Get to Know Yourself!

A brief refresher on C-Town's Irish history

For one day of the year — or two if you've found a really good party — every one of us is an honorary Irishman. But if you're going to pass yourself off as authentic Cleveland Irish, you'd better get to know a few of the key mileposts that mark your heritage. Read up, drink up, and be merry:

The first wave of Irish immigrants arrived in Cleveland around 1820, though their numbers didn't grow significantly until very bad potatoes drove them here en masse in the late 1840s. Interestingly, this same phenomenon also drove thousands of Hardee's customers to McDonald's back in 1983.

The first Cleveland Irish were instrumental in building the Ohio & Erie Canal, which paved the way for Hot Topic and other forms of mass commerce in the region.

Most early immigrants were farmers hailing from County Mayo in western Ireland, where they were already very good at being dirt poor. Upon arrival, most took up labor in the shipyards or steel mills, with a privileged few earning similarly miserable work aboard cargo vessels.

Most Irish settled around the marshy banks of the Cuyahoga River's mouth, particularly on the bend of the river known as the Angle. By 1830 they had a distillery there, which prompted the name "Whiskey Island" and the realization that drunken Irish people cannot tell what an island actually is.

As the number of Irish swelled to several hundred by the mid-1820s, Cleveland natives grew discontent with the substandard version of English that had been foisted upon them and the poor manner in which the Irish behaved themselves in public. This continues to be a widespread problem today.

The first Irish church in Cleveland was called St. Mary's on-the-Flats on Columbus Road. Christened in 1826, it was torn down in 1886, though Bishop Lennon probably would have whacked it by now anyway.

In 1847, a French missionary named Louis Amadeus Rappe became the first Roman Catholic bishop in the north of Ohio and a staunch protector of the woebegone Irish who had settled here out of desperation. His efforts led to an influx of priests and cash to the region, which means that, yes, Irish Clevelanders: French people actually saved your ass once.

In 1853 and 1854, Bishop Rappe created two parishes: one on the East Side of the Cuyahoga (for mill workers) and one on the West (where most Irish lived). The East Siders eventually assimilated into East Side suburban culture, which is why we have crap like corned beef burritos today.

In the 19th century, the Cleveland Leader reported that 60 percent of all criminal activity was caused by Irishmen. This fact 1) does not speak well for the largely Irish police force of the time, and 2) makes the Cleveland Leader our favorite dead newspaper.

By 1870, Irish population in Cleveland had reached its peak of about 10 percent of the total population, with some 10,000 displaced Irish calling the region home. Today, some 172,000 Cuyahoga County residents claim Irish heritage, though only 67,000 of them hold political office.

By 1970, the region's Irish had scattered such that no true Irish neighborhoods remained. Also, you couldn't find a pint of Guinness to save your life, and everybody was drinking something called "Hillbilly Joose." And don't get us started on the pants people wore back then. Jesus.

By the mid-1970s, labor leader and freelance mobster Danny Greene cemented his reputation as one of Cleveland's all-time great Irishmen, which really isn't saying much for the rest of you.

Happily, rich vestiges of Irish culture remain today, most notably in the form of beautiful churches that people aren't allowed into, plentiful bars with names like The Flying Shamrock, and shopping carts full of cheap green crap sold on the streets of downtown every St. Patrick's Day.

As misremembered by Erich Burnett. With thanks to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History,, and U.S. Census data, unless they'd rather we keep them out of this.

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