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Irish Immigrants in 19th Century Maine

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1
Grand Trunk Railroad Grain Elevator, Portland, 1901

Grand Trunk Railroad Grain Elevator, Portland, 1901

Item 5856 info
Maine Historical Society

The growth of industry in mid nineteenth century Maine created a need for manpower, much of which was filled by immigrants.

Irish immigrants worked on ambitious engineering projects like the Grand Trunk Railroad and the Cumberland and Oxford Canal.


2
J.B. Brown Sugar Factory, Portland, ca. 1850

J.B. Brown Sugar Factory, Portland, ca. 1850

Item 6673 info
Maine Historical Society

Portland's industry used the inexpensive labor of the Irish to further its interests.

John Bundy Brown's sugar factory, located adjacent to one of Portland's two large Irish neighborhoods, employed scores of the Irish, as did the Portland Company, which produced locomotives, railroad cars, and ship engines.


3
Gorham's Corner, Portland, ca. 1904

Gorham's Corner, Portland, ca. 1904

Item 6674 info
Maine Historical Society

Prejudice against the Irish grew strong in the 1830s in Maine and elsewhere, in conjunction with the start of a large flood of Irish immigration.

Newspaper reports of the day described Irish sections of Maine cities, like Gorham's Corner in Portland and "Dublin" in Bangor, as filthy and unruly.


4
Third phase, burning of Old South Church, Bath, 1854

Third phase, burning of Old South Church, Bath, 1854

Item 5208 info
Maine Historical Society

The Irish immigrants came at a time of economic and social change in the United States.

Competition for jobs between native-born Americans and immigrants, along with a rise in anti-Catholic sentiment, led to much ill will toward the Irish.

The political manifestation of this movement, called the American Party or "Nativists," used the Irish as scapegoats for society's problems and party activists created a volatile atmosphere in Maine.

In 1854, a Bath mob burned the building being used as the Catholic Church and ravaged the homes of Irish Catholics.


5
Portland Longshoremans Benevolent Society bylaws, 1881

Portland Longshoremans Benevolent Society bylaws, 1881

Item 6750 info
Maine Historical Society

In the face of such discrimination and difficult working conditions, people of Irish descent grouped together to pull themselves out of poverty.

They played active roles in organizations like trade unions. The largely Irish Portland Longshoreman's Benevolent Association formed in order to "insure their private as well as general interests and protect themselves from arbitrary employers."


6
McGlinchey's Brewery, Portland, ca. 1850

McGlinchey's Brewery, Portland, ca. 1850

Item 6677 info
Maine Historical Society

The Irish began to move into the middle classes in larger numbers, as Irish-owned businesses became more common.

McGlinchy's brewery in Portland was one of the last to be shut down before Prohibition.

Brothers James and Patrick McGlinchy owned two breweries, including one that is in what is now South Portland.

James McGlinchy (1822-1880) died with an estate valued at $200,000, making him by far the wealthiest Irishman in the area.


7
Freedom For Ireland

Freedom For Ireland

Item 6676 info
Maine Historical Society

The Fenian movement, which garnered financial support from Irish-Americans for an independent Ireland, expanded ties to the Irish motherland.

This secure psychological connection with Ireland helped to form strong bonds across class lines within the Irish-American community and aided in raising the fortunes of the community as a whole.

In the late 1860s, Portland had two "circles" of the Fenians, each led by a "centre." The Fenians planned to help the Irish cause by invading British-owned Canada, and there was much conflict in Eastport, but nothing really ever came of it.


8
Machine Shop employees of the Portland Company, 1887

Machine Shop employees of the Portland Company, 1887

Item 5518 info
Maine Historical Society

Like most immigrant groups, the Irish began their American experience in the lower echelons of society.

Many were able to transcend the discrimination and economic adversity of nineteenth century Maine and make enormous contributions to the state's development.

By the close of the century, Irish Americans established themselves as a vital part of the state's social fabric.


9
Portland Schools Americanization Classes, 1926

Portland Schools Americanization Classes, 1926

Item 96 info
Maine Historical Society

Bibliographic Essay:

Some of the best modern scholarship on the Irish in America comes from Kerby Miller. His essay "Class, Culture, and Immigrant Group Identity in the United States: The Case of Irish-American Ethnicity," provided the background for this story (in Virginia Yans-Mclaughlin Ed., Immigration Reconsidered, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

One book on the situation of Maine's Irish in the nineteenth century is James Mundy's Hard Times, Hard Men: Maine and the Irish 1830-1860 (Scarborough, Maine: Harp Publications, 1990).

The most recent book about the Irish in Maine is They change their sky: the Irish in Maine, edited by Michael C. Connolly (Orono, Maine: University of Maine Press, 2004.)


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