Corktown, Detroit's Irish neighborhood (Photo by Robert Duffner. Taken from Wikimedia Commons.).
In this 1920s record, Irish immigrant Patrick McEvilly declares his intention to become a U.S. citizen (Click on the image to read the document.).
The upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday – combined with my almost daily encounters with naturalization records at the Archives of Michigan – sparked my curiosity about Irish immigration and the roles Irish Americans played in Michigan. Irish immigration to Michigan and other parts of the United States began in the early 1800s, expanded considerably between 1845 and 1855 (a period of famine in Ireland) and continued well into the 1920s.
Many early Irish immigrants settled in Detroit, particularly in the Corktown neighborhood, and worked in various labor-intensive factory, mill or foundry jobs. In the early part of the twentieth century, many Irish immigrants and Irish Americans found work in the city’s automobile plants and became active in the labor movement. Irish Americans in Detroit were involved in social justice activities throughout the 1960s and continue to be a strong presence in the city today.
Irish immigrants to Michigan certainly did not limit themselves to settling in the urban hub of Detroit, with many of them making their way up north. In the 1830s, Irish immigrants settled in fishing camps on Mackinac and Beaver Islands. Today, a large portion of Beaver Island’s year-round residents are of Irish descent. Wexford, Clare, Emmet and Antrim counties in the northern Lower Peninsula are all named after counties in Ireland. Irish immigrants were also instrumental to the copper mining boom in the Upper Peninsula. Nearly one-third of the area’s foreign-born population was from Ireland in 1870, though the Irish population would decline by 1920. Many small Irish communities could also be found scattered throughout the Lower Peninsula in the 1800s and early 1900s.
No matter where they settled, Irish immigrants built their communities around Catholic or Protestant churches and looked to fraternal organizations to maintain their cultural identity and help them adjust to life in their new country. Most Holy Trinity Church in Detroit was so important to its Irish parishioners that it was moved on rollers in 1849 to its current location in Corktown.
Partrick McEvilly (See naturalization record, above right.) is just one of the Irish immigrants whose records can be found in the Archives of Michigan’s collections of naturalization records. Whether your family is Irish or another nationality, you might be able to find a record of your ancestors at the Archives.