Between 1820 and 1930, nearly four and a half million people migrated from Ireland to America. A large majority settled in Rhode Island. With 17.6 percent of present-day Rhode Islanders being descendants of Irish immigrants, the Ocean State claims the third highest number of residents of Irish descent in the country. Speaking Gaelic and carrying their traditions to new shores, along with much-loved recipes for soda bread and corned beef, they accepted housing wherever they could find it took on whatever work was available to finance their new lives in an adopted country.
During the early 19th-century, Hopkinton claimed more native Irish than anywhere in the Chariho area. Seventy-four residents with surnames such as Connor, Dixon and Agen called Hopkinton home. The majority were employed in the local mills as spinners, weavers, wool sorters and cloth dressers. During that same time, 15 native Irish resided in Richmond, with surnames such as Derby, Ryan and Patterson. They also engaged mainly in mill work except for blacksmiths John Derby and Richard Daniel, and tailor Michael Noland. The Irish living in Charlestown in those early years carried surnames such as Holland, Shore and Eddy.
During the 1860s, among the 48 Irish natives in Hopkinton was Catherine O’Neal who was employed as a servant in the home of the Jordan family. Mary Galigan, one of the 42 Irish natives residing in Richmond, worked a servant in the home of Edward Lillibridge. Of the ten Irish natives in Charlestown, Bridget Donnelly was a servant in the Tucker family while Nancy Baggs struck out on her own as a seamstress.
Hopkinton’s number of Irish immigrants diminished during the 1870s to only 23. Richmond’s fell to 36 while Charlestown’s rose to 19. The majority still worked in the local mills, performing duties such as spinning, dying and carding, while a small number worked on farms.
By the 1880s, Hopkinton claimed 30 Irish natives, including horse-shoer Bernard Gaughran. Richmond claimed 50 and Charlestown counted 21.
By the turn of the century, among the 29 Irish natives in Hopkinton was baker Michael Curry. Twenty resided in Richmond and 20 in Charlestown, including blacksmith John Kelly and several stone cutters.
As 1910 rolled around, most Irish immigrants in the area were still toiling in the mills; 21 in Hopkinton and 17 in Richmond. In the latter town, John Connors and Samuel Bowler worked for the railroad. The 14 residing in Charlestown included one quarry worker.
Hopkinton’s native Irish population fell to 20 in 1920, to 13 in 1930 and only eight in 1940, most still involved in mill and farm work. In Richmond, the number of Irish natives fell to 12 in 1920 and included Margaret Ogara, a private servant in the DeCoppet family and Patrick Daly, a railroad telegrapher. The number fell to seven in 1930 and only two by 1940. Charlestown counted eight Irish natives in 1920 and 1930. During the ‘30s, John Walsh was employed as a private gardener. When the number fell to five in 1940, another private gardener, John Moran, was among them as well as Jane Leach, who was a private servant to 66-year-old widow Mary Schlesinger.
On March 17, those who are Irish descendants, as well as everyone else, will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with the food, music and traditions brought to America from the Emerald Isle centuries ago. If your style of celebrating includes a parade, be at the Coventry-West Warwick line at 1 p.m. on March 13. If it involves food, there are great choices of Irish fare not far from home. At Alaina’s Ale House, located at 343 Kingstown Road in Richmond, you can feast on Poutine, Guinness Stew or Shepherd’s pie. At Kelley’s Deli, located at 116 Granite Street in Westerly, the Corned Beef Melt or the Killarney Sandwich might show you why the eatery won the title of “Best Irish Fare in Rhode Island” from Yankee Magazine.
There is a saying “On St. Patrick’s Day, we’re all Irish.” Whether your DNA upholds that or not doesn’t really matter. When it comes to Erin go Bragh, the more, the merrier is the common opinion.