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Irish Info Essay, Research Paper

Home General Information Pastoral Staff Mass Intentions Meditation Links O.L.R. & St. Elizabeth Ann Seton O.L.R. &Irish Immigration Bookof the Sick E-Mail Pastors CHURCH OF Our Lady of the Rosary SHRINE OF ST. ELIZABETH ANN SETON

Irish Immigration and The Mission Church of Our Lady of the Rosary: The Vision of Charlotte Smith O’Brien

“Some in the struggle for existence in America will escape, their successes will be blazoned forth; those who fail and die, silence will cover them…who cares for a few children of the poor more or less – who cares for a few girls more or less, surrendered to infamy… -Charlotte Smith O’Brien

In 1881 an Irishwoman watched young Irish Girls being herded aboard a steamship in Dublin. Bound for America, the young, guileless misses were leaving home in the hope that the New World would offer them some promise in the way of employment and stability. The onlooker was Charlotte Grace O’Brien, daughter of famous Irish patriot and rebel, William Smith O’Brien. And as she watched the girls being pushed around, her indignation grew. She went on board and was appalled at the steerage conditions where young people of both sexes were housed indiscriminately for the rough trip across the Atlantic. If it was that bad in Ireland, Miss O’Brien surmised, what must it be like when these innocents landed in New York. She decided to come and see. What she saw in New York she didn’t like. The girls stepped off the boat and were rushed through Castle Garden (landing point for immigrants). The fortunate were hired as domestics right away. Many of the others were steered to nearby lodgings, many a young girl and boy went on to a life of infamy. Charlotte O’Brien was a woman of purpose. She wanted to help those girls but was a stranger here. Someone suggested she go to St. Paul and enlist the support of Archbishop John Ireland. She found him an interested and sympathetic listener to her proposal that something be done to provide a shelter for the immigrant girls until they could get a job. The famed prelate promised his help and Charlotte sailed back to Ireland, unaware that her pioneer would blossom into New York’s most famous mission…Our Lady of the Rosary, at 7 State Street, opposite the Battery. (It is significant that Miss O’Brien was a Protestant. However when she returned to Ireland she was received into the Catholic Church, the church of her ancestors. She never saw the mission which was established largely through her efforts.) Archbishop Ireland didn’t forget his promise. He approached Irish societies and with the cooperation of John Cardinal McClosky of New York, the mission was established in 1883 with Father John Joseph Ryan as its pastor. He bought the property in 1885 and immediately began the task of looking after the young Irish girls as soon as they arrived here. He played no favorites. Any girl was welcome no matter what her religious belief. Before the tide of immigration had died down, the mission befriended more than 170,000 immigrant girls. Not one of them had to pay anything for the help they got. The whole project was purely an act of Christian charity. Today this lovely church is a Mecca for thousands of downtown office workers who are looked after by Pastor Henry J. Gebbard and his staff of priests. (The current pastor is Msgr. Timothy Collins). The church was originally the home of wealthy merchants. In fact, the main chapel was once the ballroom of the stately mansion. Beneath the main chapel is St. Brigid’s Crypt… Outside, the facade is one of the most admired pieces of architecture in the city. It has been compared in elegance to City Hall, which is reputed the most artistic building in New York. The pillars, a dominant aspect of the Church’s exterior, were once ships’ masts. Another very interesting personality connected with the church was Elizabeth Ann Seton , better known as Mother Seton. She was foundress and first superior of the Sisters of Charity in the U.S. A Protestant, she was born in New York in 1774. She married William M. Seton January 25, 1794, and the coupld moved into the State Street house in autumn of that same year, where she gave birth to a daughter the following May. After the loss of her husband and much suffering, Mrs. Seton was received into the Catholic Church on March 14, 1805. From an article by Dick Owen which appeared in the Coloroto magazine of the New York Daily News, Sunday News, Januarary 6, 1957; pp. 38. It might be noted that Elizabeth Seton is now a canonized saint of the Catholic Church.

Suggested Reading Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century by Hasia R. Diner The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1983

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1999 Church of Our Lady of the Rosary Initial Design by Deb McCue Site maintained by the Church of O.L.R.

F. Engel’s





We have already referred several times in passing to the Irish who have immigrated into England; and we shall now have to investigate more closely the causes and results of this immigration.

The rapid extension of English industry could not have taken place if England had not possessed in the numerous and impoverished population of Ireland a reserve at command. The Irish had nothing to lose at home, and much to gain in England; and from the time when it became known in Ireland that the east side of St. George’s Channel offered steady work and good pay for strong arms, every year has brought armies of the Irish hither. It has been calculated that more than a million have already immigrated, and not far from fifty thousand still come every year, nearly all of whom enter the industrial districts, especially the great cities, and there form the lowest class of the population. Thus there are in London, 120,000; in Manchester, 40,000; in Liverpool, 34,000; Bristol, 24,000; Glasgow, 40,000; Edinburgh, 29,000, poor Irish people. [4] These people having grown up almost. without civilisation, accustomed from youth to every sort of privation, rough, intemperate, and improvident, bring all their brutal habits with them among a class of the English population which has, in truth, little inducement to cultivate education and morality. Let us hear Thomas Carlyle upon this subject: [5]

“The wild Milesian [6] features, looking false ingenuity, restlessness, unreason, misery, and mockery, salute you on all highways and byways. The English coachman, as he whirls past, lashes the Milesian with his whip, curses him with his tongue; the Milesian is holding out his hat to beg. He is the sorest evil this country has to strive with. In his rags and laughing savagery, he is there to undertake all work that can be done by mere strength of hand and back — for wages that will purchase him potatoes. He needs only salt for condiment, he lodges to his mind in any pig-hutch or dog-hutch, roosts in outhouses, and wears a suit of tatters, the getting on and off of which is said to be a difficult operation, transacted only in festivals and the high tides of the calendar. The Saxon-man, if he cannot work on these terms, finds no work. The uncivilised Irishman, not by his strength, but by the opposite of strength, drives the Saxon native out, takes possession in his room. There abides he, in his squalor and unreason, in his falsity and drunken violence, as the ready-made nucleus of degradation and disorder. Whoever struggles, swimming with difficulty, may now find an example how the human being can exist not swimming, but sunk…. That the condition of the lower multitude of English labourers approximates more and more to that of the Irish, competing with them in all the markets: that whatsoever labour, to which mere strength with little skill will suffice, is to be done, will be done not at the English price, but at an approximation to the Irish price; at a price superior as yet to the Irish, that is, superior to scarcity of potatoes for thirty weeks yearly; superior, yet hourly, with the arrival of every new steamboat, sinking nearer to an equality with that.”

If we except his exaggerated and one-sided condemnation of the Irish national character, Carlyle is perfectly right. These Irishmen who migrate for fourpence to England, on the deck of a steamship on which they are often packed like cattle, insinuate themselves everywhere. The worst dwellings are good enough for them; their clothing causes them little trouble, so long as it holds together by a single thread; shoes they know not; their food consists of potatoes and potatoes only; whatever they earn beyond these needs they spend upon drink. What does such a race want with high wages? The worst quarters of all the large towns are inhabited by Irishmen. Whenever a district is distinguished for especial filth and especial ruinousness, the explorer may safely count upon meeting chiefly those Celtic faces which one recognises at the first glance as different from the Saxon physiognomy of the native, and the singing, aspirate brogue which the true Irishman never loses. I have occasionally heard the Irish-Celtic language spoken in the most thickly populated parts of Manchester. The majority of the families who live in cellars are almost everywhere of Irish origin. In short, the Irish have, as Dr. Kay says, discovered the minimum of the necessities of life, and are now making the English workers acquainted with it. Filth and drunkenness, too, they have brought with them. The lack of cleanliness, which is not so injurious in the country, where population is scattered, and which is the Irishman’s second nature, becomes terrifying and gravely dangerous through its concentration here in the great cities. The Milesian deposits all garbage and filth before his house door here, as he was accustomed to do at home, and so accumulates the pools and dirt-heaps which disfigure the working- people’s quarters and poison the air. He builds a pig-sty against the house wall as he did at home, and if he is prevented from doing this, he lets the pig sleep in the room with himself. This new and unnatural method of cattle-raising in cities is wholly of Irish origin. The Irishman loves his pig as the Arab his horse, with the difference that he sells it when it is fat enough to kill. Otherwise, he eats and sleeps with it, his children play with it, ride upon it, roll in the dirt with it, as any one may see a thousand times repeated in all the great towns of England. The filth and comfortlessness that prevail in the houses themselves it is impossible to describe. The Irishman is unaccustomed to the presence of furniture; a heap of straw, a few rags, utterly beyond use as clothing, suffice for his nightly couch. A piece of wood, a broken chair, an old chest for a table, more he needs not; a tea-kettle, a few pots and dishes, equip his kitchen, which is also his sleeping and living room. When he is in want of fuel, everything combustible within his reach, chairs, door-posts, mouldings, flooring, finds its way up the chimney. Moreover, why should he need much room? At home in his mud-cabin there was only one room for all domestic purposes; more than one room his family does not need in England. So the custom of crowding many persons into a single room, now so universal, has been chiefly implanted by the Irish immigration. And since the poor devil must have one enjoyment, and society has shut him out of all others, he betakes himself to the drinking of spirits. Drink is the only thing which makes the Irishman’s life worth having, drink and his cheery care-free temperament; so he revels in drink to the point of the most bestial drunkenness. The southern facile character of the Irishman, his crudity, which places him but little above the savage, his contempt for all humane enjoyments, in which his very crudeness makes him incapable of sharing, his filth and poverty, all favour drunkenness. The temptation is great, he cannot resist it, and so when he has money he gets rid of it down his throat. What else should he do? How can society blame him when it places him in a position in which he almost of necessity becomes a drunkard; when it leaves him to himself, to his savagery?

With such a competitor the English working-man has to struggle, with a competitor upon the lowest plane possible in a civilised country, who for this very reason requires less wages than any other. Nothing else is therefore possible than that, as Carlyle says, the wages of English working-man should be forced down further and further in every branch in which the Irish compete with him. And these branches are many. All such as demand little or no skill are open to the Irish. For work which requires long training or regular, pertinacious application, the dissolute, unsteady, drunken Irishman is on too low a plane. To become a mechanic, a mill-hand, he would have to adopt the English civilisation, the English customs, become, in the main, an Englishman. But for all simple, less exact work, wherever it is a question more of strength than skill, the Irishman is as good as the Englishman. Such occupations are therefore especially overcrowded with Irishmen: hand-weavers, bricklayers, porters, jobbers, and such workers, count hordes of Irishmen among their number, and the pressure of this race has done much to depress wages and lower the working-class. And even if the Irish, who have forced their way into other occupations, should become more civilised, enough of the old habits would cling to them to have a strong, degrading influence upon their English companions in toil, especially in view of the general effect of being surrounded by the Irish. For when, in almost every great city, a fifth or a quarter of the workers are Irish, or children of Irish parents, who have grown up among Irish filth, no one can wonder if the life, habits, intelligence, moral status — in short, the whole character of the working-class assimilates a great part of the Irish characteristics. On the contrary, it is easy to understand how the degrading position of the English workers, engendered by our modern history, and its immediate consequences, has been still more degraded by the presence of Irish competition.


4. Archibald Alison, The Principles of Population, and their Connection with Human Happiness, two vols., 1840. This Alison is the historian of the French Revolution, and, like his brother, Dr. W. P. Alison, a religious Tory.– Note by Engels. Return to Text

5.Chartism, pp. 28, 31, etc.– Note by Engels. Return to Text

6. Milesian — the name of an ancient family of Celtic kings of Ireland.– Note by Engels Return to Text

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Transcribed and HTML mark-up for MEIA by Tim Delaney in 1998.

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Irish emigrants on shipboard in the River Mersey, about to embark for America, c. 1846

Immigration to the United States virtually ceased with the outbreak of the revolution. Before it could resume, the Napoleonic Wars effectively prevented travel across the Atlantic. It began again during the so-called Era of Good Feelings, which coincided with the administrations of James Monroe, but did not become significant until the 1830s. Many of the first emigrants from Ireland came to work upon the Erie Canal and then upon the host of other canal projects started in its wake. They then found work on the railroads. Many, perhaps most, were skilled workers. Often they had migrated first to England where they had acquired experience.

Suddenly, in the mid-1840s, the size and nature of Irish immigration changed drastically. The potato blight which destroyed the staple of the Irish diet produced famine. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were driven from their cottages and forced to emigrate — most often to North America. Unlike the earlier migration, these people had no skills, no previous experience in adapting to a new country. They also had no money, few clothes, and very little hope. Most had no education. Further, despite a fierce loyalty to the Catholic Church, most had had little formal religious training. Catholicism had only been legalized a dozen years earlier.

Even before the famine, these people had been desparately poor, proverbially the poorest in Europe. Suddenly they found themselves evicted from “cottages” which had often been mere hovels. Family and neighbors fell victim to cholera and other infectious diseases. More died of the cholera outbreak than of hunger. The survivors who washed up on the shores of the United States and Canada had few resources of any kind to draw upon.

The easiest way to see the impact of the famine upon emigration rates is to examine annual totals. Through 1840 total emigration exceeded 100,000 only once, and Canada rivalled the United States as a destination. After 1845 totals climbed sharply; in 1849, almost 220,000 of the nearly 300,000 emigrants (73%) came to the U.S. In 1851 the Census of Ireland disclosed the overall impact of death, disease, and emigration:

The population as recorded by the Census Commission in 1851 was 6,552,385. The Commissioners stated that, had the Famine not occurred, the population would have been 9,018,799. The commissioners calculated that, as a percentage of the 1841 population, mortality from 1845 to 1850 was as follows: 1845 : 6.4% 1846 : 9.1% 1847 : 18.5% 1848 : 15.4% 1849 : 17.9% 1850 : 12.2% The Census Commissioners wrote in their concluding report: “In conclusion, we feel it will be gratifying to your excellency to find that although the population has been diminished in so remarkable a manner by famine, disease and emigration between 1841 and 1851, and has been since decreasing, the results of the Irish census of 1851 are, on the whole, satisfactory, demonstrating as they do the general advancement of the country.”

Some historians view that concluding sentence, so full of bureaucratic good cheer and blindness, as emblematic of the overall British response to the Irish tragedy. Be that as it may, some sense of the famine experience is essential to understanding both the Irish experience in the United States in the 1840s and 1850s and the native American response to the Irish.

The place to start is Steve Taylor’s Views of the Famine site at Vassar. He has collected materials from the London Times, Punch, Illustrated London News, and the Cork Examiner. Most Americans got their views of the famine from British sources. Liz Szabo’s Interpreting the Irish Famine site at the University of Virginia includes numerous Irish newspaper reports, many contemporary illustrations, and New York Archbishop John Hughes’s 1847 lecture on the causes of the famine. The Famine in Cavan provides materials about one country. In 1841 its population reached 243,158. Ten years later it was 174,064, a decline of over 28%. It continued to fall steadily over the next century, finally bottoming out at just over 50,000 where it remains to this day.

Conditions for many Irish immigrants to U.S. cities in the 1840s and 1850s were not much better than those they had left behind. They often crammed into shanty towns, living in shacks cobbled together out of discarded boards and other debris. Sanitation was haphazard at best. There were no streets but only paths which turned into ditches after a heavy rain. A remarkable source for life inside an Irish shanty town is a site at Cleveland State University which collects materials dealing with a murder in 1859. The victim, Rosa O’Malia, was a twenty-six-year-old resident of Cleveland’s West Side. In the records of the coroner’s jury are not only the gory details of the crime itself but also the testimony of O’Malia’s neighbors. In addition to telling what they knew of the murder, they also describe a good deal about daily life.

Jobs were hard to find. Employers often advertised their unwillingness to take on the newcomers by hanging out “No Irish Need Apply” signs. Irish women did find work as domestics, stereotyped as “Biddies,” short for Bridget. Irish men also became servants or took unskilled jobs in construction. Harper’s Weekly, the most popular magazine of the day, routinely ran cartoons lampooning Bridget and Patrick. The overt hostility these cartoons convey is a measure of how unwelcome the Irish were. They also express some of the fear they inspired. They filled the jails, workhouses, poor farms and lunatic hospitals. Worcester, Massachusetts’ Know-Nothing newspaper claimed in an editorial on the eve of that city’s mayoraly contest in 1854:

. . . rum shops [have] sprung up at every corner of the street, drunkards staggered in every alley, while prostitution reared its brothels at every thoroughfare leading to us, and held carnival in the very heart of the city itself. Virtue was confronted on the streets by known harlots, young men decoyed to houses of infamy in open day, and beneath the very shadow of the Mayor’s office, the courtesan bargained for the price of her embraces, and led her victims to a place of assignation.

All of this was because of the Irish. This reception did not surprise the Irish. They were used to English Protestants deriding their brogues, their religion, and their poverty. They had endured centuries of oppression. As harsh as the prejudice they encountered in the United States was, it paled in comparison to life in Ireland. “Skibbereen,” an Irish-American ballad, captures the enduring quality of Irish hatred of the English and their sense of America as a place from which to regroup and then resume their centuries-old struggle.

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