Cleveland Irish: Sunday Funday

Cleveland Irish: Sunday Funday
by Francis McGarry

The Autumn Wind is an Irishman, pillaging just for fun. He’ll knock you ’round and upside down,

and laugh when he’s conquered and won.  The Browns don’t play the Raiders this year, and we have two Monday night games and one Thursday night game.  All that aside, we would not have Sunday Funday if it were not for the Cleveland Irish. This is documented historical fact, beyond reproach. 

“Heavily fined and sentenced to the workhouse for defying the spirt of the law,” stated the October 31, 1885 Plain Dealer.  After developing promising leads, Cleveland police arrested Edward McDonald of #205 Detroit.  He was charged with disorderly conduct.  He was represented by Martin A. Foran.  As you may recall Foran was Clan na Gael, Knights of Labor, Parnell Land League, AOH and member of the first Irish American Club of Cleveland. 

Conduct that was considered disorderly occurred on the preceding Sunday, October 25, 1885.  That day was the first Sunday for the new Ohio liquor law, prohibiting liquor and beer sales.  Edward McDonald apparently disagreed with the legistration.  Edward McDonald also believed in following the letter of the law, and no more.

Edward rolled a keg of beer and a glass just outside his saloon door on that Sunday.  Soon thereafter a crowd of men were circumjacent the keg.  They were drawing beers and appreciating the benevolence of Mr. McDonald.  Witnesses testified in court to the “general air of cheerfulness with pervaded the crowd as it tackled the free layout.” 

The first historical reference to folks drinking and having fun on a Sunday, ever.  Foran argued that they “were not so disorderly as to annoy more that one or two people.”  None of the crowd was detained, arrested or charged. 

Foran argued that there was no evidence to suggest Mr. McDonald conducted himself in a manner that was disorderly or boisterous. He noted the crowd’s behavior was no different than the saloon crowds on election day.  Foran conceded that McDonald would have to answer for negligence as a result of those drinking his liquor, but that was not the case.

The prosecutor, Mr. Skeels, retorted in his closing statement that, if someone’s actions are intended to facilitate disorderly conduct, they are by law guilty of disorderly conduct.  He then read the city ordinance for disorderly conduct.  The crowd in the court room was not cheerful and joyous. 

Judge Hutchins decreed, “The facts of this case are so extraordinary and out of the usual run of things it is a difficult thing to find out the law under which to try it. This man is charged under the city ordinance with disorderly conduct.  Last Sunday a liquor law went into effect.  This man McDonald took this occasion to display an extraordinary act.  He put out a keg of beer, faucet and glass in front of his saloon. 

This was an idle, thoughtless or foolish act or meant nothing at all.  It was either an insult to law abiding people or harmless nothingism.  He may have thought, if the law cannot allow saloons to remain open, beer shall run in the street.  He puts the keg, faucet and glass out in front of his saloon and stands by and looks on.  Men and boys gather, drink, howl and hoot.  He is asked by the officers of the law to remove the keg, as it is his property, but refuses to do so.  It is the most extraordinary case. 

It was a slap directly in the face of the State of Ohio, directly at the liquor law. Laws are not made by the police court judge; they are merely carried out and decided upon by the court, and if the defendant, thinking that the court was exceeding its right or power, made up his mind to violate the law and do as he pleased, he was guilty of mean dastardly and disorderly conduct.  The court finds Mr. McDonald guilty and imposes a fine of $25 and costs and thirty days in the workhouse.” 

An apoplectic Martin Foran immediately motioned for a new trial and requested the court suspend the sentence until a new trial was granted.  Judge Hutchins granted the motion.  Edward McDonald was released, receiving clemency of sorts.

Ole Eddie McD was not the only Clevelander who had issue with the Sunday liquor law.  On the second Sunday of the law, Councilman John Darragh of #171 Pear Street was arrested and charged.  That same Sunday William Kramer of #10 Center Street and Charles Zimmerman of #34 Merwin Street were charged with placing beer on the sidewalk in front of their saloons.

John Darragh ran a grocery and saloon at #71 Pearl Street.  Patrolman Doran made the raid and testified to three men and a baby in the saloon.  He saw no beer being sold or consumed.  Darragh is a city in Limerick. 

John Darragh noted, in an attempt to mollify the judge, that the saloon was part of his house and was used to reach the kitchen and sitting room.   One of the men was there for a bucket of water, the other was cleaning the house and the third stopped with his baby for “sociable talk.” Darragh was fined $10 and sentenced to one hour of imprisonment for keeping the door of a saloon open on Sunday.  It was only a year since the Supreme Court outlawed Ohio’s Scott Law, which taxed liquor sales.  The State of Ohio and local politicians maintain a persnickety focus on the saloon and its mainly Irish and German publicans.

As was observed in the railroad strike in last month’s article, by the 1880s, the Irish in Cleveland found themselves on all sides of the social and legal issues of the day. Officer Doran made the arrest of John Darragh.  Martin Foran represented countless Irish in the city and, if Judge Hutchins was not available, Judge Kelley could have heard the case.  Their apparently contradictory official positions did not prevent shared participation by these individuals in the same Irish organizations and societies in Cleveland.

This is not a narrative of beers.  It is a narrative that shares insight on how the Irish were negotiating Cleveland. John Darragh’s account of how his home functioned as a grocery and saloon is an etic perspective seldom gleaned from the Plain Dealer.  The court respected Martin Foran and granted his motion when Edward McDonald openly and willingly challenged the law. 

Although, to be fair, only Eddie McDonald started Sunday Funday, and the myopic genesis of the first bar patio in American history.  That is historical fact, beyond reproach.

*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago.  He is an assistant principal and history teacher.  Francis is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side.  He is the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.   

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