Every year for more than two centuries, people of Irish descent -- and people who simply feel like being Irish for a while -- have celebrated St. Patrick's Day on or about March 17.

The long tradition is a reminder of how important Irish history is to understanding the history of Ohio's capital city.

Among those whose families arrived from Ireland was a frontier surveyor named Lucas Sullivant who laid out the village of Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers in 1797.

Some of the earliest settlers in central Ohio were other descendants of Scots-Irish or "Orange Irish" immigrants.

But they were not the only Irish newcomers.

By the early 1830s, Irish immigration to the United States increased significantly, and most of the newcomers were Roman Catholic, or "Green Irish." The reasons for their departure from Ireland were many, including political and social repression by a distant British government combined with economic problems that made life in Ireland increasingly difficult.

By the 1840s, a devastating potato famine compounded the difficulties and led to even more migration as sea travel across the Atlantic Ocean became faster and less expensive.

Many of the Irish newcomers migrated to the major cities along the east coast of the United States. But others landed in the west seeking a new life.

For many young men looking for work, the arduous and often dangerous job of constructing new roads and canals in Ohio offered opportunities for success.

By the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, most of the major towns in Ohio had thriving Irish neighborhoods. Columbus was among them.

The two major immigrant populations to arrive in Columbus in the early 1800s were the Germans and the Irish. The Germans settled on the south end of the city in a neighborhood just south of the city limits at Livingston Avenue. The Irish newcomers settled on the north end of the city in and around the city limits of what then was called North Public Lane, now called Nationwide Boulevard.

Columbus was a city of about 18,000 people in 1861. A significant portion of that population consisted of Irish immigrants. When railroads began to arrive in Columbus in the 1850s, their point of entry was along a major ravine just north of the city limits and immediately adjacent to the Irish community.

Many of the Irish immigrants found employment with the railroads as well as in the factories along the Scioto River near downtown.

In time, North Public Lane was renamed for Irish politician Billy Naghten as Naghten Street, but its informal name was "Irish Broadway." In 1853, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church was constructed at the eastern end of Irish Broadway, and just beyond it to the east was the first Roman Catholic cemetery in the city. The cemetery now is the site of Columbus State Community College.

Irish Columbus was a thriving community in its own right in these years. A nativist and anti-immigrant political movement in the 1850s gave birth to a third party called the American Party. Dubbed the "Know Nothings," the opponents of immigration had discriminated harshly against newcomers to the United States.

In many cities, including Columbus, were violent confrontations. But if anything, the nativist movement welded the nation's immigrant communities more tightly together, politically and socially.

By the 1870s, Irish influence in Columbus began to make itself known. In 1876, a chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians was formed in the city; in one form or another, similar social and cultural organizations emphasizing and celebrating the Irish heritage of the city have survived to the present day.

Some ask why no Irish Village exists, if the Irish were as strong a presence in Columbus as the Germans who built what's now called German Village.

The simple answer is that development has claimed most of what would have been "Irish Village." The growth of the railroad yards where some tracks still run, and where the Greater Columbus Convention Center is today, eliminated much of the village. Some of the remaining houses of that community now constitute the southern portion of Italian Village. However, landmarks such as St. Patrick's Church are reminders of the Irish contribution to the story of Columbus.

Significant celebrations of the Irish spirit of Columbus are held annually in the city not only March 17 but also at other times, in Dublin and elsewhere, as well as the heart of the city with the Shamrock Club and other organizations.

It is fair to say the Irish spirit is alive and well in the capital city of Ohio.

Erin go Bragh.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.