NH News
8:00 am
Mon May 21, 2012

New Hampshire's Immigration Story - The Influence of the Irish

Irish men and women started trickling over to New Hampshire in the 1820 and 30s, and by the 1840s, they become the Granite State’s first major population of immigrantsBy 1850 there was over thirteen hundred Irish in Manchester alone and by 1860 that number triples. More than one quarter of the city’s residents are now foreign born and of that, the Irish made up seventy three percent of them.  But as New Hampshire’s first major immigrant group settled, the first major anti-immigrant feelings started brewing in our state as well.

The Catholic population in the United States just mushrooms between 1840s and 1860s,

Lucy Salyer is an Associate Professor of History at the University of New Hamphshire

and when you put it into the context, especially in a place like New Hampshire, which was historically very Protestant and also historically very anti-Catholic, there was a heritage of a great distrust of Catholics, and Irish Catholics really bore the brunt of this.

New Hampshire natives had a love hate relationship with these Irish Catholics.  The Irish provided the workers who built the entire city that they now enjoyed. They laid down the railroads and provided a large part of the work force for a burgeoning Amoskeag Manufacturing company. But the Irish worshiped differently and the Catholic churches that sprung up, engendered fear and revulsion. As the diary of Manchester resident Joseph Kidder illustrates.

The most dangerous system of religion , if it be not a desecration to call it a religion is the Roman Catholic. The Subjects are simply so many suppliant tools in the hands of Pope, Bishop and Priest to carry out just what desired these men may require. They are void of a conscience. Their conscience is in the keeping of the priest. It’s a dangerous doctrine

But it was more than just religion)... they spoke differently, acted differently, had different beliefs and for the more established Granite stators, the Irish drove wages down. John Clayton is a former columnist for the Union Leader newspaper and author of seven books on Manchester history

many of them spoke Gaelic.  And if you could not understand what people were saying you were immediately looked upon with distrust  and there was the always ever present economic factor.  If the Irish were coming in, that meant they were taking jobs from someone else. And again as in often the case, the immigrants were willing to work for less because they desperately needed the money. 

So as Boston businesses began to hang a sign that said, “Irish need not apply”, the Irish could still work in the mills in New Hampshire, but their treatment outside the mills was getting more and more tense.

One passage I came up with was them describing these foreigners, short hand for Irish

  •  (OVERLAY) these are children of foreigners, who make not a small part of our population. They are daily spending their time in the streets in idleness and incipient dissipation, disturbing the peace of our citizens by their profane, obscene, blasphemous language. 

And that was a direct shot at the Irish and that’s the spirit by which they were greeted.

By the 1850s in New Hampshire, the tension between the state’s natives and its newer Irish Catholics grew and grew until it reached its breaking point on the third of July, 1854.

 In the early 1850s, New Hampshire and the rest of the nation was undergoing a lot of stress

The stress came from a debate on slavery that divided the country, but it also came from a debate on the immigrant. Irish and German Catholics were arriving in droves. Anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic speakers fanned Nativist flames. One of these was a man named, John Orr better known by his nickname, as the Angel Gabriel who appeared in Manchester on June 24th. Historian Stu Wallace

The angel Gabriel was a neat guy. He was this complete lunatic dressed up as an angel with a big horn and he’d stand on the street corners bringing attention by beeping his horn and then he’d come up with all this nasty bigotry stuff  

That same month Michael Callin, a Irish man got into fight with a former state representative by the name of John Marshall who bludgeoned Callin to death with his monkey wrench.

Marshall was arraigned and ordered to stand trial for murder. Tensions were rising as was the summer heat. Former columnist John Clayton

It’s hot they’re living in tenements, there’s no air conditioning, there’s no refrigeration. Everybody’s out on the stoop, everyone’s out in the park , in what was the largest urban area in NH at the time . Tempers get a little short, people may take too much of their favorite beverage in an attempt to stay cool and cooler heads do not always prevail under those circumstances.

A gang of Irish men gathered smashing windows and assaulting 2 native born Granite Staters. By the next day a mob 500 had gathered seeking revenge. An article in the Manchester Union Democrat, a paper sympathetic to the Irish cause, picks up the story.

(UNDER CROWD NOISE) A Large number of men, armed with clubs and other destructive implements about day break commence an assault upon all the Irish houses in that neighborhood. Some ten or fifteen were pretty thoroughly dismantled – the doors and windows of many of them being completely stove in. The rioters next proceeded to the Catholic Church – just rebuilt at great cost and probably the handsomest in the State – and continued their fiendish work

 The church was St. Anne’s Parish, Manchester’s first Catholic Church. It might have burned that night if it weren’t for a man by the name of John Maynard, a prominent builder. Once again John Clayton.

John Maynard, stood out there in his nightshirt, and with one hand beseeched them to stop, but it was the other hand that made them stop because in the other hand he held a pistol.  John Maynard was a protestant and he didn’t like what was happening and he stopped the mob from destroying this bastion of Catholicism in Manchester, St. Anne’s Parish and strangely enough, years later, they built a school in the neighborhood and the Irish community from St. Anne’s petitioned the city father’s of Manchester to ordain the school in his honor.

After the riots of 1854, tensions remained, but there were no other major outbreaks of violence against these immigrants.  Over time the Irish began to assimilate more and more. In 1859, Manchester elected its first Irish mayor, Edward Harrington.  In the Civil War, the Irish fought side by side with their fellow Granite Staters, and by the time troops returned home    a new Immigrant began to arrive from the North.  And they would change the cultural environment of New Hampshire for good. 

For New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Keith Shields