A podcast series presented by the Irish American Archives Society exploring the Irish immigrants and their descendants whose struggles and sacrifices helped to build an American city and make up the history of the Irish in Cleveland.
The Famine Irish in Cleveland were quick to heed the anti-drink message being popularized in Ireland and America by Fr. Theobald Mathew. The "Apostle of Temperance" visited Cleveland in 1851, and thousands of Fr. Mathew's countrymen "took the pledge" to refrain from alcohol. "Cold Water Men" they were called, the followers of Fr. Mathew. The "Fr. Mathew Total Abstinence Society" was first mentioned as marching in a Cleveland St. Patrick's Day Parade in 1854. As parishes for Irish congregations grew in number, Temperance Societies proliferated and assumed a larger part in Parade planning and marching. The Cold Water Men were as proud of their heritage as the Hibernian Guards--and both strove to prove that they belonged in their new home.
The Hibernian Guards were a local militia group who came on the Cleveland scene in about 1847--just as Famine immigrants were arriving here in growing numbers. Militia companies were a holdover from the War of 1812--part army reserves, past local police force, and even larger part ceremonial parade unit. The Hibernian Guards took their place among other local militia companies such as The Cleveland Grays, and the Cleveland Jaegers. The Hibernian Guards began taking the lead on the St. Patrick's Day Parade and launched an annual banquet. Find out about how the Hibernian Guards conveyed the pride of Irish immigrants in Cleveland and supported the cause of Irish nationhood.
Once the Famine Immigrants arrived in Cleveland, they started putting down roots. Many early immigrants practiced what today we'd call "chain migration." The initial immigrants who came in search of work were eventually joined by family members from Ireland, leading to whole extended families transplanting their lives, their loved ones, and their old communities into the new city.
Many of these immigrants became laborers. A few eventually started their own businesses. Rooting themselves in their new American place, the Famine immigrants found many different paths to success as they pursued the American Dream and created a new home.
The Irish who immigrated due to the Famine in the late 1840's and early 1850's faced a harrowing journey across the Atlantic Ocean -- crammed into overcrowded "Coffin Ships" with little food, and even less sanitation.
Once in the United States, they often experienced discrimination.
A xenophobic political movement sprang up called the "Know Nothings" – the “Know Nothings” were American-born Protestants who harassed Irish immigrants and burnt down Catholic churches. Irish immigrants were met with “No Irish Need Apply” signs. Without acknowledging the discrimination that the Irish faced, Protestant abolitionists chided them for not embracing the anti-slavery movement.
The hardships faced by early Irish immigrants reveal an ugly nativist impulse that shows up again and again in United States history, as each fresh wave of "others" is vilified. The Irish refugees of the 1850's -- fleeing a decimated and depleted land in search of safety and opportunity -- are not so very different from today's Syrian refugees or Central American immigrants. And the alienating discrimination Irish immigrants initially faced was just a tiny fraction of the relentless discrimination Black people faced and continue to face to this day.
Perhaps by remembering the Irish experience, we can learn not repeat it.
By the way, in this episode mistakenly cites the magazine Harper's Bazaar. The periodical should have been cited as Harper's Weekly.
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland formed in 1847, just as both Irish Catholics fleeing the Famine and German Catholics fleeing a failed revolution converged on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. These immigrant groups both formed their own ethnic neighborhoods, and petitioned the Diocese to form distinct ethnic parishes, as well. Soon, English speaking churches for the Irish, and German speaking churches for the Germans dotted the lands around the Cuyahoga, all anchored by a grand new Cathedral in what would become downtown Cleveland.
The first Catholic church in the area was St. Mary's on the Flats (the congregation was founded in 1826, but the church structure itself wasn't built and dedicated until 1840). It served all Catholics, regardless of their ethnicity. The first specifically Irish parishes were St. Patrick's on Bridge (founded in 1853), and Holy Name (founded in 1854).
The first resident pastor of St. Patrick's on Bridge - Irishman Fr. James Conlan - became a beloved figure in the Irish community and the city of Cleveland at large. He was described as a steady and sympathetic shepherd for those who had endured the trauma of the Famine. He had such a big impact on his fledgling congregation of immigrants that his funeral procession stretched for more than three miles.
The immigration wave caused by The Great Irish Potato Famine coincided with the coming of the railroad to Cleveland.
But those fleeing the famine were ill-equipped to hit the ground running in this rapidly industrializing trade nexus.
Instead, immigrants who'd left Ireland before the Famine and were already the United States were better positioned to take immediate advantage of the railroad boom--Examples include a railroad and ore dock contractor, a brass foundry owner, and an iron works owner.
Irish immigrants in the 1830s and 1840s take advantage of the boomtown economy resulting from the Ohio and Erie Canal--transitioning from transient laborers to settled entrepreneurs in a fledgling city. This episode follows a farmer, a grocer, a teamster, and a a tug-boat titan, all forging their own paths in a new city within a new world.
The early growth of the Catholic diocese in Cleveland is a marker of the growing presence of Irish Catholics in the community. The city's first Catholic church, St. Mary's on the Flats, was dedicated in 1840, keeping pace with the increasing number of Catholics--both Irish and German--who were arriving in the city to participate in the canal economy.
The Ohio and Erie Canal was a man-made waterway designed to connect Lake Erie with the Ohio River. It was dug by hand between 1825 and 1832--with Irish immigrants providing much of the labor. The Irish laborers who dug the canal left few traces in public records, but this episode endeavors to resurrect their memories and the contributions they made to a fledgling city.
This episode starts our journey with Irish immigrants in Cleveland by examining the story of George Croghan. He was an Irishman who worked as a fur trader along the Cuyahoga River in the pre-Revolutionary War period in America. His interactions with both Native Americans and English colonizers was a template for Irish immigrants trying to navigate a new world full of possibilities and peril.