Dinny Meehan – Character in Divide the Dawn
“Eyes green in the enveloped saloon light of amber and black. A child’s eyes. An ancient’s eyes. Sometimes I wonder if he ever really did exist, Dinny Meehan. I even doubt it at times, it was so long ago that all this passed. But there he is in my thoughts.”
Dinny Meehan (b. 1889) is the leader of the White Hand Gang whose motives, origins and existence is shrouded by the veil of Irishtown’s Code of Silence. Some claim he is of gypsy blood, some call him a working class hero while storytellers describe him as a Demiurge, and speak of how he was summoned by pre-Christian prayer to bring back “the auld ways from the aulden days” to care for the survivors of Ireland’s Great Hunger who founded Irishtown in the 1840s. What is known is that he has never lost a fistfight, draws inspiration from the past and has never been seen eating or sleeping and seems to have no concept of time. His father came to New York in 1847 as an “exiled child” from County Clare, Ireland. His uncle was Red Shay Meehan, leader of a West Manhattan gang called The Potashes. But by 1900, Dinny’s family was decimated by the Hudson Dusters, forcing him to flee to Brooklyn as an eleven year-old with his dying father. According to The Gas Drip Bard, a storm came at dawn and capsized the ferry they were in, and young Dinny drowned keeping his father afloat. Somehow the boy was brought back to life and by 1912, Dinny had organized all the Irish-American gangs on the Brooklyn waterfront to join him in overthrowing the King of Irishtown, gold-toothed larrikin Christie Maroney.
Light of the Diddicoy By the time Liam Garrity picks up the story, it is 1915 and the gang is under attack by many elements; big businesses, the Italian Black Hand, the law, the longshoremen’s union and revolt from within his gang. Liam sees that Dinny is cunning and shrewd, and yet the gang leader spends all of the profits he earns on the poor and needy of Irishtown. When news breaks of the 1916 Easter Rising, Dinny has ideas of his own for an uprising in Brooklyn. In a stroke of genius, The White Hand ferociously strikes against all of its enemies at once in multiple attacks and takes back power in Brooklyn during the Donnybrook in Red Hook.
Exile on Bridge Street
Although the gang again is in power, Dinny cannot seem to stop time as the White Hand is one of the last powerful street gangs in New York. Again the gang’s enemies assemble against him when one of his dockbosses, Wild Bill Lovett, joins forces with Jonathan G. Wolcott of the New York Dock Company in revolt against him, seceding from the gang and taking the profitable Red Hook territory. Vulnerable, Dinny finds out his childhood friend Tanner Smith backstabbed him and his righthand The Swede attempted suicide. Again though, Dinny outsmarts everyone by making a three-way pact with the International Longshoreman’s Association and the Italian Black Hand and violently puts down the revolt. Charged with murder, Lovett agrees to a plea that sends him to the Army and World War I where he dies in combat. Dinny then replaces Lovett in Red Hook with his prodigious cousin Mickey Kane and robs a local shoe factory after an Irishtown child dies with one shoe on his foot, passing out boots to all the poor Irish families. But by 1919 Dinny is furthered weakened. The gang has lost many members to the Great War, the Spanish Influenza, coal shortages and worsening poverty. During the Storm of Slanting Snow, Lovett mysteriously resurfaces in Brooklyn and has Dinny’s cousin Mickey murdered, touching off a horrific gang war and a blood feud with Lovett.