6th Generation RYAN/Ó Riain: New York Immigrants Civil War

Cheap tenements in NYC allowed immigrants to send every spare penny home to Ireland, Germany, or Italy.

MIX Op-Ed by co-editor Trace Hentz  (6th generation Ryan, Indigenous Irish)

I didn’t know much about my Irish immigrant great-uncle Patrick “Black Paddy” Ryan**.  I couldn’t even guess why his nickname was Black Paddy.  (his skin color?)  I do know that he migrated from Limerick to New York by boat, then to Galena, Illinois then Minnesota.  What years?  I’m not clear.

Finding immigrant history (below) about the Immigrants Civil War in New York City left me horrified.  How is it that British aristocrats took possession of Irish lands, then their farms and charged them RENT (?) then a million starved and some men were sent on packed slave boats to these shores.  Was Black Paddy one of them?

PATRICK “BLACK PADDY” RYAN, b. February 1815, Limerick, Ireland**

Ancestry.com helped me with Black Paddy:  Born in Limerick, Ireland to Michael Ryan Sr. and Mary O Brien,  Patrick “Black Paddy” Ryan was the first of their seven children to migrate then he married Mary Dwyer and had 6 children.  He passed away on 21 Feb 1907 in Wabasha, Minnesota.  

My maternal grandmother is HELEN (Ryan) KILDUFF (her grandmother is Hannah Ryan, sister to Black Paddy).

My grandma Helen was born March 31, 1906 in Wabasha.  Her mother is Ellen called “Nellie,” her grandmother is Hannah and her great-grandfather is Michael Ryan Sr.  Helen’s father was Michael P. Kilduff – that family migrated from Ireland to Quebec to Ottawa (and eventually the UP Michigan and Wisconsin). (My cousin Peter really helped me on that history.)

Helen married Arnold Thrall October 13, 1929 in Ashland, Wisconsin. I did meet my grandma in 2003 and had a nice visit with her. Their daughter Helen Thrall is my (birth) mother who I didn’t meet. (My grandmother shared lots of photos with me, too.)

At the bottom of this post I found some very good sources on the Ryan clan.

It is estimated that one and a half million people died during the Irish Famine and that a million emigrated between 1846 and 1851.  Like many of you, I wanted to know more about migrations or immigration to the US.  Why did they leave Ireland?  What are their stories? Today it seems most politicians forget they are not indigenous to American yet they detest immigrants.  Really? But their ancestors came over on a boat like some of mine did.  Most of our ancestors landed in NYC. Some of them lived at Five Points.

Immigrants Civil War?

Patrick Young, Esq.

Guest Post by Patrick Young, Esq. – Blogger

Five Points was the most economically downtrodden neighborhood of all of New York.  When starving Irish fleeing the Famine washed up in New York in 1848, it was a short walk to the miserable overcrowded dwellings in the neighborhood.  The weak, sick refugees were cast into a slum that was built on a landfilled pond on whose shores the city’s slaughterhouses stood.  When the buildings began to sag as they settled in the soft ground, anyone who could afford to live somewhere else moved.  Filling in the abandoned space were immigrants and blacks. 1

Five Points at the time of the Civil War

During the 1830s and 1840s, nativists tried to violently push out the Irish, but the Irish pushed back. In an era of New York history when mob violence was a part of civic life, fights involving dozens or even hundreds of combatants roiled the streets. 2

By 1855, the immigrants had a firm hold on the neighborhood.  Only 28% of the people living there were native-born, 52% were born in Ireland, 11% were German and 3% were Italian and about the same number were black.  Roughly half of the Germans were Jews.   During the middle of the 19th Century there were more Jewish congregations in Five Points than in the rest of the city combined.3

This print from before the war shows the racial intermixing of Five Points life.

Most of the Irish came from just three counties, Kerry, Cork and, the largest group, Sligo.  Nearly all of the Sligo Irish came from two plantations owned by wealthy British landlords.  Decades earlier, the landlords had taken title to the land once owned by the indigenous Irish.  The Irish farmer then rented the land he farmed from the landlord.  Almost all the earnings of the farmer went to pay the landlord.  Farmers were reduced to eating nothing but potatoes three times a day.4

The land rental system already left the Sligo farmers malnourished before the potato blight destroyed their crops.   When the Famine hit in 1846, the Sligo farmers began to die off quickly.  To rid himself of the starving, the landowner, Lord Palmerston, began shipping his tenants first to Canada and then to New York.  Canadian inspectors compared the conditions on Palmerston’s ships to those prevailing in the slave trade. 5

South Street was the principal landing place for immigrants in the 1850s and 1860s. Under the current Brooklyn Bridge, the docks along South Street provided employment to many Five Pointers.

Many of the Kerry Irish were from a single estate, that of the Marquis of Lansdowne.  The New York Herald said the immigrants from that estate were ”the very picture of Despair, misery, disease and want…ejected without mercy and shipped for America…It is inhuman, and yet it is an act of indiscriminate and wholesale expatriation committed by the President of the Council of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”  Many of these new arrivals died before they ever got beyond the Five Points. 6

In many cases, only the father of the family came to America.  He tried to live as cheaply as possible, knowing that spending an extra dollar for lodging or entertainment would steal the nourishment his children needed to survive in an Ireland where 15 % of the population was dying of starvation.  To send remittances home, the Irish soon created the Emigrant Bank.  Life-saving money could now safely be transmitted to Ireland for food, to save the farm, or for passage to America. 7

The Five Points in the Life of the Immigrant: 

A. Ships from Europe carried immigrants to South Street where they landed.

B. After 1855, immigrants walked to Castle Garden (The Battery) where they could meet friends or buy train tickets.

C. Newcomers from Ireland and elsewhere would often obtain their first shelter in Five Points. The Five Points was in the city’s 6th Ward.

D. The Five Points was so close to City Hall that its politically active, and often angry, residents posed a threat to the city’s political elite.

E. America’s publishing industry was centered at Park Row, which meant that what happened in Five Points would be read about everywhere in America.

F. The physical proximity of Five Points to Wall Street made its labor radicalism a threat to America’s owning class.

Sensational nativist newspapers painted the Five Points as a nest of thieves and murderers.  But the residents were for the most part hard-working men and women trying to deal with the trauma of seeing their friends and family die from starvation, and then being forced to immigrate to a sometimes hostile new world.  There were few murders in the neighborhood and most arrests were for what would now be called disorderly conduct.8

The nativist press also gleefully described the “sexual promiscuity” of the Irish Five Pointers, and in particular the frequency of the Irish sleeping with or marrying African American men and women.  In fact, with the Irish outnumbering blacks by 15 to 1 there was little opportunity for “race mixing”, however, Irish women were more likely to bear mixed-race babies than any other group of women in the city .9

While outsiders saw a great mixing of peoples, in fact there was significant segregation.  For example, most people from Sligo lived in apartment buildings where only other Sligo families lived. German Jews tended to live with other Jews.  However, with the streets so crowded, cross ethnic friendships and relations naturally occurred.  Dance competitions between Irish and black Five Pointers, where dancers from each group adopted the others moves led to a combination of African-style dancing with Irish step dancing that is now called tap dance.10

SOURCE (with footnotes)


A walking tour of the Five Points

**Ryan Family History: Patrick was called “Black Paddy” there being so many Pat Ryans they had to distinguish one another. He enlisted in the 12th or 13th regiment of Wisconsin, fought in the Civil War. Died February 21st 1907, is buried in St. Felix Cemetery, Wabasha, Minnesota.

It was quite a surprise to learn ABIGAIL ELEANOR QUIGLEY (4th generation of Ryan) (wife to Eugene McCarthy, presidential candidate) is my cousin through Michael Ryan Sr.  Abigail’s husband was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency of the United States in 1968. They separated shortly thereafter.

In 2015: Running for office is another cousin: Margaret Alice McCarthy, born July 17, 1956, is a veterinarian living in Branford, Connecticut, married to Timothy Brown, a professor at Hartford University. (Her parents are Abigail and Gene, noted above.)

And another daughter: Mary Abigail McCarthy, born April 29, 1949 and now deceased, was at the time of her death at age 40, the first tenured woman clinical law professor at Yale University.

From an Irish Newsletter: The Irish were one of the first groups to use hereditary surnames. A few appeared as early as the 10th century. As in many countries, the first surnames were based upon a patronymic system. Ryan was one of the most common surnames in 1890. http://www.irishgenealogical.org/sites/irishgenealogical.org/files/memsepts/2006274.pdf

[Ó Riain: Ryan is the third most popular name in County Tipperary and is also one of the most popular names in County Limerick.]

CLAN: Uí Drona

  • Clan name (Tuath); Uí Drona
  • Progenitor; Labraid Laidech, son of Bressal Bélach, son of Fiachu Baicced, son of Cathair Mór
  • Hereditary Chief or Clan chief; Ó Riain (RYAN, ROYNE, RYNE, RYANE)
  • Location – county, barony or townland; Baronies of Idrone East and West in county Carlow
  • Cinéal (Kinship); Dál Niad Cuirp
  • Branches; Ui Drona Laighin

Trace Lara Hentz is an adoptee, born in Minnesota and adopted in Wisconsin. She is a journalist and co-editor of the Mix and the author of ONE SMALL SACRIFICE. She lives in western MA. Her email: larahentz@yahoo.com


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