Cleveland Irish: Day Ones

Cleveland Irish: Day Ones
by Francis McGarry

St. Patrick’s Day was on a Friday in 1871.  The day after St. Pat’s in 1871, French revolutionary socialists killed two French generals and took control of Paris for two months.  The Paris Commune was eventually displaced by the French army.  Karl Marx used the rebellion as an example of proletariat power. He published the second edition of Capitalin 1871.

In 1871 the Ku Klux Klan of Meridian, Mississippi shot a judge and a race riot ensued.  The Klan was a synchronic reconstruction re-incarnation of nativism.  It was nativists that attacked Irish Churches and communities before the Civil War.  This was a part of the collective Irish American memory in 1871.  Irish participation in the war allowed a move down the racial hate hierarchy in America. 

The Irish were in positions of greater power, both politically and socially.  However, bias did not disappear.  In New Jersey in 1871, Police Commissioners were prepared to maintain order as  Orange lodges planned to march to venerate William of Orange. 

The Ancient Order of Hibernians made it clear they would “oppose” the parade.  Governor Theodore Randolph defended the right to assemble peaceably. However, he cautioned, “I do further enjoin upon the members of the society especially proposed to assemble together tomorrow, the exercise of the utmost patience, care and discretion, in pursuance of their rights, bearing in mind that by a large portion of our fellow citizens the peculiar occasion of their gathering is deemed an unnecessary revival of an ancient political and religious feud.”

As Hibernians made their presence felt in the New York area, Irish Clevelanders began to expand their community and community organizations.  On that Friday, March 17th, 1871, multiple Irish organizations held banquets to celebrate the day.  It was an overcast and damp day, but as the Irish assembled in the evening in four official locations, everyone was smiling. 

The Father Matthew Society at the Cathedral gathered at the corner of Superior and Erie.  Over 600 guests filled the Cathedral Hall.  The Bishop spoke and gave all glory to God and condemned the Italian government for the treatment of Pope Pius IX.  He did not mention the Church of Ireland was separated from the Church of England, and no longer entitled to tithes beginning on January 1st, 1871.

Guests then toasted the President of the United States, Daniel O’Connell, and the Irish in America.  The Irish in America were “A powerful element in peace and war. May their sinews be ever strong to develop their resources of their adopted country and their hearts ever brave to defend her starry banner.” 

They toasted Ireland, “The land of faith; the martyred island; respected by all nations save one.  May her innate power soon cause that respect to be universal.”

The Father Matthew Temperance Society at Immaculate Conception began in 1870 and in 1871 had a St. Patrick’s Day festival and supper. It included ten toasts: the first to St. Patrick, the second to the growth of the Church, the third to the President of the United States, the fourth to Father Matthew, the apostle of temperance, the 5thto the American Republic, the 6thto the Martyrs of Irish Liberty, the 7thto the Governor of Ohio, the 8thto the Mayor and the 9thto the press.

Thomas Lavan gave a speech following the 6thtoast to the Irish martyrs. “The right to think and speak as he deemed best was a privilege worthy of being fought for and dying for.  If it was not for such martyrs, what would this world be worth?” 

Lavan spoke of the graves unmarked by stone or monument, and would so remain until the flag of Erin floated over Dublin Castle.  He alluded to the noble deeds and undying hatred of England’s tyranny, of men whose blood was still crying for vengeance.  The tenth toast was to “the ladies.”

The New England Hotel hosted the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association St. Patrick’s Day gathering in 1871.  The ILBA was begun three years earlier to promote Irish literary culture among the Irish citizens of Cleveland.  It maintained a substantial library at their hall at number 97 Bank Street, home to Patrick O’Marah’s wholesale market. 

The ILBA board included W.J Gleason and James Collins, both of whom would join the Hibernians, as this article has previously discussed, as well as other future Hibernians and members of the Irish Land League, Knights of Saint John and financial contributors to Irish causes. They first toasted St. Patrick. “On this night in every part of the world, wherever fortune or chance may have thrown the Irish men or women, they will be found offering the best of their heart for the land they love and the day we celebrate,” President O’Marah responded. 

The second toast was to themselves and their society.  P.K. Walsh offered the response by discussing the history of their organization.  The third toast was to the President of the United States.  The fourth toast was to the prosperity of Cleveland.  The fifth toast was to Ireland Resurgent.  The sixth toast was to Young Ireland.  The seventh was to the press.  The eight to American Industry. 

W.J. Gleason gave the response and it would fill this with more pages than I am allotted annually.  The ninth toast was to Ireland and her people, and the response was given by Father Thorpe.  The tenth was to “Our own Green Flag,” followed by a song for the Fenian volunteers. The eleventh toast was to “the ladies.” The twelfth was to the invited guests, the thirteenth to their hosts. 

The Knights of Erin held their reception at Gallagher and Brennan’s Hall, across the street from the Cathedral.  The Plain Dealer notes it was their first St. Patrick’s Day gathering.  Similar to the other toasts and responses, Irish nationalism was clearly celebrated simultaneously with Irish Americanism. 

The Cleveland Irish were aware of their place in American society and in the Irish Diaspora.  The locale of the banquet, church or hall did not dissuade the veracity of their desire for Irish freedom. 

Proletariat or not, they were aware of rebellion globally and shifts in political theory.  They were building a community of Cleveland Irish that we benefit from today.  They were wise enough to toast “the ladies” even if they did not drink, yet not wise enough to let them speak.   

*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago.  He is an assistant principal and history teacher.  Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side.  He is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.   


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