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No Irish Need Apply A History of The Irish in America, Circa 1850

Updated on July 18, 2017

The Pot of Gold

You simply can't get anymore Irish than Patrick Murphy.

One of the great mysteries in my past will be that of my second great grandfather, Patrick Murphy. Lost, among the many Irish souls that came before me, he has remained. I think that he has become somewhat of an illusion or maybe even a dream of my own making.

Speaking frankly, I have imagined him to even be the one and only patron saint, Saint Patrick, guardian of all the gold at the end of the rainbow. Even though the search has been diligent to catch this Irish imp he seems to have vanished in his elfin way leaving no further trail to follow.

Genealogy has always been a hobby for my Aunt.

All of the known information I have been able to find out about this ruddy chap was carefully gathered by my Aunt, who painstaking proved her sources before accepting anything as fact. She has trudged forward one small step at a time making progress slowly but surely, piecing the puzzle together bit by bit until the picture of a man came into focus for us to view.

With the internet availibility of today, we have been able to piece more and more information together, furthering the knowledge we have of the personal history of this man and his family. The progress is slow but it is steady.

The Roots of this Tree are deep in Limerick, Ireland.

Patrick was born in Croom, Limerick, Ireland, to Edmund Murphy and Judith Gavin. Here marks the end of the trail. The records that were kept in Ireland at this period in time are very difficult to produce due to many different circumstances. The Irish government, religious issues, economic situations, and environmental conditions all played an important role in the lack of preservation of the historical records. Needless to say it's like trying to find the proverbial "Pot of Gold".

Edmund and Judith had more children, Thomas,Stephen, Margaret, and Winifred, of these we know very little so their story must be saved for another day. However, this story will tell of Dennis and Patrick, Dennis being the eldest brother of the two.

The Great Potato Famine brought them to America.

Potatoes were probably the main staple grown on the 4 acre parcel of land that the Edmund Murphy Family leased from Mrs. Cudmore, in the townland of Anhid West, in the green hills of Ireland. Because of the moist climate and low temperatures little else besides grass, would prove to grow successfully. Crop failure and famine were no strangers to the farmers who struggled to just barely provide for their families, but in the late 1840s an infection hit the crops unlike any that had been seen before. A fungal disease struck the potato and spread throughout Ireland like a rampage. Disease and starvation were at a peak. Escape for survival was evident.

Irish Immigration

Irish In America

First to Canada then on to America they came.

It was December 1850 when Patrick and Dennis, two young Irishmen, arrived in Canada, and promptly made their way across the border to America for the first time. Patrick was just twenty years old and Dennis two years his elder. They then traveled to the top North West corner of the state of Illinois which bordered Iowa, to the Jo Davies County. The vast plains must have been extremely tempting for the two Irish brothers to pass up, for it was here in Galena that they stopped their travel and decided to stay.

First Steel Plow

Invented by John Deere
Invented by John Deere

The Mechanical Reaper

Invented by Cyrus McCormick
Invented by Cyrus McCormick

Illinois started changing and becoming a desirable place to locate.

Illinois was in a vast stage of change at this point in time. Up until now it had been mostly prairie lands dotted with an occasional log cabin or frame shack. The climate extremes, along with the inaccessibility in location, made it undesirable for farming and slowed the process of settlement.

The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 made an all-water route between the Midwest prairies and New England and New York City. This made the state much more accessible to the outside world and proved to increase migration. With the introduction of the steam engine, now amazing everyone with the speed in which transportation could be accomplished, and with two other new amazing inventions now being introduced, everything started changing drastically.

In 1837, a Vermont born blacksmith named John Deere began manufacturing the first steel plow that broke the prairie sod efficiently, and Cyrus McCormick had finally perfected his mechanical reaper, a machine which would do the harvest work of a dozen hand- swung scythes. Suddenly, Illinois looked very desirable and people began coming by the droves.

Working for the railroad was the common lot for the Irishman.

With the influx of people the railway became a booming industry. Not only was it necessary for the movement of people but it was a major transporter of goods and raw materials. Chicago quickly was becoming the world's largest inland port and one of the nation's largest transportation centers. Patrick soon found himself employed in this industry as a Baggage and Yardmaster at the depot in Freeport, Illinois. His job mainly consisted of taking care of the loading and unloading of the baggage on the trains.

It was here in Illinois that Patrick and Dennis parted. Dennis who was interested in the farming industry, moved to a parcel of land in the Minnesota territory. In 1854 the Treaty of LaPointe was instituted in which the Ojibwe Indians gave up the northeastern section of land in Minnesota to the United States. The United States then granted purchase rights to the first claimant on unsurveyed land and Dennis became a landowner and farmer.

In contrast, after marrying his sweetheart Mary Brown in Illinois, Patrick moved to the city of Northfield, Minnesota and became more invested as a worker on the railroad. It was here that he spent his life and raised his family.

Catholic Heritage

The Catholic Irish were separated because of discrimination and prejudice.

Patrick was the typical "Catholic Irish" immigrant of the times. In the 1860s nearly one half of all immigrants to the United States were Irish, and two thirds of those were Catholic. He was devout in his faith, and attended church regularly with his family. Discrimination and prejudice against the Irish was common during this time period, especially if they were Catholic. Intermarriage between different faiths was discouraged by both the Protestant ministers and Catholic priests alike, this resulted in separation. The Catholic parochial school system was a result of this separation issue.

Religious Issues In Politics, Imagine That!

The development of the "Know Nothing" movement also started during this time period. This movement was a political movement that regarded the influx of the Catholic Irish immigrants as a strategically planned conspiracy in which the Pope was accused of plotting to subjugate the United States. (Religious issues in politics, some things never change!) This party eventually became know as the American Party, which eventually became a divided party with the advancement of the Civil War, as they were divided on the issue of slavery.

Popular Irish Song, No Irish Need Apply

The Negro and The Irish were discrimminated against in the same fashion.

There was a great degree of discrimination against the Irish during that time period also. There were signs posted everywhere referred to as "the NINA signs." These were advertisement for employment opportunities, but the signs read, "Help wanted-No Irish Need Apply." A popular Irish song with that title was written to memorialize this time of persecution.

Stereotypes of the Irish Catholics were common. They were depicted as boss-controlled, violent, voting illegally, prone to alcoholism, and dependent upon street gangs that were often criminal and violent. A period newspaper article I found describing a barroom brawl attributed the scene to a "Negro and a drunk Irishman", both being about the same elevation of social status.

Equally Disliked

Patricks contribution to my family is priceless.

It was in this atmosphere that Patrick attempted to improve his lot in life. In the stereotypical Catholic fashion he fathered twelve children, all reaching the age of adulthood, which was unbelievable in itself. He worked on the railroad all the days of his life and left little by way of financial contribution to anything excepting the little he donated to the church. I visited his graveside in Northfield a few years back, and as I pondered on that vintage headstone, I wondered if he really understood the type of contribution he really had made.

Mulherin Brothers: Traditional Irish Step Dancing

Call me a "Plastic Paddy" but I am proud of my Irish heritage.

I am thankful for my pioneer heritage, for the courage that my Irish grandfathers displayed as they ventured to a new land; for the dedication to family they must have had to provide the means of support and love to their children in the midst of adverse conditions; for the commitment of faith that they had in their worship of the Lord, as they dedicated themselves to what they viewed as the truth. I am proud to be a "Plastic Paddy" and to remember my ancestors now and always.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a Mormon, I know that families are forever. I love and honor my ancestors that have come before me. I pay tribute to them this day and always. Perhaps now my Patrick really is a "Saint" Patrick!

My Murphy Family Ancestors

My darling Irish family!
My darling Irish family!


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    • profile image

      Robpert j. Murphy 

      2 years ago

      Patrick murphy northfield mn son John b. Murphy my

      Grandfather. Appreciate any info on murphy northfield


    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks a million for this article. Its very well written, informative and a true account of what the Irish in America went through in those days. I am writing a bit of Irish history myself, so please check out my Hub Page if you get a chance. I write about many different things and some of my articles are also about my perspective as being an Irish mom to an autistic son who has just recently discovered that she herself actually has Aspergers Syndrome also. Unfortunately here in Ireland and throughout the world we seem to be the new class who are still being massively discriminated against in so many ways. So I know how our ancestors must have felt too. I hope maybe my Irish and autistic grandchildren might read my stuff and say, 'thank God its not like that now. ' Fingers crossed anyway!

    • profile image

      John Ellett 

      9 years ago

      Aye, and I finally found this place...As to discrimination, I can only say for that period of our country that when John Terrance O'Flanagan came to the United States, he dropped the "O"...The family legend says that he claimed it sounded "Too Damned Irish!"...And, oh...Where did I put me whisky?....John

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 

      9 years ago from Wrightwood, California

      Lovely family photos. I traced the Irish side of my roots to Dunkirk, near Lake Erie. My Grandfather discovered wild Banner strawberries growing on his ranch in Castella, Ca., culivated them and started a Banner Strawberry Industry that is still ongoing--my cousin inherited the business and they ship strawberries everywhere. (I'm the poor black sheep writer in the clan. haha!) Nothing like Irish talent and hard work..I.don't believe in "Luck of the Irish."

    • viking305 profile image

      L M Reid 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for a very interesting hub. Enjoyed reading about your personal family history. Unfortunatley discrimination of the Irish is not confined to my family ancestors.

      My father worked in London, England in the fifties and he too suffered those signs. In England they all said, No Blacks, and No Irish. That was for renting rooms, houses or applying for jobs. As a coincidence he worked as a labourer fixing up broken tracks for London Underground Railways.

      I also agree with a lot of the comments about the family photo. It is excellent.

    • profile image

      MN Roofing 

      9 years ago

      Wow this is very interesting!

    • profile image


      10 years ago from IRELAND

      Irish history is oh so sad. I am Irish,living in Ireland. I wish I had the talent to write bright and cheerful stuff to see us through these present dreary times. Do the historians dismiss any good times as irrelevant. There must have been some.Let our hubbers come forward with positive


    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 

      10 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Excellent hub. I'm Scottish but I feel an affinity for the Irish. Some of my favourite writers and musicians are Irish. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Michelle Oerman 

      10 years ago

      My mother's mother's family came over from County Cork in the mid 1850s. They faced hardship as well. My grandmother, who was orphaned at age 7, was "farmed out" to different family members, as I was told....she and her sister, ages 11 and 13 eventually survived by living in a boarding house and doing laundry for people. My beloved grandma went on to raise four wonderful daughters with her German immigrant husband (my beloved grandfather)...the youngest of whom was my mother who passed away on Feb. 2, 2009....I will always be proud of my Irish Heritage.....and another Patrick- Patrick Doyle my great grandpa!

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      10 years ago from California

      Hi Patty,

      It is pretty evident why they would not admit their Irish ancestry isn't it? It was extremely tough for our ancestors when they arrived in America. The stereotypical attitudes and prejudices made it difficult for the Irish to even survive. I like the fact that they must have been dedicated and simply tough to do it!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      10 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Thak very much for this Hub, Part of my father's family moved to Ireland from England and stayed many years -- In the 1800s, they would not admit they'd lived or been born in Ireland to Americans when they arriived in this country.

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      10 years ago from California


      Thank you for you interesting addition to the Hub in clarification of the term leprechauns. I hope that I have caused no offense. The truth is certainly interesting!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Sensitivity to the discrimination which your ancestors experienced should alert you to the inappropriateness of describing your family as leprechauns--one of the many stereotypical images of Irish people which allowed others to dehumanize them, and consequently treat them as less than human. What came into Irish folklore were actually not Irish, but runaway Greek slaves who hid in caves on the island, coming out at night only to find food. Truth is always more interesting, isn't it!

    • Onusonus profile image


      10 years ago from America

      This page just popped up and I have to say I love that picture of all those Murphy people! If I were you I would hang it up on the wall! My Irish ancestors lived in Braddock Pennsylvania, see "Out of this furnace" by Thomas Bell. they were depicted as the antagonists as well. You should Check out my family history web sight. "Family history collections"

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California

      Lucky Dog,

      Thank you for all your corrections to my HUB, I would have expected no less. After I got finished laughing my head off, I felt so educated on elves, dwarfs, and lepruchans, that I would certainly recognize one when I saw one, and quite possibly even catagorize it correctly. lol I know about dear St. Patrick as well, but thank you for the clarification. I love your writing style and am glad to see you published a HUB as well. Which I hope you don't mind I posted a link to... Thanks for your comments even though it was through coercion. lol

    • Lucky Dog profile image

      Lucky Dog 

      11 years ago

      Just to correct you, St. Patrick is accredited with driving all the snakes out of Ireland (though I don't think there ever were any there to begin with because the climate is too cold. It's quite possible that it is a Catholic metaphor for driving the sinners or pagans out) not guarding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And I'm not sure that lepruchans are in the elf family, probably more closely related to fairies than elves. You may be thinking, how do you know what mythological family lepruchans belong too? Well if you look at the physical characteristics of lepruchans, they are too small to belong to the elf family. Elves can range from taller than dwarfs like those in Lord of the rings to slightly smaller than them like the North Pole breed. Lepruchans are significantly smaller, probably only a little taller than a Gnome (which belongs to the fairy family) as depicted in Darby O'Gill and the Little people. So based on size and their magical ability, we can conclude that Lepruchans belong to the fairy family. So the anecdotal imagery used at the begining of your hub is incorrect. You might want to fix it. Other than that I enjoyed your hub.And yes your Irish ancestors do resemble lepruchans! LOL!

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California


      Thanks for visiting and for the compliment. I can sure see how the computer is making us very multicultural isn't it.

    • commentonthis7 profile image


      11 years ago

      Great hub my kid's play xbox they have some people from ireland on there that they play xbox game's  with

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California


      You Irish Lass you. Thanks for coming by and reading the HUB.

    • profile image

      Erin Bitterolf 

      11 years ago

      That's my name! Erin GO Bragh! It's where a bit o' me com from

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California


      Thanks for coming by and reading. I appreciate your wonderful comments.

    • AngelesF profile image


      11 years ago from Spain

      Wow! Great Hub!!!

      You know, I've been always 'atrracted' by Irish culture.

      In fact, I read celtics also lived in the 'peninsula', what's today Portugal and Spain.

      I really enjoyed it, and... what a lot of researching!

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California


      Your comments are always so complimentary, which is like a "breath of fresh air." Thank you for reading and commenting. I also agree that family is important, and our first stewardhip. I am forever grateful for those who have trudged the path before me. Again, thank you for your comments.

    • Rob Jundt profile image

      Rob Jundt 

      11 years ago from Midwest USA

      Family heritage is much of who we are. Thank you for such a heartfelt tribute to family, the first stewardship granted to us. Good work!

    • PenmanZee profile image


      11 years ago

      I can tell. Always impressed with your depth of research.

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California

      Yes, my friend, Penman, there are many groups that suffer discrimination I am afraid. I have to agree that adversity is a test of greatness. True adversity brings blessings. I feel that blessings have been given to me, and my family, by learning to press forward through the trials we face each day and the trials my ancestors faced before me. Thank you for your complimentary view of my HUB. This is one I really enjoyed writing.

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California


      We are indeed. Thanks for visiting.

    • PenmanZee profile image


      11 years ago

      Rich history great research. Interesting that the Irish were suffered discrimination too. Testament to the will of any group people to survive adversity.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Tis true, the Irish are a unique breed!

    • In The Doghouse profile imageAUTHOR

      In The Doghouse 

      11 years ago from California


      Thanks for the compliment on the HUB, it really was a "labor of love." I do appreciate all of my ancestors that have gone on before, they have paved the way for me and my family today. I am really a genealogist at heart, writing is just a new hobby that I have come to enjoy. Thanks again, I hope your husband enjoys the Irish information. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

    • Bonnie Ramsey profile image

      Bonnie Ramsey 

      11 years ago from United States

      Fascinating! While my hubby was born in America, his ancestors were Irish so I am always interested in any Irish history and so is he. I will haave to be sure that he reads this Hub. Excellent job!!



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