Irish Americans of Cleveland

History of the Cleveland Irish

The First Irish in Cleveland

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

In light of that, it is safe to say that the first Irish to settle in Cleveland were those who came in the early and middle 1820's. There were only a handful of them and all had come from their labors on the Erie Canal, seeking a better way of life. They had been told that the life of a seaman was to be preferred to that of a canal digger. Only the most adventurous of them were willing to give up their steady work to go chasing such a rainbow, but some did, spurred on by thoughts of material gain, the quicker to get money to send home so relatives could join them here.

Some did manage to land berths on Great Lakes sailing vessels, but most had to settle for jobs on the docks. They didn't complain; they were lucky to get them. This handful of men was given a little nod by the city's established citizens, for they were so few in number as to be of no consequence. They stayed in their place by the river's mouth and few Clevelanders were even aware of their existence.

It was a different matter in the next few years, especially when the summer of 1825 rolled around. The Erie Canal had been completed and the Ohio about to get under way. the Irish began piling into the town in measurable numbers and the reaction among the local Yankees was quite different -- they didn't like the rag-tag men who spoke English with a brogue and were obnoxious in other ways as well. Work on the canal lured most of them away, but by the best estimates of historians of the day and newspaper accounts, close to 200 Irishmen remained as squatters.

Like their pioneering brothers before them, they headed for the docks seeking work. But there was another reason for doing so: the Yankee establishment let them know in no uncertain terms they were not welcome in other sections of the still small, but bustling, community. The attitude of the local residents was understandable, for the Irish were a different breed -- foreign, footloose and free-spirited, wild men all.

One can imagine the impact the 200 Irishmen made on the more orderly Yankees, who numbered only about 1,000 themselves. They strongly resented this invasion by rough and tumble, mannerless men, who seemed interested only in obtaining the bare necessities of life and drinking the saloons along the riverfront dry. The Yankees had a decision to make and they made it quickly -- they ceded the marshlands at the river's mouth to the Irish.