CURRENT ISSUE:  August 2023

Cleveland Irish: Once Again

Cleveland Irish: Once Again
By Francis McGarry

My Aunt Irene was always able to see the good. When there was no good to see, she had no problem sharing that with anyone who would listen. Some of us had no choice but to listen, “Now, youse can’t leave.”

She would have been overjoyed if she could have attended the Hibernian Scholarship Raffle on the Sunday before the Super Bowl. The raffle is a gathering of Cleveland Hibernians, Irish folks and those who choose to support Catholic education.

Villa Angela-St. Joseph Hall of Fame
Koumbaros provided the amazing meal, but it was the folks in the seats that provided the good. It was not surprising that two of those folks will be inducted into the Villa Angela-St. Joseph Hall of Fame. Dr. Dan Dickriede (Doc Dan), Class of ’78, and Bob Mullin, Class of ’88.

Bob Mullin is the President of Bluestone Division of the AOH, so his time in the seats was limited. It would not have been a surprise to Aunt Irene that the good in those folks is expressed in all the work they do and how they live their life.

Once we were done and the crowd had dissipated, I thought about our holiday in March as I paged through the iIirsh February edition that had just recently been delivered to the Eastside Irish Club. John O’Brien, Jr. was there and earlier we talked, not about treason. The accomplishments of that day and those folks in attendance, like LAOH National President Marilyn Madigan, is plenty to write about even (dearly) missing Jack Murphy.

All She Can Remember
If Aunt Irene would have been impressed, what about those initial Irish immigrants who made it to our fair city? Me Ma once said of my Aunt Ethel, “At her age all she can do is remember the past.”

I hope to have as many days as Aunt Ethel, but I have that affliction. That is due, in part, to just recently transcribing the 1840 Census for Cleveland, or what would become Cleveland. If they could see us now.

An 1819 law required that all ships carrying passengers to the United States from a foreign port to have passenger lists. That preceded an increase in immigration in the 1830s and 1840s, surpassing 200,000 in 1847.

In 1832-1846, 71,916 immigrants arrived in the US and Irish immigrants were 41% of that total. In 1847-1854, the number of immigrants jumped to 334,506 and the Irish were 45% of that total. Between 1820 to 1860 almost 2% died on ships in the Atlantic, a rate four times higher than non-immigrants.

In 1832-1846, 62% of all immigrants were male, 24% were under 14 years of age, 67% were ages 14-44 and 9% were over 45 years of age. During that period, 56% of immigrants listed no occupation, 1% were professionals, 12% were engaged in commercial enterprises, 27% listed they were skilled laborers, 33% listed farmers, 2% were servants and 24% were laborers.

As has been discussed previously in this article, it is impossible to accurately discuss the job skills of immigrants without discussing the job availability for immigrants. When they stopped building the canals, the Irish stopped digging them. Some might have been forced to labor upon their arrival in Cleveland proper, but it does not take long for the Irish to be represented and then over represented in all occupations.

Ohio & Erie Canal
Early accounts are inherently biased and many of those accounts are repeated today. In the years 1825-1845 Cleveland was transitioning from a canal village to a commercial center. In 1825, Cleveland’s population was primarily American born. It had just been decreed that the Ohio & Erie Canal would reach the Cuyahoga River (completed in October of 1825), spawning considerable investment in the city. This opened commercial opportunity, as goods from Detroit to Cleveland were shipped east. The completion also brought workers with experience in construction and contractors in Cleveland.

Many canal workers made their residence, at least initially, at the city where their canal stopped. The canals were built with work cohorts that tended to be from the same county or area of Ireland. See The Irish Wars, by Jay Perry. Which is why Mike McGinn knows the story of Tipp Hill. Syracuse attracted canal workers that were from County Tipperary and our re-relocated Brother is truly missed, especially when he talks history.

It was determined the canal would reach the Cuyahoga River from the East. That was not without debate; the western approach was cheaper, but the Village of Cleveland won that day. The genesis of the East-West debates were to follow.

Irish Town Bend
Cleveland also received capital funding from Washington to improve the shipping infrastructure. 200 years later, we are currently benefitting from new investment and opportunity in Irish Town Bend. The Cuyahoga River has been drudged for larger ships and the west bank of the river is in the beginning phases of becoming a go to destination for all Clevelanders. Hegel notes that all great, world historical events occur twice. Marx added the first time as tragedy and the second as farce.

There was tragedy in the building of Cleveland. Many Irish and other Clevelanders met their demise to make this thing of ours a thing. Many of those were immigrants; by 1845 half of the city was foreign born. It is our hope that the development of the west bank of the river portrays the early Irish of our city in a historically accurate light, not as a farce and not the first time Marx was incorrect. He is not in St. Joe’s Hall of Fame.

On the morning of March 17th, we will make our way to parish or pub and begin our celebration. We celebrate that day, that moment: in our city, that we helped build, with our family and our friends. We celebrate the 2% that did not survive the Atlantic.

Those who are buried next to the canals and those who gave their lives to not only build Cleveland, but who gave their lives to build Irish Cleveland. We celebrate tomorrow. Just as the first Irish in Cleveland created a foundation and attempted to make a better life for their children, we look to tomorrow with hope and faith.

As I perused the pages of this publication at the Irish Club, it was easy to see the good. Although, not as many picks and shovels, the Cleveland Irish are still working for the good. Those who donated their time and funds to support Catholic education, the next generation, at our raffle. Those who make our Parade happen. Those who keep our history alive and those who live it. Have a grand and joyous St. Patrick’s Day.

*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 the Executive Director of Bluestone Hibernian Charities and proprietor of McGarry Consulting. 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.   

Click on icons below to share articles to social.

Recent issues

E-Bulletin Signup

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive news and event emails from: iIrish. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact.
New to Cleveland Ad

Explore other topics