Irish Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles About the Old Neighborhood

1846 Famine Spurred Irish Exodus

100 Years of Nationalities in Cleveland, 32nd of a Series
by Theodore Andrica
Cleveland Press, December 22, 1950

In 1846 an unparalleled potato rot destroyed the year's crop of what had become the sole food staple of the peasantry in Ireland.

This tragic event had far-reaching repercussions, not only in the British Empire, but also in America, for it was the signal for the beginning of a tremendous influx of Irish immigrants to this country.

The Irish peasants had been reduced to subsistence on the cheapest of all staples through the operation of an ill-fated system of landlordism.

It was found that land in Ireland, used for potatoes, would support three times the number of people as the same land sown to wheat. Also, that tenants or small farms paid the landlord a higher rent than could be obtained from larger holdings.

Reduced to a diet of potatoes, the Irish peasantry was mortally struck when the 1846 rot destroyed their sole staple food. At that time the population of Ireland wad around 8,000,000.

Irish Crowded Ports

When it became evident that thousands or perhaps millions would perish if they stayed in Ireland, there began an exodus from that country, the like of which was seldom seen in Europe.

Tens of thousands of Irish crowded the ports of Ireland and England, seeking opportunity to sail anywhere—to South America, Australia, South Africa, but especially to the United States.

During the 10 yeas following the famine, from 1846 to 1855, more than 1,250,000 Irish came to this country, thus raising the total number of Irish immigrants to the United States from 1819 to 1855 to a grand total of 1,748,000.

Irish immigration to this country has never reached so high a point than in that 10-year period, although a second great advance was made in 1882, in the wake of another famine in Ireland.

The boats bringing the Irish to America were literally filled to the very brim. Overcrowding caused illnesses and thousands died before reaching the United States.

Saw Brothers Die

The late John Holland, a native of Scull, County Cork, Ireland, who settled in Cleveland in 1848, described his crossing during the post-famine period as follows:

"Our ship was 10 weeks on the seas, from Queenstown to Gross Isle, an island below Quebec, used as quarantine. Out of the total of 225 passengers the ship took on board in Queenstown, only 35 landed.

"The rest of those poor people found their grave in the ocean, my two brothers among them. I heard later that 12,000 Irish immigrants died on the island.

"The few people who survived this ordeal were landed on that quarantine island near Quebec and, after a while, if their condition improved, were taken to Montreal, where many got sick and many died."

Naturally, Cleveland received its share of the post-famine Irish immigrants and by 1848 nearly one-tenth of the city's 13,000 population was Irish.

Their coming was most opportune. The Erie and Ohio canals opened a new world for expansion and settlement. As in the case of other immigrants, the Irish, too, were underpaid and otherwise exploited by those who settled here before them.

The same Mr. Holland who described his crossing of the ocean in 1847, upon arriving in Cleveland, began his career rolling barrels on the river docks, receiving 10 cents an hour for his labor.