Cleveland Irish: Peace, Cigars and Whiskey
by Francis McGarry
I had the occasion to make my way to New York City and drop my boy at college. His dorm room was nicer than any dorm room at which I was ever accused of violating parietals. We made it to the Apple store and Bed, Bath and Beyond. His roommate is from Hawaii and his family was really pleasant. Then we got down to brass tacks.
The Church of Notre Dame is due east from his dorm, and they have a grotto behind the altar. Linda Walsh’s family went to that church. Jean Walsh recognized the pic immediately. We were able to meet with Monsignor John Paddack, who is assisted at the parish by Father Michael Holleran. It did not take long to broach the Hibernians and denote that my son has years of experience serving at Mass.
The polyglottic tintinnabulation begins at 10am Mass, which is in French. The 11:30am Mass is in English. The 1pm Mass is in Spanish. Inquiry was made as to the Gaelic Mass time? Monsignor had a perspicacious chortle.
We were unable to attend Mass at the Church of Notre Dame, but did make it farther uptown to the Church of the Good Shepherd. Mass in English and Spanish if you are keeping score at home. Franciscan Friars and a halfway to St. Patrick’s Day Ceili sponsored by the Irish Pub directly across the street.
The Ceili is preceded by the celebration of the Virgen del Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba. She is also known as Our Lady of Charity, or Oshun, if you are really keeping score at home. Visions of sugarplums danced in my head, if sugarplums are cigars and whiskey. It was cigars and rum when I visited the town of El Cobre in southwest Cuba. All Masses at the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Cobre were in Spanish. The priest at Good Shepard was an Italian. He did the English Mass.
Father Tom Faiola’s homily discussed Hebrews 12, the second reading. “Strive for peace with everyone” and “all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” It was in these churches one could see the vastness of the Catholic faith, the languages and cultures it includes and how, no matter the diversity, the message is the same: we should all strive for peace and righteousness.
“We are all God’s people,” Aunt Irene would say, “but they are not all our people.” I will have to say that the statue of Saint Patrick in the back of Good Shepherd made me feel connected to a parish that I had never set foot inside.
I had a similar feeling at the pub across the street after Mass. The cultural milieu of Cleveland included more and more Catholic peoples; however, they did not yet share their parishes like the two visited in upper Manhattan. Clevelanders of all backgrounds did not share their jobs.
Foreman John Sullivan worked the coal, iron and ore docks on the river. He called the police department the morning of Saturday, April 7th, 1888 for assistance. John anticipated trouble on the docks.
The call was answered by Sergeant O’Laughlin just after 7am. Mr. Sullivan shared that last year he employed nine or ten Irishmen to transfer iron and coal on the docks. He continued to explain that during the winter the docks do not employ as the docks are not open.
The week before Mr. Sullivan requested the assistance of Sergeant O’Laughlin because 18 to 20 German laborers were engaged to do the work that the Irish fellows had done the season before. This piqued the Irish of the Irish labors and there was rumor that they would make way to the docks and correct this mendacious human resources blunder.
Mr. Sullivan was nervous that if these nine or ten Irish fellows “got to drinking” it would get ugly on the docks. Sergeant O’Laughlin retorted “But can’t a gang of twenty men protect themselves for a gang of nine or ten?” He then went on his way.
It was not just the Irish and the Germans collectively competing for jobs on the docks. Each year brought more immigration to Cleveland, both domestic and international. The international immigration that the Plain Dealer was concerned with was the Italians. Not those like Father Fiaolo, who stayed in the Big Apple, but the “gangs of Italian laborers” who found their way “other cities.” Cleveland was one of those cities.
Not everyone was pleased with these new Italian immigrants. “Whilst there has been a decided improvement in the character and condition of other immigrants, who come better provided and who have a clearer idea of where to go and what to do, there is no change in the character or class of the Italians.” It is the opinion of many the Italian immigrant is a result of misrepresentations of steamship agents who get paid a commission of $3 per head for each steerage ticket.
Cities on the east coast were beginning to witness Italian immigration that was equal to the aggregate of Irish, Scotch and Welsh immigration and four fifths of German immigration. This initial east coast immigration did find its way to the Midwest.
The United States had yet to reach its peak in European immigration. In 1907 almost 1.3 million Europeans entered the US. In 1888 there were almost 2 million Irish born living in the United States. According to the Plain Dealer, they came better prepared and with better character than others.
Character notwithstanding, it is clear that by 1888 the Irish had established themselves as foremen and police sergeants. It is also clear to the Plain Dealer that the Irish had established a network of family, friends and county affinities that allowed the immigrant of the 1888 a more direct path to economic stability.
They knew where they were going and had a clear understanding of what to do. It was the discipline of the Famine immigrant that bore fruit in the 1880s, a term seldom applied to those who were described in similar terms as their Italian counterparts years later. Peace, cigars and whiskey.
*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.