Cleveland Irish: that 1890s Clout
by Francis McGarry
As far as Mass goes, she is a rather good reader. On occasion she has a tad bit more Holy Ghost in her, but you can understand the words and her pauses are appropriate. Ethel is her name.
I thought to myself she must have an exotic name like Monique or Danielle. Ethel told us, “Make not your heritage a reproach.” Well, matter o’fact, it was Joel, but Ethel carried it.
In 1890 you could listen to the readings at the Cathedral and walk less than a city block west on Superior to the Irish American Club. St. Columbkille’s was only six city blocks east of the Cathedral at Superior and Alabama. Cleveland Irish in 2019 should visualize Superior from East 9thto East 26th. If you can visualize East 41stand Superior, you are, and were, at Immaculate Conception.
Genuflectations aside, the IAC was establishing relationships beyond Superior. Your guy may be bigger than my guy up there, but my guy is bigger than your guy down here. In mid-July of 1890, the IAC hosted a reception for the Honorable Daniel J. Ryan. He was the Secretary of State and a member.
“Many of the prominent men of the city were present to greet Mr. Ryan. Among those present were Mayor George W. Gardner, ex-congressman Martin A. Foran, Controller (Major) W.J. Gleason, Postmaster W.W. Armstrong, General James Barnett, Senator David Morison, V. A. Taylor, Col. A.T. Van Tassel, Deputy Sheriff Ryan, Fire Commissioner Robert Kegg, County Recorder A.T. Anderson, Deputy Superintendent of Police James McMahon, T.P. Thorpe, Dr. G.W. West, Dr. J.G. Carroll and Messrs. John Garry, John Reeves, C.C. Dewstoe, Ed Cowley, Jr.: Charles McHannon, T.J. McManus, W.J. Hart, W.L. West, Dan Guson, Frank Gallagher, Thomas Leggett, Owen J. Gallagher, James Graulty, John Scriber, Hugh Quigley, Richard O’Rourke, Peter Burns, W.J. Lynch, F.M. Sheedy and Hugh Buckley.”(PD 7/18/1890)
It was only five months later at the annual meeting of the IAC, yeah an Irish Club with one meeting a year, that the new board was elected. W.J. Gleason was president; Charles McHannon first vice president; C.E. Malcahy secretary; Peter O’Byrne, Lawrence Sinnott and W.J. Lynch house committee; and M.A. Foran, J.F. Gallagher and E.W. Sullivan committee on literature.
This was not the only title that William Gleason held in the Cleveland and the Irish community. In 1890 he lived with his four daughters at 168 Cedar Avenue. That was a long way from his beginnings.
Gleason was born in Ireland in 1845 and immigrated to the Forest City very early in his life. As a youth he was a newsboy and worked his way up to learn the printing trade. He was Major W.J. Gleason. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Public Square was his doing. He was president of the monument commission and a charter member of Army and Navy post No. 187. Mr. Gleason was also a member of the Early Settlers’ Association, G.A.R, first secretary of the board of election commissioners and in 1890 the city controller.
Major Gleason’s influence was protuberant in Irish affairs of the city. He chaired the local meetings of the Irish Land League in the 1880s. He was a prominent member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. He might have been a member of Clan-na-Gael.
He was definitely president of the Parnell Branch of Irish National League, which met at Parnell Hall, 72 Superior. His vice president was fellow Hibernian Owen Kane; treasurer James Graulty; secretary John Walsh; and trustees Pat Smith, W.J. Lynch and Thomas Graulty. They were Irish Nationalists.
In 1889 ,William Gleason, despite his public standing, had to defend his Irish nationalism. The Catholic Universe in an editorial by Bishop Gilmour addressed Irish nationalism in Cleveland. “It is pretended that there is no Clan-na-Gael in Cleveland. Yet for years one of the head organizers of the Clan-na-Gael lived in Cleveland and his friends yearly strive to keep his name before the public.” (PD 7/15/1889). That organizer was P.K. Walsh, who was also in the Hibernian Guards. Gleason was one of his friends.
The Plain Dealer inquired with the Major. Gleason categorically denied his membership and stated there was never Clan-na-Gael in Cleveland. He did note that there was a society in Cleveland that on occasion had some members who self-identified as Clan-na-Gael, but he never did call that society by that name.
“Mr. Gleason, what society was that?” “None of your business.” The reporter notes that Gleason “admitted” to being a Nationalist. The Major responded to all in his own words.
“P.K. Walsh was, when a young man in Ireland, a member of the Young Ireland party, of which Thomas Francis Meagher, John Mitchell and others were the leaders. He was driven to this country and served three years and three months in the union army. He was a patriot in Ireland and he acted the part of patriot in this country when the rebel who edits the Catholic Universe was doing his best to break down the intuitions of this county.
The editor dared not attack P.K. Walsh, for he was more than his match with his brogue or his pen, as several conflicts with that paper have proved. The English, Germans and French have their societies and organizations in this country and not one word is said against them. Why should not the Irish be entitled the same organization?
Our society here is an open one, free to every citizen in Cleveland and certainly our love of country can be no crime. It would suit some people that all the perjury and villainy practiced by the London Times and in the Parnell trials should be taken as facts; that the books of the league should be examined and opened for the English government to pry into. But the books of that infamous league-the Loyal and Patriotic union- which paid Pigett for his forgeries, should be sealed.” (PD 7/15/1889)
The Catholic Universe was at 530 Superior. That stretch of Superior connected the Cleveland Irish to international, national, state and local politics, their faith and their Church, and the international, national and local Irish community. More so it connected them to each other, all the while making not their heritage a reproach.
*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.