Irish Americans of Cleveland

History of the Cleveland Irish

The Cleveland Irish and Their Place of Origin

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

Certain family names seem to keep reappearing among the Cleveland Irish and, at the same time, other Irish family names, somewhat common elsewhere, are seldom to be found here. At first glance this phenomenon seems baffling to the non-Irish. But the explanation is rather simple: The vast majority of Cleveland's Irish have their family origin in County Mayo in the west of Ireland. For reasons that can only be explained by the clannishness of the first immigrants who came out to America during the two great famines (1845-53 and 1874-79), it seems apparent that some people from one county decided to go to one inland American city and others to another. Chicago, for example, was settled by people whose names indicate they were almost exclusively from County Galway. New York is populated by Irish from Cork, Tipperary and Killarney; and South Boston by people from Wexford and Rosscommon. The pattern of settlement by the Irish in the United States followed to a remarkable degree the clannishness of the counties in Ireland.

Few counties in Ireland were and are as poor as County Mayo. It is part of the Province of Connaught, that barren, rock strewn coastal area where the views of mountains, sky and sea are breathtaking, but where the land is so Poor that few can live off it. There are no cities in Mayo, only towns and crossroads, each with its own personality. The families who lived in Mayo in the time of the famines were descendants of the people banished by Oliver Cromwell, who could not subdue them when they lived in the eastern counties of Ireland. To them he said in exasperation, "Go to hell or Connaught." They chose the latter, although one suspects the former choice had some advantages.

Mayo was not electrified until the 1920's; it was always isolated from the rest of Ireland and developed a fiercely independent people. They were hot as much affected by the 1845 famine as were the people of the East and South of Ireland. But by 1874, when the second famine struck Ireland, the Mayo Irish were all but decimated. They fled in huge numbers to America and came directly to Cleveland because the jobs were here; so too were a few of their relatives who had come out earlier. And it should be noted that the Mayo Irish did not want to even attempt to break into the enclaves of the more sophisticated of the 1845 famine Irish whose children were already becoming upwardly mobile in the major cities on the Eastern Seaboard.

The Mayo Irish who came to Cleveland in the 1870's settled mostly on the West Side, especially in St. Malachi and St. Colman parishes. They were more dutiful in the practice of their faith than were the Irish who preceded them here in 1845. Perhaps they were not as lawless, but they were surely more clannish. They remembered Ireland more fondly than did the 1845 famine Irish; they kept much more closely in touch with what was going on back in Mayo. Today they are to be found scattered throughout the Whole of Cleveland's West Side and the West suburbs as well. Maybe their ethnicity is dying, but nothing has replaced It; given a cause they could become very ethnic Irish, far more so than their East Side counterparts . They seem to yearn for their old neighborhoods, almost begging someone to call them back into being in their new suburban developments. Their names make them conspicuous: Corrigan, Kilbane, O'Malley, Stanton,, O'Connor, McGovern, Gallagher, Sweeney, Patton, Murphy, Lavolle, Gibbons and so many more. The story of each family might well become subject matter for a first rate novel. Regrettably these stories have been lost due to lack of records and a failure on the part of later generations to preserve oral history. But the feeling about being identified as Irish, as we have already pointed out, still runs high.

We know more about the Mayo Irish on the West Side of Cleveland than we do about the Irish from the other counties of Ireland whose descendants live in other parts of our city mainly because the Mayo Irish seek to keep alive at least the tradition and fierce pride of their county. Elsewhere in Cleveland, especially on the East Side, those Irish who know and, at times, celebrate their Irishness have forgotten their place of origin and, one suspects, consider this information of little real concern. We emphasize this point because this loss of old country ties has, it would seem, made Cleveland's Irish who are not from there peculiarly rootless.