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.
Irish people have continued to immigrate to Cleveland since the 1960s. Both recent immigrants and American-born counterparts contribute to the vitality of Cleveland's Irish American community today. The community is flourishing--with a newspaper, radio shows, active social clubs, clubs devoted to particular professions, and strong support for traditional Irish music, dance, language, and sports. The Irish American Archives Society works with all these organizations and more to preserve the history of the Irish in Cleveland. I’m going to take a break until early summer to figure out how to format a new podcast series in a way that keeps advancing our knowledge. Until then, enjoy the spring! And thanks for listening.
This episode I'm going to share my own memories of Cleveland’s Irish community during the 1950s and 1960s--my growing up years. My family was involved with the Hibernians and Irish dancing. The Hibernians put on an annual St. Patrick’s Day banquet and held card parties to raise money for Irish missionary priests. We helped with Parade floats, manned tables at nationality fairs, and attended Irish picnics at Euclid Beach Park. Our parishes reinforced our Irish identity. At St. Mel's Parish, where I grew up, Fr. Tom Flynn organized an annual St. Patrick’s Day show and encouraged us to take Irish dancing lessons from Tessie Burke at the old I.A. Hall on Madison Avenue. We attended feises or dancing competitions at the Berea Fairgrounds, did danceouts at the Irish Cultural Garden, and went to ceili dances sponsored by the Gaelic Society--nurturing a lifelong love of Irish music and dance.
The immigrants of the 1950s and 1960s had a particular impact on the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. From 1935 until 1958, the Irish Civic Association organized the parade. Most of the Civic Association members were born in the US. By 1958, the postwar immigrants had formed new clubs that celebrated traditional Irish sports, music, and dance and were also reinvigorating the Hibernians and the West Side IA. The new energy required a new model for parade management--the United Irish Societies. New constituencies--women and younger generations--also had to work their way to the table, but the UIS functions to this day as a kind of United Nations for Irish organizations in Cleveland.
Postwar immigration energized Irish club activity in Cleveland. The newcomers helped to revitalize the city's longest-lasting Irish organization--the Ancient Order of Hibernians and its Ladies Auxiliary--and the West Side Irish American Club which had already been a community hub since its founding in 1930. The 1950s and 1960s immigrants also established new clubs: The Pioneer Total Abstinence Association and four clubs that were devoted to preserving traditional Irish culture and joined forces as the Associated Irish Clubs: The Gaelic Football Club, the Gaelic Hurling Club, the Irish Musicians Association, and the Gaelic Society. The 1950s and 1960s cohort also revived interest in an east-side social center, resulting in the Irish American Club East Side, which was founded in 1978.
Irish immigrants of the 1950s and 1960s had a huge impact on Gaelic sports in Cleveland. After WWII, Gaelic Athletic Association promoters like Cleveland's Henry Cavanagh began talking about re-starting inter-city competition for Gaelic sports in 1949. Cleveland was in the forefront, as Henry Cavanagh invited colleagues from other Midwest cities to attend the first Midwest GAA convention in Cleveland in 1950. In the early 1950s, Cleveland organized multiple intramural squads for Gaelic Football, Hurling, and Women's Camogie. By the early 1960s, immigrant players coalesced around one strong, competitive football team—Cleveland St. Pat’s. St. Pat’s captured five consecutive national titles from 1962 through 1966. Hundreds of unheralded players kept Gaelic sports alive in Cleveland, through their commitment to the GAA values of discipline and teamwork, and their love of the games.
After the immigration wave of the 1920s, the next big wave occurred in the 1950s and 1960s. While the 1950s immigrants came from all over Ireland, the earlier connections between Cleveland and County Mayo were reinforced. Several factors slowed Irish immigration down between the late 1920s and the 1950s: the first restrictions on immigration from Europe in 1924, the worldwide depression of the 1930s, and World War II. Many Irish people found it easier to immigrate to England in the 1930s and 1940s. When the English economy was slow to recover after WWII, some Irish immigrants looked to Canada or Australia. But the US was still the destination of choice. Most of the 1950s and 1960s immigrants worked at laboring jobs. They had a strong presence in the Building Laborers Local 310. Some were able to parlay laboring occupations into business ownership. Cleveland's economy was still humming then, and they were absorbed into it readily.
Recent immigrants and American-born sons were quick to join war efforts during the Spanish American War of 1898 and World War I. They did so again when World War II broke out. Brothers often enlisted together; six brothers from one Gallagher family served at the same time. Priests and doctors answered the call as well. On the home front, many Irish Americans were involved in maintaining a canteen for servicemen at St. John Cathedral. For returning servicemen, the GI Bill offered an opportunity to attend college or even medical or law school--opportunities that young men from working class families would not have had otherwise, and opportunities that they could open up for their children in turn.
By the 1930s, more people of Irish birth and descent were investing in real estate in ways large and small. Families scrimped to buy second lots and held onto their first houses as rental property. Managing that property was often a side job for married women, providing a way for women to contribute to their family’s financial well-being. The extra income earned by managing real estate became a lifeline for women who were widowed or whose husbands lacked steady employment. One widowed woman and real estate speculator, Celia McCafferty Carney, paved the way for her two sons, John and Jim Carney, to become major players in real estate and politics in Cleveland for many decades.
People of Irish birth and descent entered the medical professions earlier, but their numbers grew in the 1920s through the 1940s. The city's Catholic hospitals were founded in the 19th century by religious orders. The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine organized St. Vincent Charity Hospital during the Civil War to care for wounded soldiers and set up a maternity hospital, St. Ann's, to care for unwed mothers and foundling babies. A German order, the Sisters of St. Francis, formed St. Alexis Hospital in Newburgh and St. John's on the west side (later yielding St. John's to the Sisters of Charity). Sons of 19th century immigrant families began studying to become doctors in the 1880s and 1890s and were chiefs of staff and surgery at the city's Catholic hospitals by the 1920s. By the early 20th century, women of Irish birth and descent were training at hospital nursing schools in the United States. Irish American doctors and nurses took on essential roles as the city's Catholic hospitals served a growing city.
Everyday run-ins with danger could pull policemen and firemen into newspaper stories and headlines. But famous cases and fires tended to be featured when careers were being summed up. Many firemen who were active in the 1920s and 1930s worked on the 1914 lumberyard fire in the flats that nearly destroyed the Central Viaduct, or the 1929 Cleveland Clinic Fire that killed 123 people and injured 92. Policemen were more likely than firemen to face moral quandaries. The 1930s were rife with such quandaries. Between the desperation of the Great Depression, the rise of gangsters, and labor unrest, policemen often found themselves in situations that pitted them against neighbors and friends or involved temptations and conflicted loyalties.
Priests and nuns were highly valued and essential Irish community members in every decade, but an exceptional generation came to the fore in the 1920s and 1930s. Men and women of Irish descent who were born in the 1870s and 1880s, who grew up in Cleveland and attended school here, were reaching their prime as clergy and religious at that time. Founding pastors, diocesan officials, and mother superiors of Irish descent all stepped into the limelight during the tenure of Bishop Joseph Schrembs, from 1921 through 1945. Thanks to their vision and dedication, Cleveland’s parishes and Catholic schools continued to flourish and kept pace with a thriving city.
Undertakers were valued and essential community members. Known as undertakers in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries they morphed into funeral directors by the 1930s. Whether in the 19th century, the 20th century, and even today, they ran small family businesses whose survival depended on the continuity of family generations and a clientele of their own ethnicity. The first generation of Irish undertakers came on the scene when undertaking was a new profession. The next generation of undertakers emerged at the turn of the century, while a large cluster of Irish-owned funeral operations formed to serve the 1920s cohort of immigrants. The bond between Irish funeral directors and the Irish American community remains strong to this day.
Music featured prominently at Irish community events all the way back to the first St. Patrick's Day Banquet in 1842. But traditional Irish music and dance really came to the fore in Cleveland in the 1920s and 1930s. The immigrants of the 1920s were the first generation to experience the full impact of the late-nineteenth-century revival of interest in the Irish language and traditional Irish culture, including folklore, sports, music, and dance. Irish "folk dancing" was featured at the Theater of Nations circa 1930. Also in 1930, a weekly radio show featuring Irish music was launched, hosted by Mary K. Duffy and featuring tenor Dick O'Heren and the Irish Ensemble with accordion player Johnny McNea. The West Side Irish American Club also began a fife and drum band in the 1930s. Fiddler Tom Scott began teaching Irish dancing in Cleveland in the 1940s. The 1950s wave of immigration continued to boost the traditional Irish music and dance scene in Cleveland, and it's still going strong today.
Irish Americans found themselves on all sides of the law in the late 19th and 20th centuries. A life of crime tempted some who lived hardscrabble lives in the Angle and the near West Side. The Triangle, McCart Street, and Cheyenne Gangs stopped at petty crime, though the Cheyennes were caught up in the newspaper circulation wars of the 1910s, culminating in the death of a former newspaper boy in 1914. Legendary characters such as Blackjack McGinty and Shimmy Patton grew up in the same milieu but made their livelihoods and reputations in bootlegging and gambling. A few decades later, Danny Greene embroiled himself in a civil war between mob factions in Cleveland and "lived by the bomb and died by the bomb."
The children and grandchildren of earlier immigrants continued to identify with their Irish heritage in the 1920s and 1930s. But the second and third generations tended to become involved in a different set of Irish organizations—ones that were shaped more by circumstances in Cleveland and the US than in Ireland. The most prominent new Irish organization to emerge during this timeframe was the Irish American Civic Association—later shortened to the Irish Civic Association. In the 1930s, the Civic Association facilitated Irish involvement in large-scale civic projects such as fundraising for the Irish Cultural Garden, reinvigorating the summer picnic tradition, and reviving a downtown St. Patrick's Day Parade. But women--especially Adelia Christy and Mary Kay Duffy--also emerged as civic leaders during this decade, spearheading Irish participation in the Theater of Nations and bolstering the successful completion of the Irish Cultural Garden.
Irish immigrants were holding a wide array of jobs by the mid-to-late 19th century. However, no matter what the era, it seems that each newly arriving group of Irish immigrants first entered the workforce as manual laborers. Sample groups of Irish immigrants from the 1850s, 1880s, 1920s, and 1950s also show the same trend. More than half of them held laboring jobs during each given time period. At all of those time periods, Cleveland's growth provided laboring jobs--in manufacturing and construction. Irish immigrants were involved in building this city at each stage of its growth.
Many of the Irish immigrants who came to Cleveland in the 1910s and 1920s were young single men who were escaping conflict. They or their families wanted them to avoid conscription into the British Army during World War I or to avoid what seemed certain to be another failed rebellion in 1916. Others left in the later 1910s as rebellion spread in Ireland, and the British Black and Tans terrorized the countryside. Others had been enemy combatants during the Irish Civil War in 1922 and 1923. This cohort of immigrants swelled the ranks of organizations that promoted Irish freedom, including the secretive Clan na Gael. They also brought Gaelic football to Cleveland in the 1920s, and they helped to found the city’s most enduring Irish social club, the West Side Irish American Club. A new wave of immigration was already producing a new wave of Irish community leaders.
The craze for baseball hit Cleveland in the 1860s, and is reflected in telegraph operator William Manning's diaries. He and his cousins played baseball among themselves. The Cathedral Sodality Club that they belonged to formed a team, as did their father, Thomas Manning's, iron foundry. William Manning also mentioned attending several Forest City Baseball Club games. Cleveland's baseball team was a fully professional team and charter members of the American League, by the time that Irish Americans Jack Graney and Steve O'Neill joined the team in 1908 and 1911, respectively. Both were members of the 1920 World Championship team, and Graney went on to become the team's radio broadcaster. Boxing rivaled baseball in popularity, however, and Cleveland's Johnny Kilbane rose to national prominence as world featherweight champion from 1912-1923.
The newspapers of the day and the diaries of telegraph operator William Manning document an Irish presence on both sides of Cleveland’s footlights in the 19th century. Manning went to the theater almost once a month in the 1860s, sampling melodramas, farces and large-cast spectacles. He took in plays by Dion Boucicault, a versatile Irish-born actor-manager-playwright who was especially celebrated for a series of comic Irish melodramas that showcased his comedic talent while tapping into the growing audience of Irish immigrants in the United States. A Boucicault successor, actor Joseph Murphy, criss-crossed the country with his own roster of Irish melodramas, often stopping in Cleveland. As vaudeville or variety shows gained in popularity in the 1890s, Irish kids in Cleveland dreamed of making it in vaudeville and could see "one of their own," Mitty Devere, at the Majestic Theatre on West 25th Street, or the Empire downtown.
From benevolent or mutual help societies in the 1860s and 1870s, Irish immigrants took the next step--establishing building loan associations and commercial insurance companies in Cleveland. Fenian supporters and Irish community leaders helped to form such groups as The Forest City United Land and Building Association in 1867 and the Hibernia Insurance Company in 1870. People of Irish birth and descent moved more slowly into the higher status ranks of banking and stock brokering. Several came to banking through their success in retail business, others through political connections. It was an Irish immigrant, Jeremiah Sullivan, President of Central National Bank, who chaired the committee that secured the Federal Reserve Bank for Cleveland in 1914.
The ranks of Cleveland city government and Cuyahoga county government were filling with Irish officeholders in the 1890s. Irish Americans occupied the mayor’s office twice that decade. Many of the same folks who were active in the city's Irish organizations were also active in Democratic Party politics--though Irish Republicans also had success at the ballot box in the early 1900s. The progressive reformer, Tom L. Johnson, was not Irish but garnered support across a broad spectrum of the Irish community--from rank and file laborers, who were the backbone of Democratic Party support, to such community leaders as Martin A. Foran, William Gleason, and Hibernian P. J. "Honest Pat" McKenney, a longtime Cleveland councilman and county commissioner. But Johnson's management of the city’s police department may have cost him some Irish votes along the way. Though Johnson promoted the first Irishman to the top position in the police department, he also skipped over and forced out popular Captain Michael English, and lost the Angle vote in the 1909 election.
Cleveland supporters of Irish nationhood launched a summer picnic in 1864--a tradition that lasted for decades. The picnics featured speeches promoting the cause of Irish freedom, but also offered summer amusements at parks outside the city. Railroads offered excursion rates for days filled with swing, tugboat or dirigible rides, races, music, and sports and dancing competitions. The names of the organizations that sponsored the picnics changed over the years--from the Fenians, to the Land League, to the National League, to the Irish Nationalists. Sometimes the nationalist impulse intersected with a business networking impulse, and downtown hotels and club rooms also became the scenes of nationalist activities. But the same leaders were behind those shifting organizations for decades, only gradually giving way to a new generation of leaders. A new century was dawning, but Ireland was still not free. The pressure to support armed rebellion grew.
In the 1890s, the pastor of an Irish Parish in Cleveland was called upon to be many things. Irish parishes continued to be a focal point for Irish identity and pride. The Cleveland Catholic Diocese, under Bishop Horstmann, was encouraging parishes to host musical concerts and productions of plays. Educated Irish priests introduced Irish or Irish-American plays to their parishioners, and Irish parishes and pastors were happy to be associated with these displays of cultural aspiration. At the same time, one of the pastor's fundamental tasks was to erect and manage large building projects--church and school buildings, rectories, and convents. They were called upon to function essentially as businessmen, but had to be wary of getting too caught up in the pitfalls of business speculation.
As industry accelerated in Cleveland during the 1880s and 1890s, the pace of industrial accidents--all too often fatal--also picked up. The newspapers of the day gave brief but vivid accounts of workplace accidents. The ore docks seem to have been particularly dangerous, but fatal accidents took place in factories of all kinds. Larger industrial disasters also took place. Some of those disasters are little remembered today--such as a riverbed accident that claimed the lives of 16 ore dock workers in July 1896. One of the most dramatic industrial accidents in Cleveland history was the water tunnel explosion of 1916. 20 lives were lost as tunnel workers, firemen, policemen, doctors, tugboat crew members, the janitor on the crib, and African American inventor Garrett Morgan were all swept up in desperate rescue attempts.
More and more Irish immigrants began to share in Cleveland’s rising prosperity in the 1880s and 1890s. Cleveland was the industrial equivalent to Silicon Valley in the 1890s. Irish immigrants who had been living elsewhere were drawn to Cleveland. Along with those who had been here for decades, they were becoming businessmen, lawyers, and bankers. And prosperous families hired help. More and more new Irish immigrants, especially women, arrived in the US with the expectation that they would become servants. Working for Cleveland's most prominent families or for fellow immigrants, they became coachmen, chauffeurs, gardeners, cooks, maids, and nannies.
Cleveland shot to the forefront of the American oil refining industry after the Civil War. The city's lead in oil was largely due to the enterprise of John D. Rockefeller, who quickly jumped on the opportunities presented when oil was discovered in Titusville PA in 1859. But Grasselli Chemical Works, Sherwin Williams, and Glidden Paints also helped to put Cleveland on the oil industry map in the late 1860s. A few of the city's oil pioneers had Irish roots. Brothers John and James Corrigan, sons of an Irish immigrant, became involved in shipping oil products from Cleveland to their native Canada in the late 1860s. By 1870, they were both living in Cleveland and engaged in kerosene refining. (James Corrigan later shifted his attention to shipping iron and founded the Corrigan McKinney Steel Company in 1894.) Jeremiah Murphy, another son of an Irish immigrant, founded the Ohio Oil Company in 1881. Unable to compete with Rockefeller's ruthless business practices, Murphy had to fold Ohio Oil in 1885, but was able to gather the resources to start Phoenix Oil Company in 1890 and found success as the maker of Murphy's Oil Soap.
Many Irish immigrants had been shut out of land ownership in Ireland. They were eager to own a lot and a home in Cleveland, though many could not accomplish property ownership in the span of one generation. However, the most successful of the city’s pre-Famine Irish immigrants were able to do more. As industry took off after the Civil War, families who could afford it--such as brass foundry owner James Farnan--sought property in less congested areas, for instance, along Detroit Avenue, past today’s W. 65th Street. John McCart, another Irish immigrant who bought property in the area in 1860, became a real estate speculator and helped to open up what we now call the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.
The push for compulsory education was heating up in Ohio as Richard Gilmour began his tenure as Bishop in Cleveland in 1872. Like many Catholics, Bishop Gilmour feared that the Americanizing impulse of public schools also had the hidden agenda of taking the "Catholic" out of Catholic immigrants. Gilmour championed Catholic education, battling against compulsory public education and asserting that parish schools should be exempt from property taxes. Catholic grade schools had been a part of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland almost since the diocese was formed in 1847. After the Ohio State Legislature passed a compulsory education bill in 1877, Bishop Gilmour promoted the expansion of the Catholic school system in Cleveland to include high schools for both young men and young women.
Bishop Gilmour wrangled continuously with Irish community leaders for more than a decade. The bishop had managed to enforce centralized planning for the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. But enthusiasm for his planning process was waning. The Ancient Order of Hibernians bridged the gap between the Catholic Central Association and the secular organizations that Bishop Gilmour shunned. The Hibernians were a national organization, founded in New York in 1836 to protect Irish Catholics against discrimination. Although they were associated in the public mind with the labor agitators, the Molly Maguires, they managed to fly under the bishop's radar in Cleveland. They were able to leverage their role as mediators to maintain Cleveland's parade tradition.
A series of bad weather and bad growing years in the late 1870s and early 1880s caused what historians now call the "Forgotten Famine" in the west of Ireland. James Hack Tuke, an English banker and Quaker who had been involved in relief efforts during the Great Famine, decided to do something to alleviate the hunger and civil unrest. He raised funds to offer "assisted emigration" to needy families in communities surrounding Blacksod Bay, including townlands on the Belmullet peninsula, townlands such as Ballycroy and Mulranny along the western edge of the bay, and the townlands of Achill Parish, along the southern edge. With steelmaking surging, Cleveland was one of the country’s fastest growing industrial centers at the time and drew a significant number of Tuke immigrants. They were drawn to the two neighborhoods most connected with steel--Newburgh, where the steel mills were located, and the Angle, where the raw materials were unloaded.
Bishop Richard Gilmour was already affronted when Irish community members formed organizations without a religious purpose and without the leadership of priests. He was further exercised when those leaders and organizations began to push more aggressively for Irish nationhood. But the conflicts between Bishop Gilmour and some Irish community leaders reached a new level of antagonism when a bold group of women got involved in promoting Irish nationhood. Calling them unwomanly and "brawling politicians" whose place should have been in the home, Gilmour excommunicated the women who persisted in participating in the Ladies Land League.
Since 1842, the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade had gone forward, whether led by religious leaders or lay leaders. Cleveland's Irish priests and Irish community members knew each other and interacted easily. Some organizations, like the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association, had Catholic members but did not have a Catholic purpose and were not led by priests. No one had flagged this situation as problematic until Bishop Richard Gilmour arrived in Cleveland in 1872 and set about trying to prevent "un-Catholic" groups from participating in the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade.
In the 1860s and 1870s, people of Irish birth and descent moved more and more into different forms of public service. The city's police and fire departments were both organized in the mid-1860s, and Irish-born Civil War veterans joined both forces. In the 1870s, the city's first two lawyers of Irish birth or descent were admitted to the bar. Both became active in Democratic party politics, leading to a career in government for one of them. The late 1860s and 1870s saw the city's first Irish councilmen and appointments to various government boards and commissions.
In the 1860s and 1870s more and more Irish immigrants decided to go into the business of providing goods and services to their neighbors. Opening a grocery store, a saloon, or a boarding house increasingly became an option for immigrants who didn’t have a trade but had the ambition to be their own boss. People in those days didn’t travel far and wide to shop in specialty boutiques or to sample craft beer or whiskey. They sought the basics in food and drink in their own neighborhoods, even on their own blocks. Irish-run grocery stores, saloons, and boarding houses on both the West and East Sides of the River, near the River mouth, a grocery store in Newburgh, and one in Tremont reflected settlement patterns for Irish people in Cleveland. These small business owners paved a path toward upward mobility for themselves, but at the same time gave their immigrant neighbors a sense of community and belonging.
Undertaking was a new profession in the 1860s and 1870s--and an entrepreneurial type of family business. Undertakers had to deploy the skills of embalming, coffin making, and stabling horses. They had to balance the books of a small business, while not appearing to take advantage of folks in mourning. They had to have the ability to calm and console. The pioneering Irish undertakers of the 1860s and 1870s were trusted and known to neighbors and friends--Thomas McLane and Mark McGorray on the West Side, Thomas Gallagher downtown, Michael McGreal in Newburgh, and James Flynn moving east along St. Clair, later Superior, then Euclid.
Cleveland's Irish community was coming of age in the 1870s. Jobs in Cleveland were plentiful. People had time for leisure activities--for clubs. More and more clubs formed, making their presence known in the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade. Along with the Temperance Society, parish sodalities, benevolent societies and fraternal organizations like the Ancient Order of Hibernians began appearing. An organization that was unique to Cleveland came to prominence--the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association. In addition to providing assistance to members in need, the group built a large lending library, encouraging self-improvement, citizenship, voting, and support for the cause of Irish nationhood. All of these groups started meeting together to plan the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade--a symbol of communal pride.
The complaints about Bishop Rappe mounted in the 1860s. Priests of Irish birth and descent protested Rappe’s unpopular pew rent fees and annual seminary tax, his habit of assigning French-and German-speaking priests to Irish parishes and his frequent transfers of Irish priests. There were outcries when Rappe replaced an Irish seminary rector with a French one and admitted to favoring bi-lingual French- and German-speaking seminarians over Irish ones. Rappe saw himself as counteracting the barriers of nationality as he struggled to build a cohesive diocese. A group of Irish-born priests began to meet to formulate a complaint to Rome, ultimately forcing Bishop Rappe to resign from the Diocese of Cleveland in August of 1870.
Cleveland's population exploded after the Civil War. In the 1860s, Bishop Amadeus Rappe--the French-born clergyman in charge of the fledgling Cleveland Diocese--began subdividing old parishes and designating new ones to accommodate the city's rapid growth. However, Bishop Rappe was resistant to Catholic immigrants over-investing in their ethnic heritage. Believing that they should identify as Catholics first and foremost, he often tried to mix and match French and German priests with Irish flocks. However, Irish-born priests and parishioners increasingly made clear that they wanted parishes that harbored and protected tight-knit Irish immigrant communities.
Irish-born Civil War veterans returned to Cleveland with a new-found confidence. They had just helped to win a war. Some Irish veterans began to think about advancing another just cause -- freedom for their native country. Returning veterans joined the Fenian Brotherhood -- which aimed to stir up American support for overthrowing British rule in Ireland. Plans coalesced around a proposed (and ill-advised) invasion -- of Canada! Cleveland was in the thick of Fenian activity, serving as a rendezvous point for Fenians headed toward Canada from points west and south. But unsurprisingly, the US government did not want war with Britain in Canada, and squelched the short-lived Fenian movement.
The Confederate army attacked Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Five days later, forty-nine of Cleveland’s Hibernian Guards--an "all-Irish" local militia company--volunteered for the Union war effort as a group. They were absorbed into Company B of the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and fought at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and many other battles, playing a pivotal role during the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, returning veterans filled Cleveland's newly organized police and fire departments. An Irish-born veteran championed the cause of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Cleveland's Public Square.
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 in 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.