Irish flag in crowd

The History of Savannah’s Irish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Recent events have put a damper on a lot of St. Patrick’s Day fun (and necessarily so), but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the holiday in our own small ways, from home. For Savannah locals and aficionados, one celebratory activity could be to learn about the city’s Irish history.

It all began in 1734 …

Many of Georgia’s first landowning colonists were Irish. A century later, in the 1830s and 40s, the state was experiencing major expansion. As a result, many more eager Irishmen settled into the area to work on building canals and railroads. This time also brought immigrants desperate to recover from the losses they took on during Ireland’s potato famine, which began in 1845.

Although they were sometimes victims of prejudice, the Irish garnered respect for their willingness to work long hours and—of particular importance to many an employer—do so for lower-than-average pay. When other cities turned them away in favor of what were deemed “native-born locals,” Savannah held onto this stable, spirit-filled population of hard workers.

With these deep roots in the area in mind, the scale and popularity of Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities becomes less mysterious.

The city’s very first St. Paddy’s parade was put on in 1813.

Hosted by the local chapter of the Hibernian Society (one of Ireland’s oldest), it was actually a tight-knit, private affair meant to be enjoyed by the group’s members. But by 1824, the procession had gained notoriety and became public. In 1870, a parade the likes of what we now imagine, complete with bands and marching, made its way through Savannah’s streets.

But the parade and parties we all enjoy are far from the only contributions for which the Irish earned their place in Savannah’s history books.

Without the passionate city builders, diligent laborers, and resilient, cheerful outlook the Irish brought to it, Savannah wouldn’t be what it is today. On March 17th and every other day of the year, the Hostess City is lucky to kiss her Irish.

Erin go bragh!

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