During the first half of the nineteenth century thousands of Irish emigrated to the United States. The potato famine of 1845 left devastating conditions in Ireland. The Irish immigrants had hopes of starting a new life in the United States. Often the only jobs available were among the least desirable. As a result many Irish born workers built the canals and railways of America and worked in dangerous mines. Besides working difficult jobs, the Irish often faced discrimination. They encountered signs that said “HELP WANTED – NO IRISH NEED APPLY.” As a result the Irish found solace in churches and community organizations. Eventually the Irish were assimilated into American culture, along with thousands of other immigrants from many other countries. Today Americans of Irish descent are still known for their humor, love of family, and their sometimes feisty personalities. St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated in America since 1737.
One of the earliest Irish immigrants in Erie County was John Beatty, who was one of largest land owners of the Firelands. John Beatty led a group of fourteen families from Connecticut to Perkins Township in 1814. He was Mayor of Sandusky from 1833 to 1836. His brother-in-law was Rev. William Gurley, an early Methodist minister was licensed to preach by John Wesley, the “father of Methodism.”
Father R. A. Sidley (below)was born in Ireland in 1828. He was the priest of Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Sandusky from 1863 until 1871. Father Sidley oversaw the building of the church which still stands today at the southeast corner of Columbus Avenue and Jefferson Street. Father Sidley left a bequest of over $13,000 for the building of a new school, which was completed in 1907. The auditorium of the new school was named “Sidley Memorial Hall” in honor of Father Sidley. For many years Sidley Hall was used for concerts, commencements, as well as amateur and professional dramatic productions.
Leonard Johnson, another local Irish immigrant, bought Bull’s Island in 1852. The name of the island was later changed to Johnson’s Island. During the Civil War there was a Prisoner of War Camp located on Johnson’s Island.
Wilson “Slip” McLaughlin, who was Chief of the Sandusky Fire Department for many years, was the grandson of Irish immigrant, Michael McLaughlin. “Slip” is in the center of the group pictured below at the fire station located at the corner of Meigs Street and Sycamore Line. Mr. McLaughlin’s obituary in the November 24, 1984 stated that he was a “champion of the underprivileged and public” and a public servant for fifty years.
Descendants of Irish immigrants to Sandusky and Erie County still live and work in Sandusky today. A walk through St. Joseph’s Cemetery will bring to mind many of those Irish Americans who have gone before us.