As it were

St. Patrick's Day 1914 was great


It was a great day for the Irish.

St. Patrick's Day has had a mixed history as a holiday in Columbus and central Ohio. Coming as it does on March 17, the weather has not always been cooperative. There have been days when the festivities were drenched by a very cold rain. There have been other times when a little snow -- and sometimes more than a little snow -- was not uncommon.

But St. Patrick's Day in 1914 was not to be one of those days. The sun was shining and the temperatures were temperate. It was a perfect day for a parade. And so the Irish people of Columbus and anyone who felt one's self to be Irish gathered together along State Street on the morning of March 17 and prepared to march.

It was a longstanding tradition of the Irish of Columbus to make this march. But the road to a pleasant day in 1914 had not always been an easy one.

People from Ireland had been among the founders and earliest settlers of Columbus and Franklin County in the years after the American Revolution. Many of the pioneer residents were Scots-Irish and had arrived in America relatively early in its history. The Irish were often a restless people and often lived at the very edge of the moving frontier.

The founder of frontier Franklinton in 1797 was Lucas Sullivant. Born in America, Sullivant's family had been removed from Ireland for only a few generations. John Kerr was one of the original four "Proprietors of Columbus" whose proposal to the Ohio General Assembly led to the state capital's placement where it is today. Born in Ireland, Kerr went on to become a mayor of Columbus.

While these early Irish pioneers contributed mightily to the success of the new town, really significant Irish immigration to Columbus would not take place until several years later.

In the years between the 1820s and the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, America received large numbers of immigrants from much of western Europe in general and from Ireland and Germany in particular. The political situation in Europe was unstable in the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Many people wanted to see other democratic revolutions. Many of the ruling families of Europe did not.

In addition, economic dislocations reduced many people to poverty. America was seen as the place where peace and prosperity might be found.

A lot of people came to America, and many of them came to the towns and cities of the Midwest.

By 1850, a sizable number of the people living in Columbus were recent arrivals from Germany and Ireland. The Germans lived in "Der Alte Sud Ende" or "the Old South End." Recent Irish arrivals tended to live on the north side in an area near the railroad yards. What is now Nationwide Boulevard was once called North Public Lane and later was called Naghten Street. Naghten Street took its name from Billy Naghten, a popular Irish politician in the mid-1800s.

Naghten Street became the main commercial thoroughfare of the new residents. Nicknamed "Irish Broadway," the street was home to shops, saloons and rooming houses. At the eastern end of the street stood St. Patrick's Church, and to the east of the church a Roman Catholic cemetery was located where Columbus State Community College is today.

Not all of the people living in Columbus welcomed the arrival of the new immigrants. In the 1850s, a secret society and political organization called the American Party became a quite popular third party in the United States. When asked if one was a member, a party adherent was instructed to respond, "I know nothing." Many of the party's opponents thought that response descriptive of the party itself.

These animosities ran deep and took a long while to melt away. But in time, the new immigrants proved themselves in America's wars and became an integral part of the American political scene. By the second and third generation, the people of Irish America had become Irish Americans.

And St. Patrick's Day was their special day.

On March 17, 1914, the parade formed in front of City Hall, which was then located where the Ohio Theatre is today.

A local paper described the festivities. "Jerry O'Shaughnessy and Thomas Dundon, as usual, led the parade of the Ancient Order of Hibernians from the City Hall to St. Patrick's church. Jerry wore his high silk hat, his frock coat and carried a cane. ... The Knights of St. John band led the parade. The Ladies Auxiliary of the A.O.H. joined the parade at Long Street and Grant Avenue in the march to the church."

An "Irish Night" was held that evening at Memorial Hall. Among other things, the program included "Irish dances and moving pictures taken in Ireland."

Today, the Shamrock Club of Columbus and other Irish organizations carry on the grand tradition.

Erin go bragh!

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.