Chapter 7


       The occupations of today's Irish in Cleveland represent to a great degree the very high premium placed on education by Irish families here from the very beginning. Few of the Irish immigrants to this city were able to rise much higher on the labor and social scale than their meager education in Ireland would take them. But they seemed to know intuitively that a good education for their children was the key to upward mobility. It is interesting to note that the Cleveland Irish community did not produce its first physician until 1887. Today the number of physicians, dentists and nurses, as well as many other practitioners in the field of health care, is remarkably high in comparison with the total Irish population. The same thing can be said for clergy and religious women, although that proportional dominance seems to be shifting as young people of Irish background discover that the advantages of being Irish in the clergy or religious life no longer exist as they once did.

The Influence of Archbishop John Ireland

       Perhaps a topic especially intriguing to the non-Irish in Cleveland is the peculiar position occupied by those of Irish .....




background in the practice of law. Some suspect a genuine political conspiracy here, rooted no doubt in the relationship between the Irish in New York active in Tammany Hall and political office, but Cleveland has no Tammany Hall and never did. There are more Irish lawyers and judges than the Irish numbers would warrant. This has been true for much of this century. But unlike Tammany, where the real unifying factor was the Democratic Party, Cleveland's Irish lawyers, Judges and politicians more likely than not are apt to be Republicans. One can only speculate on this phenomenon. A possible explanation might be found in the politics of the presidential election of 1896. In that year, Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul, perhaps the most influential bishop of his time, urged all Catholics to abandon the Democratic party candidate, William Jennings Bryan, and to support the Republican William McKinley. He had several reasons for urging this switch in political support.

       First, he was convinced that a mindless adherence to any political party by any minority group was to waste the political clout that minority group might have if it challenged each political party to address itself to the needs of that minority group. In this case, he had very much in mind the Irish who had so faithfully voted Democratic in most urban centers of the North, East and Midwest, but who had received no great advantage for doing so.




St. Colman's Church around 1928.

St. Ann's, last Irish parish on east side.
View from Cedar and Coventry.




       Second, he believed that if the Irish followed his lead and did actually support the Republican candidate in 1896, the Democrats would lose in national, state and local elections. The result of this election would then influence both parties to seek to woo Irish voters in the election of 1900; thus the Irish would no longer be taken for granted by the one party and ignored by the other, and the Irish would profit from all of this.

       It seems that he had in mind especially federal aid to the parochial schools, a problem he had struggled with for nearly 25 years. In 1890 he had established the Fairbault-Stillwater plan for support of the schools. Essentially this was an appeal to the state of Minnesota and the local public school systems of the state to rent and to support the parochial schools in both these towns for $1.00 per year on condition that the Catholic students be given released time during school hours to obtain religious instruction at a site on or near the parochial school property.

       The idea was a good one, it would seem. It was a development of a statement Ireland had made in 1890, widely carried in the press, that it was not the building of Catholic schools but their maintenance which would bankrupt the Church in the United States within 100 years. (One notes that his prediction still has 15 years to go and yet it is already at least partly true.)




       But still, Ireland's solution was a novel one. Catholics were to give up the absolute control of the parochial schools they had built. The curriculum, the accreditation of teaching sisters, the methods of teaching secular subjects and the administrative role of the parish pastor in the school was to be handed over to the state. The parish was to retain control only of religious education. Many Irish pastors in Cleveland, recognizing the validity of Ireland's prediction, backed him. In doing so they brought politics to the parochial level. Whole parishes turned Republican in their voting, and the descendants of these 1896 voters remain to this day Republican in their voting. One such parish was the Immaculate Conception where the pastor, Cleveland's second monsignor, Thomas P. Thorpe, influenced whole families to vote Republican, many of whom do so to this day, reinforced by the politics of big business of which they have become a part. One thinks of the late Judge James Connell in particular in this regard.

       A further development of this phenomenon of Irish Republican politicians is to be found in the deep-seated Irish fear of any politics that might border on socialism. The Irish had struggled out of poverty and had become convinced of the value of private ownership of land and in some cases, of laissez faire capitalism. For many of them to relinquish their hard won gains to the State was unthinkable. Thus even in the 1950's, many Cleveland Irish supported Senator Joseph McCarthy in his attacks on Communism, just as many of them had supported Father Coughlin two decades .....(continued next page)