A message from WRHS
We understand that now more than ever people are looking for a sense of place and community. We are here to help. Western Reserve Historical Society remains commit​ted to our core values – integrity, stewardship, innovation, excellence and connectivity. We are an institution dedicated to preserving and sharing the history of the people and communities of Northeast Ohio. Our doors may be closed, but we still have plenty to share.

Over the next few weeks, we will present opportunities to stay engaged through stories, photographs, history lessons, live streams, online resources, activities, and most importantly of all we will continue to make connections. Our mission is to inspire people to discover the American experience by exploring the rich history of our region. Follow us on social media and stay tuned to your email for announcements, engaging content, and updates! To kick it all off, today's email will be all about the fascinating history of St. Patrick's Day in Northeast Ohio!
Irish in Cleveland
Cleveland's Irish population, like that in many other cities, did not reach a significant number until the potato famine immigrations in the late 1840s. Unlike those in many Eastern Seaboard cities, Cleveland's Irish never exerted influence beyond their numbers, though they have been part of the city's diverse ethnic community and activities since the first immigrants from Ireland arrived ca. 1820. 

By 1870 the Irish population had grown to almost 10,000, which represented 10% of Cleveland's total population. Though still more Irish would come to Cleveland, Irish immigration would not keep up with the city's rapid growth, and by 1900, the 13,120 Irish comprised only 3.5% of the total community.
History of St. Patricks Day in Northeast Ohio
The public celebration of St. Patrick’s Day in Cleveland has a longer history than we once thought. The very first Parade that we know about in Cleveland was organized in 1842 by the city’s third resident Catholic priest, Rev. Peter McLaughlin. Fr. McLaughlin was a proponent of “temperance,” or abstinence from alcohol, and his St. Patrick’s Day celebration began with mass at St. Mary’s on the Flats—the only Catholic church in Cleveland’s city limits at that time—continued with a Parade of the Catholic Temperance Society, and concluded with a banquet attended by friends and family members.

Various organizations have sponsored and participated in the Parade at different times over the Parade’s 175-year history. Sometimes it was organized by explicitly Catholic groups, such as the Fr. Mathew Total Abstinence Society, the Catholic Central Association, or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic fraternal organization, whose 19th century membership rosters are housed at Western Reserve Historical Society. At other times, the Parade was organized by groups more specifically interested in the cause of Irish nationalism, such as a local militia known as the Hibernian Guards, the Fenian Brotherhood, or the Irish Literary and Benevolent Association. In more modern times, the Irish American Civic Association organized the Parade from 1935-1957, and the United Irish Societies of Greater Cleveland has managed the Parade from 1958 through today.

The structure of the United Irish Societies was formalized with the sole aim of running the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The concept was, and is, that independent, constituent organizations would come together, headed by an Executive Director, to take mutual responsibility for raising the money for the Parade and for developing and implementing the guidelines for the Parade. At its founding, member groups were the only Irish organizations that were allowed to march in the Parade.

A treasure trove for more recent Parade history can be found in the papers of Raymond “Rip” Reilly (a longtime Parade director and publicist) at the WRHS.
Irishtown Bend
Aerial view showing Irish town bend in Cuyahoga River, 1920s
When the first Irish immigrants began to arrive in Cleveland in the 1830s, they settled in a neighborhood that would come to be known as Irishtown Bend, which was part of a larger area known as the Angle. Situated along the river east of W 25 th  Street and south of Detroit Avenue, this neighborhood encompassed a total of 22 streets. However, Cleveland’s Irish population quickly outgrew the bounds of the Irishtown Bend neighborhood, particularly with the influx of refugees from the Potato Famine in the late 1840s. By 1853, the St. Patrick Parish was established on Bridge Avenue to help serve the rapidly expanding population, and in 1868, St. Malachi’s Church was established in the center of Irishtown Bend.

Unfortunately, many residents of the neighborhood struggled with extreme poverty and were especially susceptible to diseases such as cholera, scarlet fever, and diphtheria. As families became more prosperous, they began to move away from the neighborhood, seeking to distance themselves from the impoverished area. By 1900, most Irish residents had moved on, and the neighborhood was resettled by Eastern European immigrants. Sadly, the neighborhood began to decline, and by the 1980s, no commercial or residential buildings were left in the area.
Irish American Archives
The Irish American History Archives is a collecting initiative of the Library of the Western Reserve Historical Society. The program collects, preserves, and makes available for research the papers and photographs of the Cleveland Irish community and the historical records of Irish organizations and institutions in northeast Ohio. Materials relating to politics, religion, culture, business, labor, genealogy, education, fraternal organizations, charities, and individual life experiences are the key to the understanding of the Irish experience in greater Cleveland.
John "Johnny" Kilbane
St. Patrick's Day in Cleveland in 1912 was particularly special for it marked the triumphant return of boxer John "Johnny" Kilbane to his hometown after winning the world featherweight championship in a match with Abe Atell in California. 100,000 cheered as Kilbane took part in the annual parade.  A product of Cleveland's west side Irish "Angle" community, Kilbane would retain the title until 1923 and then go on to a distinguished career in local politics.  A statue in Battery Park honors Kilbane -- whose bout record was 142 wins with only 4 losses.
Irish Cultural Garden
From our Digital Archive:
The Irish Cultural Garden Dedication Film, October 29, 1939, consists of one color 16mm film and a DVD reproduction of that film. The film does not include sound and is 6 minutes and 18 seconds in length. Cuyahoga County Engineer John McWilliams was the photographer. The film includes scenes of the garden statuary, walkways, landscaping, and walls. The crowds attending the dedication are also depicted, including wide angle shots and close up views of individual attendees and families. The film includes brief views of featured speakers and honored guests, and several views of the Irish-American Sons and Daughters of Eire Fife and Drum Corps performing at the dedication.
Learn from Home!
Although Cleveland’s Irish population is rather small, they’ve been extremely socially active over the past 150 years, contributing to activities such as brewing and dance. Catherine Leneghan wore this Irish dance costume as a girl in 1969. Dancing became her career, and she founded her own academy, teaching many of the city’s most promising dancers. In 2017, she celebrated 25 years of teaching at three studio locations.
Discover Irish and other online digital collections from our Cleveland History Center vaults! Our various collections include historic films, interviews and images from our 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Discover Cleveland neighborhood views, images of downtown Cleveland businesses, events, streets, businesses, factories and more! Follow the link below to get started!