the north face stores Irish Immigrants Faced Hardship And Prejudice
It’s good to be Irish in Hartford today, on the feast of Ireland’s patron saint, and locate the green tie, say “Top o’ the mornin’ ” and perhaps stop for a pint at The Maple Cafe.
It wasn’t always thus. There was a time when the powers that be condemned St. Patrick’s Day celebrations and everything else about the Irish. The Irish were the first major immigrant group to settle in Connecticut, not counting the Puritan English who, when they saw the Irish coming, said, in effect: “There goes the neighborhood.”
The Irish began coming to the state in large numbers in the 1840s and 1850s to escape the great famines that ravaged their country. Those who survived the trip lived in awful slums and faced a wall of prejudice and bigotry that was uncannily similar to that faced by many subsequent immigrant groups that came to these shores. Day, a well to do Hartford lawyer and world class racist with no newspaper background, took over The Courant in 1855 and embraced the nativist Know Nothing movement that swept the state in that pre Civil War decade. “America for the Americans” was their battle cry, and for Mr. Day, “Irish American” was an oxymoron.
Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, the saying goes but in New England, we’re actually Irish all year long. Census Bureau. Learn About Tableau About 15.5.
Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, the saying goes but in New England, we’re actually Irish all year long. Census Bureau. Learn About Tableau About 15.5. (Stephen Busemeyer)
In editorial after editorial he savaged the Irish, only taking breaks to attack “the Negro, the Mongolian, the Malay or the Red American.” Neil Hogan, writing last year in The Shanachie, a publication of the Connecticut Irish American Historical Society, said The Courant in that period “maligned anything and everything Irish.”
Mr. Day warned of the dire consequences of allowing the Irish “ignorant, degraded and priest led foreigners” to vote. If the Irish took an interest in public affairs, soon “Irish Roman Catholics will be found in all our minor offices, and like the Irish police in New York,
allow their countrymen the fullest liberty and never check them from crime.”
He also wrote, “Connecticut will no longer be called The Land of Steady Habits. The coarsest and most brutalizing passions will reign supreme, and drunkenness and riot fill the streets.”
Mr. Day blamed the Irish for bearing children that had to be raised in the Hartford Orphan Asylum and for filling the jails and almshouses, but also for driving down mechanics’ wages because “Irish are besieging the workshops, for work at less than living prices.”
Eventually, however, Mr. Day moderated his views. The Hartford Times, aligned with the Democrats, had savaged his rants as “vapid twaddle” and “driveling, puerile inanity,” former Courant news editor Joseph Nunes wrote last year.
Also, Mr. Day was deeply moved, as most in the room were, by Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln’s anti slavery speech in Hartford in 1860.
Mr. Day would leave The Courant in 1864. In 1867, it merged with The Evening Press, creating a much stronger and more enlightened newspaper.
When it came to the Irish, Mr. Day was right about one thing: They did figure out how to use the ballot. An Irish ward, reliably Democratic, emerged in the 1850s. Gradually, the Irish worked their way into government and into civil service jobs. Also, the astounding valor of the Irish units in the Civil War, notably at Gettysburg and Fredericksburg, turned the phrase “Fighting Irish” from a negative to a positive. By the 20th century, many Irish American bylines could be found in The Courant.
Most Irish Americans are generations away from the immigrant experience, but a reflection on it should bring empathy for new arrivals. When you get here,
it shouldn’t matter if your family was poor in Donegal or in Senegal.