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St. Patrick's Cathedral  on what is now N. Plymouth Ave. was sold to Kodak and torn down in 1937.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral on what is now N. Plymouth Ave. was sold to Kodak and torn down in 1937. Picture taken in 1914.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Some of Rochester’s earliest settlers were Irish and they made immeasurable contributions to the Flower City.

Today people of Irish ancestry make up 16 percent of Monroe County’s population – about 119,000 people – surpassed only by Germans and Italians.

In 1957, Blake McKelvey wrote in Rochester History about Irish immigrants in Rochester:

The Dowlings, the MacDonalds, the Storeys, the Cochranes and others who reached the Genesee port in 1817 and after represented the vanguard of an epic movement.

They built log cabins on the east bank of the gorge, just north of High Falls. The settlement became known as Dublin. The Village of Rochester annexed the area in 1823. The Erie Canal construction attracted many Irish workers. Some worked in the flour and lumber mills. Another Irish community began to form in the area now known as Brown’s Square, on the west side of the gorge.

The Hibernian Benevolent Society formed in 1828. Irish immigrants founded a church – St. Patrick’s, on Platt Street. There were at least 60 Irish families and an estimated 800 Irish-born men in Rochester by the time the city incorporated in 1834.

Interior of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Picture taken in  1920.

Interior of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Picture taken in 1920.

There were incidents of anti-Catholic and anti-Irish bigotry. A newspaper published an attack on “popery.” Vandals broke into St. Patrick’s in 1830. But the Irish were rapidly integrating into Rochester society and playing a greater role in civic affairs. Henry O’Reilly became postmaster in 1838, beginning a long tradition of Irish immigrants in politics in Rochester.

The local Irish community was very active in raising money to help people in the Old Country, as the potato famine struck. Many sent money home to bring relatives to Rochester. In the early 1850s, the city’s population grew by 7,500; more than half came from Ireland.

McKelvey writes:

When Jeremiah O’Donovan, an Irish poet, reached Rochester in 1855, he characterized the city in his diary as the “promised land.” … One Irishman had risen to the head of the largest store in the city. He described another as the founder of a large clothing firm, and identified several more as grocers, meat merchants, furniture dealers and a variety of other tradesmen. O’Donovan found one Irish doctor in Rochester…

Anti-Irish feelings went away during the Civil War. Rochester’s Irish made up volunteer regiments. West Point graduate, Colonel Patrick O’Rorke, who arrived in Rochester at age 9, led his regiment to victory at Gettysburg. They paid with their lives.

On this St. Patrick’s Day, let’s thank the Irish for helping to build our city.

Read Blake McKelvey’s history on Irish in Rochester.

Links of the Day:

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– Mark Twain’s life in Buffalo was “exuberant and sexy.”

– A young woman who waited for a new heart at Strong Memorial Hospital returned home to die.

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