Irish Americans of Cleveland

Cleveland Press Articles About the Old Neighborhood

Irish Put Emeralds in Society

by Marjorie Alge, Society Editor
Cleveland Press, March 16, 1974

Where, oh where, is Cleveland's Irishocracy?

In the 1920's and 1930's the social pages thrilled with lavish parties involving Cleveland's Irish Catholic wealthy. Now through intermarriage (often with WASPs) or relocation, they've lost their identity,

The FIF's or First Irish Families, can be distilled to Coakley (Cleveland Stevedore and Union Commerce Corp.), O'Neill (Leaseway Transportation) and Carlin (steel and downtown real estate).

Surfacing lightly are Kilroy (steel), Gorman (lime and stone) and some Sullivans in a variety of occupations.

Ella Grant Wilson, that WASPish chronicler of early Cleveland, included the Anthony Carlins in her listing of those who counted on Euclid Ave. when it was the richest and most beautiful street in Cleveland.

She called them quiet. But persons in FIF circles remember fancy parties they and sons, C.J. and the late John, gave in the ballroom of the now-demolished Carlin mansion at 3233 Euclid. They also tell about an elaborate bash to open the Euclid Hotel they built at E. 14th and Prospect.

The senior Coakleys came from Pittsburgh in 1904 to rise in American Steel and Wire and then Automatic Sprinkler. Though transplants, they've always been regarded as Cleveland's foremost "Real Lace". The family lived in a big house on Berkshire and "entertained a lot and elaborately," so the stories go.

They also tell about the daughter who redid her St. Ann Maternity Hospital room (where mama was women' society president) each time she came in for a family addition.

The O'Neill trucking dynasty started humbly enough when grandfather Hugh came from Count Derry to buy and sell horses, got into hauling wagons and then trucking.

Hugh Jr. carried on with Superior Transfer, U.S. Truck Lines (with the Foremost Swiss Family (FS) Bernet), then Anchor Motor and finally Leaseway with Hugh III, president, and uncle William J. O'Neill, chairman of the board.

"We've never thought ourselves as 'lace' Irish," said a daughter, "though I guess the "Akron O'Neils (one 'l' and no relation) are," They're General Tire and department store.

Only Cleveland kin of the Akron O'Neils are Peggy O'Neil Frier, architect Phil and a cousin, Ralph O'Neil, who lives here and represents the family business in South America He's married to a Murray of the "real, real lace" Murrays of New York.

Proud, charming, bright and ambitious, the Cleveland FIF's were successful in banking, industry and as doctors and lawyers. Their sons, with names like Mooney, Gallagher and Burke, went to Georgetown and Notre Dame (occasionally Harvard and Yale) and wore top hats and tails when they took their girls go fancy holiday parties.

If you lived East, some of the names that counted were the Patrick C. O'Briens and Timothy J. Conways. The O'Brien family scion was a fancy grocer and liquor dealer on Prospect. Grandson Patrick C. O'Brien Jr. carries on the tradition as a wine merchant. Tim Conway rose to president of Fisher Foods.

Then there were M.B. Daly (East Ohio Gas), David Champion (Champion Rivet), Dr. and Mrs. Thomas A. Burke (parents of Mayor Tom), John C. McHannon (Central National Bank), William A. Powers and John Crew (Sterling and Welch), James J. Connelly (construction), Samuel J. McNally (Standard Oil) and E.T. Butler (Dangler Stove).

If you lived West, you couldn't ignore the Feighans (banking and brew), Quigley (attorney and paint through marriage to an English Glidden), Mooney (politics) and McGannon (medicine), for a few.

Though long on personality and brains, Cleveland FIF';s with few exceptions are short on community cultural involvement. More's the pity.