Lecture at the West Side Irish American Club
On Sunday evening, May 17th, we had finished tabling with the Cleveland Asian Festival so we drove out to the West Side Irish American Club in Olmsted Falls to hear Ms. Margaret Lynch from the Irish Archives Society give a lecture titled "Mainstays for the Immigrant: Churches and Cemeteries and Undertakers." We learned that there were three large waves of people immigrating from Ireland to the United States and why many of them settled in Cleveland. The first took place in the 1820's-1830's marked the "canal era" when the Irish came here to help dig the Ohio Canal and the Erie Canal. The second was in 1845-1849 because of the Irish Potato famine. And the third wave started around the 1860's and finished in the early 1880's due to the rise of the steel industry and manufacturing.
Ms. Lynch went into great detail about where these immigrants settled in Cleveland and the churches that were created due to the geographical settlement patterns of the Irish immigrants. It was particularly interesting to hear about the disagreements that the Irish immigrants had with Bishop Louis Amadeus Rappe who was French and had trouble relating to them; and Bishop Richard Gilmour who was Scottish and wanted everyone to abandon their ethnicities and just concentrate on being Americans.
Ms. Lynch went on to remind us that there are three recognized components of life which are birth, marriage and death so naturally cemeteries and undertakers play a part in all of this. Bishop Rappe wanted each parish to have its own cemetery but this proved to be too cumbersome and daunting so larger ones had to be created like St. Joseph Cemetery. And, not surprisingly, the first undertakers were mostly cabinet makers and people with carts and horses (like teamsters) who could prepare a coffin and transport it to the cemetery. It wasn't until the civil war that embalming really came into play.
During the Q and A, Ms. Lynch and the attendees had a good exchange about where they could go to get records on their ancestors. Several of the attendees recalled their sometimes frustrating experiences.
Prior to the start of the program, Ms. Midge Gannon introduced Ms. Lynch and spoke of a recent experience wherein a speaker was supposed to come to an event that Ms. Gannon was involved with and talk about Johnnie Kilbane. Unfortunately, the speaker couldn't make it, so at the last minute she called upon Ms. Lynch who did a beautiful job, short notice or not.
Ms. Lynch said that one of her missions was to tell people about the history of the Irish in Cleveland and she did a very good job on this occasion putting together a presentation that impressed us as being historically accurate but also compelling to listen to.