Irish in Syracuse, New York

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Irish immigrants came to the area around Syracuse, New York between 1776 and 1910. The Irish "Pioneers" came to Onondaga County from various parts of the Union. Some came directly from Ireland, many came from Canada and yet others came from countries to which they had previously emigrated.[1]

Like all Irish who settled across the nation, the early Irish settlers in the area came to escape hunger, bad soil, factional murders, repressive English landlords and the bleak future Ireland offered its working class in the 19th century.


The Irish first visited the territory of Onondaga County as soldiers with the English Army during the American Revolutionary War circa 1776.[2] Although most did not settle in the area, a few did return later and established their homes.[1] By 1820, there were only a few hundred Irish in the county. The earliest arrivals were Protestants and settled in the farms in the outskirts of the city[3] including; Salina, Onondaga, Geddes, DeWitt, Lysander, Spafford, Skaneateles, Marcellus, LaFayette, Camillus, Elbridge, Otisco, Tully, Pompey, Clay, Cicero, Manlius and Van Buren.[1]

The majority of Irish in Onondaga County arrived after 1820 and in particular, during the period of the Great Potato Famine from 1848 to 1855. These immigrants were Irish-Catholic and found employment in the city.[3]

Early arrivals farm outside city[edit]

The Irish who lived on farms were mostly earlier immigrants from New England who, with other Yankee farmers, left rocky, barren soil for uncrowded, fertile land in Onondaga County. More than half these Irish were Protestant. They farmed their own land and were not subject to the hatred faced by later arriving Irish-Catholic immigrants. The Irishmen hired themselves out as farmhands to New England squires who owned most of the land. By working hard and saving, many were able to purchase land within five or ten years of their arrival.[3]

Farmers like James Conan were typical of many "strong-backed" Irish farmers. Census records in 1855, four years after his arrival, list Conan's wealth at $50 (three cows and two pigs) and no land. By 1860, he was worth $500 and in 1865; he owned an $800 house and barn that was valued at $13,200.[3]

Potato famine influx[edit]

The potato famine of the late 1840s wiped out by fever and starvation about a fourth of Ireland's 8 million people. Many who could afford the $50 passage to America did so. Nearly 113,000 Irish came to America in 1848.[2]

When they first arrived, most of them had nothing, only about half of the men and hardly any of the women were literate. In Syracuse, they took menial jobs no one else wanted. The women worked as low-paid domestics and the men worked in the salt mines, lumber yards and horse stables. In the late 1850s, many Irish were against the emancipation of slaves because they were worried the slaves would come north and take their jobs.[3]

Local newspaper, the The Daily Standard, reported on October 24, 1856, that businessmen were discussing hiring freed slaves. The paper quoted one man saying he would hire "a slave for a servant, rather than be troubled with Irish help."[3]

During a seven-year period from 1848 to 1855, over 5,000 Irish immigrants found their way to Onondaga County; about 2,000 settled in Syracuse. Immigrants from the same towns or counties back in Ireland often located in the same area. In Geddes, hundreds from Thurles in County Tipperary settled together.[2]

Southeast of the city, in Pompey, 150 of 700 Irish immigrants from Upperchurch, an impoverished town in the mountains of County Tipperary settled.[3]

Later arrivals are city residents[edit]

In the city, the Irish settlers worked on the Erie Canal and in the growing salt industry as well as rock quarries in Split Rock, southwest of the city. Most of them were Catholic and single. They lived in shanty communities in the Near Westside and Far Westside neighborhoods of the city which began growing in 1822 after the canal was completed.[3]


In the early days, the Irish Catholics were persecuted. They were hindered from attending church and were ridiculed as irresponsible drunkards. On St. Patrick's Day every year, an effigy of the Irish patron draped with potatoes and a codfish, with an empty bottle of whiskey tied around his neck, was hung from a flag pole on Salina Street on the south bank of the Erie Canal.[3]

Michael Gleason, a salt inspector, born in County Tipperary, Ireland in 1799, complained three times to city officials about the effigy. After receiving no response, he "stopped at a hardware store, bought an axe, and forcing his way through the crowd, calmly chopped down the flag pole." It was not until thousands of Irish-Catholic immigrants came to the city in the 1850s that the persecution diminished.[3]

Because they worked hard at jobs others would not do, the Irish earned respect. The Daily Standard wrote in an editorial on May 29, 1858, "it is all very well to talk of Americans ruling America, but the Erie Canal can't be made navigable without Irish bone and muscle. The sooner this is understood, the sooner one-half of the businessmen of the state will be saved from bankruptcy."[3]

By the 1890s, ethnic tempers flared in the city. Rivalry between Irish and German immigrants grew violent. In 1895, a white line ran down the middle of South Salina Street. The west side was for the Irish, the east for the Germans. Those caught on the wrong side were beaten.[3]

Late influx[edit]

By the 1890s, with the start of the land wars and further famine in Ireland, another influx of Irish came to Syracuse. Census figures show nearly 3,000 Irish moved into the city and by 1890, nearly twenty percent of the population were Irish. Men found jobs at the newly opened manufactories, in steel mills, working for New York Central Railroad (NYCRR) and in local breweries.[3]

Tipperary hill[edit]

See also: Tipperary Hill

The Irish laborers helped to build the Erie Canal and gravitated to the hill on the Far Westside of Syracuse beginning in the mid 19th century. They settled in the south of the old village of Geddes, before it was annexed into the city, and lived on top of the hill overlooking what was later called "Automobile Row" where industries like Franklin Automobile Company and Onondaga Pottery abounded. The men would walk down from the hill on their way to work each day at the factories east of Tipperary Hill that lined Geddes, Fayette, Marcellus and Oswego streets on the city's Near Westside. To the north, Solvay Process Company provided many jobs to local residents in the manufacture of soda ash on the shores of Onondaga Lake.[4] Many Irish were also employed in the local salt mills on the North side of Geddes.

Irish politics[edit]

The first Irish-Catholic mayor in Syracuse was three-term, James Kennedy McGuire (1868-1923) who was elected to office at age 27. He "ran a political machine"[attribution needed] at the turn of the 20th century and aspired to be Governor of New York State.[5]

St. Patrick's Day parade[edit]

The annual St. Patrick's Day Parade is held in Syracuse each year in March on the Saturday before St. Patrick's Day.

Irish clubs[edit]

By 1890, Irish organizations in the city included the Irish National League, the Friends of Ireland, the National Land League of Ireland, the Irish Relief Fund, the Central Land League, the O'Connell Association (for intellectual advancement) and the Ancient Order of Hibernians.[3]

With the coming of World War I and increased American nationalism along with a greatly reduced number of new Irish immigrants in the 1920s, Irish organizations that flourished at the turn of the century ceased to exist. Local Irishmen retreated and confined their ethnic "reminiscing" to family events and to selected bars like Nibsy Ryan's on South Wilbur Avenue and Wheeler's Tavern on Avery Avenue. The annual St. Patrick's Day Parade on South Salina Street was even discontinued.[3]

In 1930, Edward N. O'Neil, who was born in Northern Ireland, established the Hibernian Club on the Westside.[3]

Irish events[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bannan, Theresa. Pioneer Irish of Onondaga: (about 1776-1847). The Knickerbocker Press, New York, 1913. Retrieved October 23, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c "The Pioneer Irish of Onondaga". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. August 20, 1911. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Irish in County". Syracuse Herald-Journal. Syracuse, New York. March 17, 1976. 
  4. ^ Early, Frank J. (December 1, 1927). "Automobile Row Making Itself Felt - Western Residential Line Constantly Recedes". Syracuse Herald. Syracuse, New York. 
  5. ^ "Cayuga History Prof to Speak on Syracuse's First Irish-American Mayor". Cayuga Community College, Cayuga, New York, March 16, 2010. Retrieved October 26, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Syracuse Irish Festival". Syracuse Irish Festival, 2010. Retrieved October 23, 2010.