Irish Americans of Cleveland

History of the Cleveland Irish

Early Irish Settlements in Cleveland

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

And what happened? Power was in the hands of the nativeborn American in Cleveland. His reaction to the Irish immigrant followed several somewhat predictable stages, First, he generally withdrew altogether from any part of "his" city in which the Irish settled. Thus he consigned to the Irish territory which he had once felt was his own, or areas which had previously been uninhabitable. On the West Side he gave the Irish the territory near the Cuyahoga River, including a peninsula running along the shore of Lake Erie which the Indians a half century earlier had abandoned because of its fever breeding swamps. It was called Whiskey Island, and it soon became a major shantytown, honeycombed with saloons and infested with prostitutes. Next the Irish were given the west side of the Cuyahoga River bluffs and there built a ghetto of tar paper shacks, pictures of which still exist in Cleveland's Main Library. This area was called Irishtown Bend. And on the East Side of the river, where the mercantile city was beginning to bloom,:the Irish were forced into ghettos along the shore of the lake or in the swampland north of what is today the financial center of the city but what was in the 1840's and 1850's considered out of town, east of East 9th (or Erie) street and north of Superior Avenue. In 1845 the area was generally considered unhealthy. It too was mostly swamp.

These areas of Irish settlement became so densely populated that they had to be noticed by the native Americans of Cleveland, and indeed they were noticed, the newspapers of the day gave a graphic picture of the scene, condemning the squalor, crime and general lack of good citizenship displayed by the Irish. There was, however, no effort to help the new immigrants and no sympathy evidenced for their plight: there were no organized programs of public health, sanitation, adequate housing, job opportunity or even any hope on the part of the native Americans of Cleveland that the immigrant Irish might ever become useful citizens of their new land and city. Quite the contrary was true. Political forces already in motion in other cities of the country, in the form of the Nativist American Movement, came alive in Cleveland, and all sorts of laws which have been well described by Carleton Beals in his book The Brass Knuckle Crusade became part of the legal and punitive system in Cleveland.