Cleveland Irish: Cleveland Geopolitics
By Francis McGarry
Professor Trouillot discussed “tierra nullius” to describe how Old World inhabitants viewed the New World. Artists would more likely use a “blank slate.” That designation according to my professor, allow colonists the ability, among others, to build their settlements as they chose, devoid of a structure pre-determined by previous generations.
In practice, many re-built areas that were already established. The Spanish built churches on top of land that was already deemed sacred by those native to the land. Geological features, and their advantages, did not stop being geological features just because new people arrived.
Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs and Steel outlines what he terms “geographic luck.” A theory of geographic determinism, in that societies develop and have developed differently as a result of geographic causes.
Why did agriculture arise in certain areas and not others? Diamond responds that soil fertility, the availability of domesticable animals, and the availability of edible crops led to agriculture. Agriculture leads to increases in technology, social structure and even health.
Centralized agriculture in a society allows for some to not be involved in production of and harvesting of crops. Those societies are the first to include a religious and ruling class. Those societies experience population growth and density which results in immunity, real heard immunity, and became resistant to epidemics. In short, if you could produce wheat or rice and had sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses, Arabian camels, Bactrian camels, llamas and alpacas, donkeys, reindeers, water buffalos, yaks, Bali cattle or Mithun, you had all the advantages necessary to build civilization.
Peter Zeihan in The Accidental Super Power: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder also focuses on the geology of “geographic luck” and how that factors into current global politics. As Americans, we tend to think that our success is based on hard work and commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Zeihan notes that all major expansionary powers have been based in a temperate zone.
He also explains why the USA has never had a foreign power on its soil since the time of the people who came up with the whole life, liberty and happiness thing. It is geography that is a result of geology.
The United States has some of the best soil in the world and a waterway network that supports trade and growth. It has nearly as many miles of internal waterways as the rest of the world, including rivers that permit large ships. On the coasts it benefits from three thousand miles of exposed coastline with dozens of shielded bays. That means ports and shipping. A port potential equal to the entire rest of the world with access to both the Atlantic and Pacific. Sorry Thomas Jefferson, but we should also be thanking the last Ice Age.
The Allure of Lake Erie
We also have the Great Lakes. The allure of Lake Erie, which captures the generational attention of Northern Ohioans, also serves to illustrate the importance of geological history as it collides with chronicles of Irish immigrants who worked to build the Greater Cleveland area.
Two million years ago, where Lake Erie surges proudly, a glacier eroded and created a basin that allowed for the water from other Great Lake bodies to drain. While water flowed to the empty basin creating Lake Erie, the sediment carried to the shores solidified the futures of Irish immigrants, who would later arrive in search of the American dream. The Western side of the Cleveland basin was left with limestone shorelines which resisted erosion, while the Eastern side dips drastically deeper as a result of shale rock deposits which are chipped away with centuries of water flow.
That geological difference influenced initial settlement and interaction. Ohio City in the late 19th century appealed to Irish immigrants in search of blue-collar work in Cleveland’s booming industrial economy; an economy based on the lake and a crooked river, thanks geology. The geopolitics of Cleveland led to tensions between the City of Cleveland and Ohio City as a greater majority of canal boats were processed through Cleveland, which eventually led to the annexation of Ohio City into the much larger Cleveland and the eastside of the river.
The two cities benefited from a more productive industrial market, which led to a greater demand for labor in the economy. This economic merger and resulting internal migration was a catalyst for the river division.
The westside of Cleveland was more residential, while the Ohio City laborers migrated toward the Eastside of Cleveland, nearer to work sites. Industrial neighborhoods were more diverse as new immigrants arrived and were employed in the laborious jobs. Residential neighborhoods maintained the ability to be homogenous.
Regardless of the side of the river, the Greater Cleveland area proved a center for Irish immigrants seeking work. The Erie Canal system surrounding the Great Lakes promised a wealth of willing, laboring Irish immigrants. This canal way, allowed by the recession of a glacier and the various erosion processes which followed, remains responsible for the Irish-American population in the Greater Cleveland area.
A vast influx of Irish immigration resulted in changes to the Ohio election results. Wards that were industrial tended to vote Democratic. Wards that were older and had less immigrants tended to vote Republican.
Overall, Cleveland’s booming industrial economy following the Civil War often promised Democratic candidates and Irish immigrants. Fleeing an oppressive government, those immigrants often happily obliged. This is a political distinction whose origins are in the late Cambrian period’s volcanism and orogeny formations.
Bluestone and Sandstone
This same period gave us Bluestone on the Eastside and Berea sandstone on the Westside. It is purely geological fact that the Bluestone, also known as Euclid Bluestone, is the stronger of the two. Cleveland geographic luck some would say, at least by those closer to PA.
Our geopolitics are the local expression of Diamond’s and Zeihan’s studies as part of Erie Basin. I would not argue a singular variable, but definitely a common denominator. We have a few of those on the Eastside.
As Andy Dufrense said, “Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure and time.” While many familial ties to Ireland can be made by tracing only a few generations, a two million old glacier is the reason a vast majority of Irish Americans call Lake Erie home.
*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and Histor,y and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago. Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side and is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.