One of the myths of both New Hampshire, and American history, is that immigrants were warmly welcomed to our “land of opportunity.” The only way for us not to repeat history’s mistakes, is to learn from them. In order to learn from them, we need to gain a realistic view of the past.
The 1840s and 50s in New Hampshire were not good decades for Irish immigrants, nor Catholics in general. This sad part of New Hampshire’s history is now rarely mentioned. Those who were participants in the original incidents have long passed away.
During and after the “Great Irish Famine” (or Great Hunger; Irish: An Gorta Mór) of 1845-1850, 1.7 million of Irish Catholics removed to North America. However, many more (4.6 million) arrived before and after the Irish famine.
Beginning about 1843 through 1860, the “Know Nothing” movement swept through the United States. It was considered a “native American” political movement, although it had nothing to do with Native Peoples or Indians. The ancestors of these natives were themselves immigrants, however after one or several generations living here, they now considered themselves “natives.” Some of these people feared and hated the Irish, believing their actions were controlled by the Pope in Rome.
Manchester New Hampshire was not immune from the fear and hatred generated by the “Know Nothings” in other communities such as New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Several riots occurred in Manchester, New Hampshire, and in nearby Massachusetts.
According to the Farmer’s Cabinet, published on 22 May 1851, “during a quarrel and fight between some Americans and Irish at Manchester, a merchant named Charles Farrington was stabbed severely and lies in a critical state. On Monday night, the workmen in Farrington’s shop, with others to the number of 500, attacked the Catholic church on Union street, but the mischief was confined to breaking the windows. A man named John McMahan has been arrested to stabbing Farrington. Several rioters are also in custody.”
On July 4, 1855 a riot began between a crowd of immigrant Irish boys and locals. Doors and windows were smashed at St. Anne’s Church and some of the Irish homes in that district in the Elm Street area and in the south end of town.
In 1857 when Father William McDonald was building a convent at 435 Union Street in Manchester NH that was to be occupied by the Sisters of Mercy, it had to be guarded every night against vandalism. It was even set on fire by a workman. The Sisters of Mercy had originated in Ireland under the direction of Catherine McAuley. They came to Manchester in 1858 to work with immigrants who works in the Amoskeag Mills, and to help educate their children. Their first school, called Mount Saint Mary Academy.
Their founder of the American Sisters of Mercy was Frances Xavier Warde (1810-1884). Before her death in Manchester, N.H., Mother Warde had started some 100 Mercy enterprises, from schools to orphanages, and a string of Mercy houses from New York to San Francisco.
As for Paddy Whacking, perhaps you wonder about the title of my article. Most of us are familiar with the song “This Old Man,” that includes a reference to “Paddy Whack.” I remember as a child that my grandmother once told me to stop singing that song when she overheard it, but did not offer an explanation. You see, Paddy was a long time nickname for Patrick/Padraig, and the word became synonymous with the Irish people, but used in a derogatory way. The word “whack” means to hit or strike sharply.
As far as the term “Paddy Whack”–it is not clear to me whether that it refers to the Irish people being attacked or doing the attacking, but I suspect the former. It is not an appropriate song to teach to children.
Today the most Irish-American part of the United States remains central New England. Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Delaware are the three states in which the highest percentage of its residents report they are of Irish descent. In the United States 40 million people claim Irish descent.
This article was written as my submission to the First Edition of the Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture, hosted at Small-leaved Shamrock.
-The New York Times, July 11, 1854:The Riot at Manchester NH–
–Historical Records and Studies, published 1909; United States Catholic Historical Society, page 440-441 (Google Books)-
*Some of my Genea-blogging friends who Participated in this Carnival*