Happy St Patrick’s Day! This is the day when everyone is Irish or at least claims to be. There are some deep Irish roots in Columbus and Central Ohio and like our city’s origins, they begin with Lucas Sullivant.
Lucas’ Grandfather was Daniel Sullivan – without a “T” – who emigrated from County Cork in Ireland to Virginia and added the “T” when he arrived here in the early 1700s.
Likewise, of the four founders of Columbus, John Kerr hailed from County Tyrone in 1778 according to Ben Hayes of the late-great Citizen Journal. He has the distinction of being our second mayor as well from 1818 – 1819. Educated at Trinity College in Dublin, Mr. Kerr was also the first secretary of the Columbus Literary Society.
This ground has also been covered, but up the Scioto was the settlement that the Ohio Legislature originally chose for the capital. This was the acreage that became Dublin. It was owned by John Sells and named by early settler John Shields who said to Mr. Sells in 1810:
“If I have the honor conferred on me to name your village with the brightness of the moon and the beaming of the sun on the hills and dales surrounding the beautiful valley, it would give me great pleasure to name your new town after my birthplace, Dublin Ireland.”
These early settlers in Columbus and Central Ohio were followed by what Columbus-Irish historian Julie McGhee likes to call the “Green Wave” which lasted from about 1835 – 1870.
Nearly all the Irish immigrants in this wave were Catholic and until 1850, all Catholics in Columbus attended Holy Cross Church near German Village. By 1850, the rapidly increasing German and English speaking populations realized the need for a new parish. Therefore, the members of Holy Cross voted to remove the English speaking Catholics to a new parish, to be known as St. Patrick’s.
The cornerstone of the new church in the North end of the city along a mud road that was sometimes referred to as “Irish Broadway” was laid on September 5 1852 and the church formally opened with a celebration of mass on September 23, 1853.
In 1849, Billy Naghten came to Columbus from the Emerald Isle’s County Westmeath and like many of that period settled in the north end of the city. Billy became involved in local politics and soon became President of City Council after voting for himself in a tie-breaker! North Public Lane was re-named for him as “Naghten “ street and parts of it today are better known as Nationwide Boulevard.
Patrick Egan is another Irish import from the green wave who came to Columbus but didn’t stay long and set out for the wild west. When he didn’t find fame and fortune during the gold rush, he came back to town and became the city coroner and established the Livery and Undertaking business that today is known as Egan-Ryan Funeral Service.
Julie also told me that Alfred Kelley – the man whose home saved Ohio during the Civil War – was also Irish but he didn’t like to admit to it. His beautiful, Greek revival mansion that once stood at 300 East Broad Street (which is sitting in pieces near Cleveland after being deconstructed in 1961) was equally well known as “The House That Saved Ohio,” when Kelley staked its value and his personal wealth as collateral for bonds purchased to complete the building of Ohio’s canal system.
One of the best known Irish families still in town today are the O’Shaughnessy clan. Jeremiah Patrick O’Shaughnessy worked on the Erie Canal and in 1870 began working for the city of Columbus as a ditch-digger, digging the foundation for what was to be the new Columbus Waterworks. He worked his way up to become Superintendent of Waterworks for the City in 1896. In all, he served Columbus through work on its water system for more than 50 years until he died in 1921.
Billy Ireland was a good friend and consistently referred to Jerry in his “Passing Show” strip as Jerry H 2 “O” Shaughnessy.
The clan is still represented in political circles today as Maryellen O’Shaughnessy is our Franklin County Clerk of Courts and a long-time Columbus City Council woman.
The accomplishments and accolades we lay on our Irish are many and this early “green Wave” summary just scratches the surface. So as we celebrate today with parades, corned beef and cabbage, and the requisite green beer, let’s lift a toast to our Irish fore-bears and say:
Erin Go Bragh! Happy St Patrick’s Day!