimmy Darmody lead a cast of Irish hoods in Boardwalk Empire, and although we can’t be sure, the real life Nucky Johnson was most likely not even Irish.  Not to mention, Jimmy Darmody actually never existed.  Read below about the real life Irish Gangsters of prohibition, with Capone rival Bugs Moran, Road to Perdition’s John Looney, and Hell’s Kitchen’s Owney Madden.


John Patrick Looney

Looney is portrayed by Paul Newman in the Oscar winning film Road to Perdition as the gangster connected to Al Capone’s empire.  An underrated movie in and of itself, Newman puts on a classic performance as the iconic Looney.  However, in real life, Looney fled the feds on murder, gambling and racketeering charges, eventually being apprehended and sentence to 14 years in prison.


paul newman road to perdition rain Boardwalk Empire: The Irish Gangsters of ProhibitionBugs Moran

The chief rival of Al Capone, Bugs Moran never cowered in the wake of Capone’s wrath to control Chicago, even after Moran’s men were gunned down in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The most vicious and famous gangland style murders of all time, Capone’s men dresses as police, entered Moran’s headquarters and forced the Moran gang to line the wall, and they were brutally executed.  Seven men were killed bringing national attention and forcing the feds to come after Capone in every way possible.  As for Moran, he made it his personal mission to destroy Capone, killing as many members Al’s gang as he could, even after Capone was in prison.  Moran was a  full fledged criminal his entire life, in and out of prison from when he was a kid until his death, making and losing millions of dollars.


Owney Madden

Nicknamed the “Killer,” Owney Madden, actually born in England, was the boss of the Westies and Hell’s Kitchen throughout prohibition.  A bootlegger and a boxing promoter, Madden is one of the most infamous mobsters of all time.  A stone cold killer, but also a well minded businessman, Madden promoted fighters such as heavyweight champions Max Baer and Primo Carnera.  As well, Madden owned Harlem’s Cotton Club, literally the hottest club in NYC hosting an array of legendary musicians from Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne and more.  Madden retired a rich man in 1935 and opened a hotel in Hot Springs Arkansas, a hideout used by many gangsters including Boardwalk Empire’s Lucky Luciano.




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7 comments to Boardwalk Empire: The Irish Gangsters of Prohibition

  • john bush

    Vannie Higgins, Irish ?? Higgins is about as English a name as you could get.


    Philip Reply:

    I’ve got a few friends from my near my home in cork called Higgins.


  • Brian

    Owney Madden was most certainly Irish. It’s an undisputed fact. His parents were both Irish as evidenced by their first and last names: Francis Madden and Mary O’Neil. Madden and O’Neil are both very Irish surnames. Just because he was born in England doesn’t mean he was English. Either Mick Lee is lying or his family has lied to him about their heritage.


    Matt Goldstein Reply:

    I’m sure he identifies with the Irish. How could he not?


    Brian Reply:

    Exactly, Matt. How could he not? By the way… very nice article! I’m surprised you didn’t include Dean O’Banion, Jack “Legs” Diamond(Moran), “Big Bill” Dwyer, Vannie Higgins or the Southside O’Donnell Brothers & Westside O’Donnells of Chicago.

    And as for Nucky Johnson’s background… the world may never know for sure. The surname Johnson is found all throughout the British Isles including England, Scotland and Ireland.


    keith windsor Reply:

    i am from liverpool,my grandmother was owneys cousin,she and him were born in liverpool,that is a fact passed on by my late father,if you check on net it either says he was born in leeds or liverpool,as his father was a docker{bootle}and as leeds is land locked i think that he was born in liverpool and his family moved to leeds


  • I am related to Owney Madden, he was not Irish, he was born in Leeds Yorkshire England, the family moved to Wigan then on to the USA when Owney was about 12.

    He had a life long interest in pigeon racing and, according to my grandmother, (his niece) who visited him in the late 1920s still had a strong Yorkshire accent.


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