Though an inordinate number of Irishmen died beside that 368-mile stretch of water, their passing was no more than a ripple in the construction sea that was the Erie Canal. No sooner would an Irishman be buried in a shallow, unmarked grave than two would apply for his job. In other words, while it might have been a watery trail of tears for some, it was equally a stream of hope and ambition for others.
It is interesting to note that during the two years before the Erie Canal was completed in 1825, the main topic of conversation among the Irish who labored on it was that a new canal was rumored to be in the making. Best of all, it was to be in nearby Ohio country and almost as long as the Erie, which meant at least eight years work with steady pay and no questions asked about one's ancestry. Things were looking up for the survivors of the first big ditch.
The Ohio Canal
It was, of course, no accident that the digging of the Ohio Canal commenced the same year that the Erie was completed. There were all kinds of wrangles among members of the newly-formed Ohio legislature as to its route through the state, but in the end the start of the canal depended primarily on the availability of men to dig it. In the summer of 1825, upwards of 3,000 Irishmen, all skilled with the shovel, were standing by, just waiting for the sign-up call. It came on July 4th of that year, when the first ground was broken downstate near Newark.
The Irish, veterans of the Erie and a goodly number just off the sailing ships, made their way to almost every point of the proposed route thr 308-mile canal was to travel between Cincinnati on the state's western boundary and Marietta greenhorn would find his final resting place along the banks of the Ohio Canal.
Drawing by Kinley T. Shogren from THE CUYAHOGA
by William D. Ellis. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.