Neighborhoods They Settled in: Downtown, Central, Detroit Shoreway, Ohio City, Old Brooklyn, Stockyards, Tremont, Broadway, Goodrich, Glenville, Union
First Immigrants: 1818
A small number of Irish came here in 1818. They began to arrive in large numbers during the 1820’s and especially during the building of the Ohio Canal starting in 1825. Many of the Irish helped to build the Ohio and Erie Canal. They made their homes on the lower west side near the mouth of the river and in the Flats (Whiskey Island can be found here). The main area holding the Irish was located on the bend of the river and was known as the "Angle". As they prospered, the Irish moved west into the streets running off Detroit Avenue to West Blvd. and in the vicinity of Edgewater Park. They then moved across the Cuyahoga River and a large number had settled in the factory districts of the lower East Side or the Rawlings – East 79th Street area. By the 1880’s, these Irish were replaced by a large influx of Hungarians. By the 1890’s Irish immigration dwindled. As the city grew, Irish families moved to the suburbs, the majority remaining on the West Side of Cleveland in Lakewood and Rocky River. The Irish population in 1826 was large enough to have a priest come to say Mass in private homes. In a short time, St. Mary’s on the Flats (Our Lady of the Lake) was the site of Masses said by Father John Dillon, the first resident pastor. This church was located at the intersection of Columbus Road and Girard. In the years to follow additional churches were built:
Holy Name – built 1854 – 8328 Broadway Avenue
St. Aloysius – built 1898 – 10932 St. Clair
St. Colman - founded 1880 - on Gordon Avenue
St. Malachi – built 1865 – West 25th near Detroit
St. Patrick – built 1853 – 3602 Bridge Avenue
St. Patrick – built 1848 – Rocky River Drive and Puritas Road
St. Timothy – built 1923 – E. 131st and Cranwood Drive
St. Thomas Aquinas – built 1898 – Superior Avenue near Ansel Road
The Irish founded the Hibernian Guards. This was a group of Irish soldiers who held parades on St. Patrick's Day which continue to this day.
1942 Report by the WPA:
This nationality had an early stake in America. According to the 1837 Ohio City Directory, J.D. Murphy was the first Cleveland Irishmen to go into business. He was a painter at 18 Bank Street. By 1857 the Ohio City Directory showed no less than 34 Murphys. In the period 1830-1850 the name Irish Town was applied to the region north of the viaduct. Another group of Irish settled in the Harvard and Broadway Avenue vicinity. The north flats area assumed a character quite different from the rest of the city. Sections were called Whiskey Island and Farley’s Court. Saturday night was a boisterous and gay evening in Irishtown. The flats community remained Celtic until the early 1900s when the Irish grew more prosperous and moved westward. The followed Detroit Street so that most of the short streets running north to Edgewater Park were inhabited by the Irish. Many streets going north and south of Detroit Ave. from W. 65 to West Blvd. are inhabited by folks of Irish descent. As the city expanded many Irish families moved out on Detroit Avenue and eventually into Lakewood. The majority of Cleveland’s Irish are Roman Catholic. In 1829 Irish Catholics numbered about 1,000 in Cleveland but had no regular place of worship. Saint Mary’s Church was the first Catholic church in Cleveland dedicated on June 7, 1840. It was called Our Lady of the Lake, but was soon known as St. Mary’s on the Flats. Today nearly every catholic church in Cleveland has at least a few Irishmen in its parish and the predominantly Irish parishes are too numerous to list.
THE IRISH IN CLEVELAND
The first Irish to settle in Cleveland came in the early and middle 1820’s. Prior to coming to Cleveland, they had been laborers digging the Erie Canal. These settlers procured jobs on the docks. The land around the mouth of the river was very swampy. However, there was one ridge in the area, and that’s where the Irish settled. This area came to be known as Whiskey Island. The Irish built tarpaper shanties and this is where they lived. On this island, there were 13 saloons during its heyday. There were 22 streets crisscrossing it back then.
On July 4, 1827, the first canal boat made the trip from Akron to Cleveland. The Irish were very happy about this because they saw the opportunity to work on these boats. The Irish were hired to work as deck hands and cooks. This job was much better than the job they held previously – digging the canals.
By 1830, the Irish were happier. The port was busy and there was no shortage of jobs on the canal boats. Other jobs opened up for the Irish in the warehouses as well. At this point, some of the Irish moved up and out of Whiskey Island as they found jobs constructing businesses. Some of the Irish opened businesses as butchers and grocers. By 1832, a boat traveled the route between Cleveland and Portsmouth on the Ohio Canal. For the most part, canal digging was over for the Irish.
After the famine struck Ireland, there were many more immigrants from Ireland to Cleveland. No longer could all the Irish remain along the banks of the river, and they began to move to the east and west along the lakefront. There was a ghetto from the shoreline to Superior Avenue around E. 9th Street. To the west, they settled in the area between the Lake and Detroit Avenue to about West 28th Street.
By 1840 there were four iron foundries in the Flats, as well as machine shops and shipbuilding companies. The Irish found jobs in these industries as well. It became the job of the Irish to load and unload the iron ore onto and off of the ships. They first used shovels and baskets, but later, they were provided with wheelbarrows. Later still, a pulley system was created which allowed a team of mules on the dock to raise the ore.
The 1850’s was a time of the Irish moving onward and upward, creating their own businesses to a large degree. The Irish founded dairys, stone mason businesses, and hauling businesses.
At the end of the 1800’s, the Irish had a tough time of it living on Cleveland’s West Side. Shantytown was an open sewer of industrial and human waste. The Flats area was home to cholera, diphtheria, and scarlet fever. Because of the continuing Irish immigration, there were not enough homes to house everyone. Therefore, many homes of Irish families housed many relatives from the old country. The saloons became a place for the Irishman to go to get away from the house and to enjoy the company of his fellow Irishmen.
During the 1870’s, the Irish continued to spread further west. They occupied most of the land from the Lake to Bridge Avenue and as far west as West 65th Street. By 1880, St. Colman’s parish was created because of the large influx of Irish in that area. Around this time, there were enough Irish living in Cleveland to spur the creation of sections within their own Irish people. The more affluent people were called the “Lace Curtain”. The less fortunate were referred to as “Shanty” or “Pig in the Parlor Irish”. Then, there were the “Angle Irish” who lived near St. Malachi’s Church. The section on the west side of the Cuyahoga River bluffs was called Irishtown Bend. On the East side of the river, there were Irish areas along the shore of the lake as well as east of E. 9th Street and north of Superior Avenue.
Bishop Amadeus Rappe came to Cleveland and began a program to help his Irish people. He built a new Cathedral to replace Saint Mary’s. It was located at East 9th and Superior and was completed in 1852. He also established Saint Patrick’s on Bridge Avenue in 1853. Also created was an orphanage at Fulton and Monroe Streets. This orphanage was created to care for Irish children whose parents did not survive the voyage to the United States. He also created St. Vincent Charity Hospital in 1864. The first Pastor of St. Patrick’s parish was Father James Conlon, appointed in 1853. Saint Patrick’s created Irish literary, cultural and musical societies. Father Conlon was succeeded by Father Eugene O’Callaghan. In 1865 Bishop Rappe appointed Father James Molony to begin a new parish east of Saint Patrick. This parish was called St. Malachi and it served the poor Irish living in “The Angle”.
The east side Irish attended Saint John’s Cathedral in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Later, St. Bridget and Immaculate Conception were founded. Later still, the parishes of St. Agnes at East 79th and Euclid was founded in 1893; St. Thomas Aquinas at Superior and Ansel Roads was founded in 1898; St. Edward’s at Woodland and E. 69th Street was founded in 1885 and St. Philomena’s on Euclid at Wellesley in East Cleveland in 1902. When St. Patrick’s was completed in 1880, O’Callaghan left and founded Saint Colman’s parish at W. 65th near Lorain.
THE EARLY IRISH NEIGHBORHOODS
1) North of Superior to the bluff above the lake - This neighborhood holds the Irish Catholic Cathedral, begun in 1849. Families lived on Rockwell, Lakeside, Hamilton and St. Clair. By 1890 commercial buildings and warehouses took over this neighborhood. The people who lived in this area moved out on Superior, St. Clair and Euclid to the streets east of E. 55th.
2) The area bounded by East 22nd Street, south of Prospect and North of Woodland, extending east to E. 55th Street - this neighborhood encompassed St. Bridget parish. It lasted as an Irish neighborhood until about 1900. As children grew up, they moved east to the area around St. Agnes Church at E. 79th and Euclid. St. Bridget declined and merged with St. Anthony, the Italian parish in the area. St. Bridget was torn down in 1961.
3) The west side neighborhood of the Irish – St. Patrick’s parish on Bridge Avenue. Irish settled here as early as 1850. Most worked at the iron ore docks on Whiskey Island. This neighborhood remained a strong Irish area until the end of World War II. People relocated in the western suburbs of Lakewood, Rocky River and Bay Village.
4) “The Angle” was located north of Detroit, east of West 28th Street and down Washington Avenue to Whiskey Island – This area was the home of St. Malachi Church which was built in 1868. The Irish settlers of this area worked on the ore docks and on harbor tugs. They lived in tarpaper shacks on Irishtown Bend on the Cuyahoga River. The neighborhood is now home to warehouses and Lakeview Terrace. St. Malachi is still open today.
5) West 58th to West 117th Street from Lorain north to Lake Erie – After 1880 this was home to St. Colman’s parish. This church was built in 1916 and still stands on West 65th Street. Since 1950 the Irish have moved out to the western suburbs.
6) The area of the old city of Newburgh centered around East 93rd and Broadway and from Kingsbury Run on the North to the Cuyahoga River Valley on the South, and from E. 77th Street to E. 116th Street – this was the home of Holy Name Parish (1865-1960). The Irish who settled here wanted to be close to the Newburgh Rolling Mills where they worked.
7) North of Superior Avenue between E. 30th and E. 60th Streets – this area was the home of Immaculate Conception parish founded in 1855.. The church was built in 1881 at E. 41st and Superior.
Source: Irish Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland by Nelson J. Callahan and William F. Hickey