Irish immigrants were a major part of building the early settlements of Chicago into the city that it is today.
Where did the Irish first settle in Chicago? And how and where did they expand as the city grew? This article goes right back to take a look at the first wave of Irish immigrants.
Where Did The First Irish Immigrants Settle In Chicago?
The first wave of Irish immigrants arrived into the area of Chicago with the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal from 1836. They worked as laborers along the canal route and lived in shanty towns.
They first settled in a place given the name of Canalport. It was known for a while as Hardscrabble, before adopting the name of Bridgeport.
The next big wave of Irish immigrants arrived in the mid to late 1840s as they fled from hardship and famine. We have an in-depth article on the Irish Potato Famine.
Canalport, Hardscrabble, and Bridgeport – all the same place!
Canalport was the name given to the growing village near where the canal connected Chicago to the Illinois River.
This was situated on the east bank of the Chicago River, just outside the city limits.
By 1848, Canalport was now known as Hardscrabble. While Canalport described the location of the village, Hardscrabble was a better description of the tough life of the inhabitants. It’s an old-fashioned word that referred to hard manual labor.
As the village continued to grow, perhaps the inhabitants wanted a name that sounded more desirable. The name changed again to reflect its function and location: it changed to what we now know as Bridgeport.
Where Did the Irish Settle On The South Side?
Aside from Bridgeport, the Irish workers on the canal settled on both sides of the South Branch of the Chicago River.
The southern side included Conley’s Patch. This patch or area was known for gambling and the company of women. But it wasn’t the only place on the South Side that was known for gambling.
Canaryville was a patch beside Bridgeport where a significant number of Irish settled. Big Jim O’Leary was famed for running a large gambling den in Canaryville. By the early 1900s, he controlled gambling on Chicago’s southwest side.
The O’Learys of Chicago
Big Jim was also a son of the Mrs. O’Leary who owned the barn in which the Great Chicago Fire was long alleged to have started.
Mrs. O’Leary and her cow (who supposedly kicked over the lantern) were exonerated in 1997.
When James T. Farrell created his hardened Irish American cop of the 1930s, he had Studs Lonigan roaming the South Side.
Lonigan actually lived in Washington Park, which of course is also on the South Side.
Where Did the Irish Settle On The North Side?
Kilglubbin was the first area in which the Irish clustered on the North Side.
This patch was defined by the Chicago River to the south and Erie Street to the north. The North Branch was the western boundary and Wells Street was on the east.
Of course, the Irish weren’t a single mass of people. They took the differences of provinces and counties to where they settled. Kilglubbin became was known for mass fights between men from Munster and their neighboring province of Connacht.
As Kilglubbin grew, some of the Irish pushed into Goose Island. This was further to the northwest.
The spread into the Near West Side saw the Irish immigrants build the Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Road and May Street. The church was completed in 1860.
As the numbers swelled around the church, it had the largest English-speaking congregation towards the end of the 19th century.
Settling In Outlying Chicago Neighborhoods
You’ll have noticed that the Irish immigrants settled and raised their families near to the docks and lumberyards that gave them their livelihoods.
However, many of the subsequent generations of Irish went into policing and other civil administration roles. About thirty percent of the Chicago police force were of Irish descent by the 1880s.
These were more stable and higher-earning jobs. This allowed Irish Americans to settle in more affluent outlying neighborhoods.
These places included Austin, Englewood, Hyde Park, Lake View, Lincoln Park, and Oakland.
What Is The Most Irish Neighborhood In Chicago?
We are spoilt for choice when nominating the most Irish neighborhood. This is a matter of opinion, so I’ll give you mine!
My choice isn’t based on modern census statistics. Instead, I’ll base it on the history of Irish immigrants into the city.
Bridgeport is the most Irish neighborhood in Chicago. It grew from one of the earliest settlements of Irish canal workers when it was known as Canalport.
It was the home of the legendary (but fictitious) character of Mr. Dooley, a wise old barkeeper who poured out the drink along the Archer Road.
Bridgeport was also home to the legendary and real generations of Daleys, who gave five mayors to the city.