The two appointed gladiators would leap from their barges and engage one another on the adjoining towpath. There were no Marquis of Queensbury rules hampering these brawls, anything and everything was considered acceptable, including biting, gouging and kicking a man's procreative organs. Ouite naturally, the winner's barge got to go through the lock first. No more back spasms for the Irish, just a few broken skulls.
The canal workers who opted for the life of a bargeman saw their former ranks filled with yet more Irishmen, who continued to stream out of the ghettos of eastern seaboard cities by the thousands. In 1829 it was estimated that 1,200 immigrants were arriving in northeastern Ohio each month, and a goodly number of them were Irishmen 'looking for work on the Ohio Canal. Most of these newcomers, however, were shuttled downstate and across the state to the Miami-Erie Canal. They apparently were every bit as boisterous as their brothers who had worked on the Erie and who were presently working on the Ohio. They spent their leisure hours in a village called Providence, and as one citizen of that western Ohio hamlet remarked: "It seemed to make no difference to them /@he Irish7 that our town was named for the Almighty. Every Saturday night they turned it into hell."
Moving Out fro Whiskey Island: the 1830's
As far as the Cleveland Irish were concerned, things were looking up a bit. The boom hit in 1830, initiating a full decade .....
of prosperity that was blemished only by the Panic of 1837. The port, hence the docks, bustled, providing more jobs for the men with the brogues. Other laboring jobs opened up also, as the business district, which still fronted on the river, became a thriving center of forwarding and commission warehouses, in addition to the ship chandler's storehouses that seemed to be everywhere. It was menial work, but it also meant that more Irishmen had a chance at stability.
As the 1830's progressed, some Irishmen even made it up the hill to the city proper, where they found jobs in the building trades, usually excavating foundations or carrying materials The newly-arrived Germans, far more skilled in the crafts, latched onto the more artistically demanding and financially rewarding jobs. Digging foundation holes had its hazards. There were cave-ins and sometimes a partially constructed wall would come tumbling down most unexpectedly. One unfortunate Irishman's death was recorded in the Cleveland Leader on July 7, 1835. It read: "Patrick Shields, an Irish laborer, was killed yesterday by the falling of a building wall on Superior Street. He was single and 34 years of age."
The 1830's saw the Irish firmly entrench themselves in Cleveland. They began to occupy both sides of the Cuyahoga, from the mouth of the river up to and a little beyond what is now Detroit Avenue. They also began careers as businessmen. Patrick Malone opened a butcher shop and John Murphy petitioned for a license to operate a public house. Not to be outdone, Thomas Maher opened .....
a greengrocers shop. No tycoons in the lot, but upwardly mobile men, to be sure.
The 1830's also saw the completion of the Ohio Canal, for in the summer of 1832, a locally owned boat became the first to travel the 309-mile route between Cleveland and Portsmouth on the big river. The day of the Irish canal digger was all but over. Some stayed to dig auxiliary canals that formed a large web of waterways downstate but the main digging was a fait accompli. Many, as noted before, stayed on the canal as deckhands on the barges and began settling down in various towns along the waterway. Descendants of those early boatmen can be found in almost every town of size along the canal, but most notably in the northern section of the state. Any number of Akron, Canton and Massillon residents named Sheridan, O'Brien, Boyle, O'Malley and Sweeney, to mention but a few, can easily trace their family patriarchs to their days as canal boatmen.
The Irish in Cleveland at this time were not numerous, but their numbers doubled in the 1830's to around 400. Included in that community were increasing numbers of women, sisters of canal diggers who had been sent passage money and urged to make the trip. The footloose were being supplied with hobbling pins and the chance to beget progeny. There would be more than a few friendly Celtic faces to greet the Famine Irish upon their arrival in the late 1840's. The canal diggers not only carved out waterways hundreds of miles long, they also paved the way for the Irish who came after them.
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