Writer turns attention to west Donegal’s ‘Wise Guys’

A US Congressman, world boxing champion and major brothel keeper is just one of the gangsters featured in a new book by Gaoth Dobhair based writer and author John Joe McGinley.

The Irish Wise Guys shines the spotlight on 17 of the most notorious Irish American crime bosses for whom death and destruction was a daily currency in their lives.

Included in their number are Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll and Needles Kelly, both of whom can trace their roots back to west Donegal.


In different circumstances these men could have been captains of industry, politicians or union leaders. Instead they choose a path of crime that would make them into some of the most wanted men in America.

Married with four children, McGinley spent 30 years as a business consultant with large blue-chip organisations such as AEGON, Standard Life and Royal London before taking redundancy and relocating to Glassagh in west Donegal.

Now he spends his time writing, running the small holding and helping develop and nurture his boys. He runs Wild Atlantic Gweedore, a website, Facebook page and Twitter account that promotes the parish and people of Gweedore.

After producing a video blog on Vincent Mad Dog Coll for Wild Atlantic Gweedore, John Joe submitted an idea to Ireland’s Own for a series on Irish American gangsters. He published a series of 13 articles on Irish Gangsters for the magazine and the book is an expansion on that with a more in-depth look at the history of the Irish mob and its key players.

Speaking to the Donegal News this week, John Joe said that the book is expected back from the printers on Wednesday next, October 21.

“The publishers didn’t want to launch the book just yet because of Covid but who knows when that will be so I’ve taken the plunge myself. I’ve already taken pre-orders and local shops have agreed to stock it,” he said.

The book shares the tales of the most famous and influential Irish American gangsters and their gangs who ruled the streets of New York, Boston and Chicago.


The story of Vincent ‘Mad Dog’ Coll – the child killer and most feared gangster of his age – is well known but much less has been written about ‘Needles’ Ferry who was killed by Al Capone.

“I started off with Mad Dog who, quite strangely, was unique in that he was a loner. The rest of them were gang members and used those gangs to rise to the top of the criminal empire.

“Needles Kelly was a high-ranking member of the White Hand Gang, the largest Irish American gang in New York at the time. Not too much is known about him. He was called needles because he was a heroin addict and he was part of a group that chased a young Italian mafia man by the name of Al Capone out of New York.

“Capone settled in Chicago but he never forgot about the White Hand Gang and always sought revenge.

“Richard Joseph “Peg Leg” Lonergan and five of his lieutenants, including Needles Ferry from Gweedore, were killed in South Brooklyn during a Christmas Day celebration at the Adonis Social Club in 1925. The man behind the deaths was a certain Al Capone,” he said.

Gangsters like George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and Owney ‘The Killer’ Madden are also featured together with gangs like the Gophers, the Northside gang, Winter Hill gang and the Westies.

“These men were all intelligent while another common trait that I found was that most of them were abused as children in orphanages and Catholic Children’s homes. That’s not to excuse their terrible behaviour,” he said.

The books also looks at John Morrissey – boxer, gang boss and US Congressman. world boxing champion and major brothel keeper; “Peg Leg” Lonergan, an American underworld figure and labour racketeer and train robber Emmett Dalton who went on to become a Hollywood actor, despite receiving 23 gunshot wounds.

“Machine Gun Kelly never actually killed anybody. His wife gave him the name. He was a bootlegger but she encouraged him to move into bank robbing and kidnapping but he also fired at the ceiling. When he was in Alcatraz he was given the name ‘pop’ because everyone loved him as a father figure,” John Joe said.

The Irish wise guys – The most notorious Irish American Gangsters is John Joe’s first foray into historical non fiction and is a result of a passion to learn more about the men who created a criminal empire in America.

The book is available from 21st October and can be ordered on

A Facebook page has been up and running Irishwiseguys

A twitter account is growing

Copies will also be available in the local shops of Gweedore and the Rosses


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