Irish Americans of Cleveland

History of the Cleveland Irish

Upward Mobility: The 1850's

from The Irish Americans & Their Communities of Cleveland
by Nelson J. Callihan &
William F. Hickey

During the 1850's the Irish in Cleveland, those who had come from canal digging chores and those sent here by the Famine, made their first en masse move upward to better jobs. They began employing their native know-how in various ways. One such man was Anthony Aaron Gallagher, a Mayo native who spent his first few years here unloading iron ore. A gregarious man who seemingly got along with men from all walks of life, Gallagher hit upon an idea that was to make him a very successful and powerful man in Irishtown.
He first approached the ship owners and offered to take off their hands the troublesome and time-consuming chore of securing men to unload cargoes. For a commission, he would take full responsibility for the hiring and firing of the Irish stevedores. He must have been a persuasive talker, as the Yankee shipping magnates agreed to give him a chance to prove himself.

Gallagher then made the rounds of the docks, explaining his idea to the workers, pointing out to them that their hit-and-miss chances of obtaining a day's work would be a thing of the past. He would guarantee the willing and able the security of regular work, providing, of course, that they would keep their end of the bargain by giving him "26 dry days of work each month." He was careful to explain that they needn't join Father Matthew's Temperance League, but merely that they must be sober and in good condition at the morning roll call.

A good many workers thought Gallagher's idea had merit and agreed to give it a go, however they might have crossed their fingers behind their backs. Gallagher's system worked surprisingly well, and even more surprisingly he remained a popular man on the docks throughout his career, Irish jealousies notwithstanding. He ran the docks efficiently and kept his bargains, both with the men and the shippers. The vast majority of those who did business with him agreed "he was a fair man."

While the Gallaghers didn't have a monopoly on brains or ambition, another man of that name also did very well in Cleveland. He came to be known as "Holy Water" Gallagher because of his penchant for nearly "drowning" the corpses he attended in his role of undertaker. Though there were no funeral homes in those days, the custom being to lay out the deceased in his bed or in the parlor, Gallagher's services were required to prepare the corpse, hire the wailers, and see to it that the poor soul was sent off in splendid fashion. He and his business prospered mightily and he became one of the most prominent members of the Irish community.

He was, after all, one of them. When he arrived in Cleveland from Mayo in 1847 at the age of 19, Gallagher completed the transfer of the family from that wind-swept county to the banks of the Cuyahoga. His five brothers had preceded him here, as did his sister Mary, who had come in 1836. Gallagher landed a job unloading iron ore, but after paying the red dust its due for two years, he knew there had to be a better way to make a living. He saved his pennies and bought a horse and wagon and set himself up as an independent drayman.

Using his contacts, his brothers and cousins, Gallagher was soon established in a very successful hauling business. This bit of enterprise, he was to explain later, "came from a bit o thinking on my part. Someone had to haul the cargoes the ships brought in, why shouldn't it be me?" No doubt, he must have asked. himself another question --Why aren't there any Irish undertakers? He answered his own question by becoming one and giving up his profitable, but definitely plebian, hauling business.

Another Irish entrepreneur of the day was Captain Patrick Boylan, a descendant of one of the few men who escaped Cromwell's slaughter of the inhabitants of Drogheda. Boylan's grandfather and father were pilots in the harbor of the city of Cromwell's revenge and, as a lad, he was introduced to the sea and its mysterious ways. He became a highly skilled seaman and crossed the Atlantic, first settling in New York in 1852. A short time later he negotiated the purchase of a sailing vessel and brought it to the Great Lakes, using Cleveland as his base of operations. If nothing else he did improve the morale of the Iron Ore Terriers, for it was a proud thing to unload a ship owned by an Irish Catholic, the only such ship afloat on the inland seas.

This was the decade of the Irishman striking out on his own, of attempting to establish his own business. Daniel Donahue, for instance, became the city's first Irish Catholic dairyman, and his business prospered so well that he was able to purchase 600 acres of land on the far west side of town to increase his milk production. James Clements, who had come to Cleveland in 1843, founded a stone mason business. Peter Daly arrived in this city in 1848 and, though only 18 years of age, started his own hauling business. He, too, had paid his two-year dues as a teamster before making his move, which was solidified by a contract with the Cleveland Rolling Mill Company.

In the Cleveland area there were at least two exceptions to the Irishman's distrust of land ownership during this era, Daniel Hoynes and James Hickey, both from County Kildare. The two men worked for the Big Four Railroad Company and saw in the land near Olmsted Township a great opportunity. Hoynes was the first to leave the railroad life. In 1847 he bought 600 acres of fertile Olmsted toil and prospered sufficiently to raise a family of 10 sons. Hickey left the Big Four two years later and purchased 1,000 acres in the same township. Both families were to remain tied to the soil for many years.