Penn Hills resident and author shines light on region's Irish immigrants
Gene Kelly. Art Rooney. David L. Lawrence.
Pittsburgh's history of Irish immigration is rich with familiar, famous names, so it may come as a surprise that Arcadia Publishing's “Images of America” series didn't already have a sepia-toned volume exploring Irish influence in the city.
Thanks to Penn Hills resident and author Patricia McElligott, now it does.
McElligott's “Irish Pittsburgh” was published last week, and through 126 pages and more than 150 photos, it takes a look at the chain migration which began in the 18th century.
“I noticed that although other major ethnic groups in Western Pennsylvania, like Germans and Italians, had Arcadia books devoted to their experience, there was no book on the Irish in the Pittsburgh region,” said McElligott, who has been published in Robert Morris University's literary magazine “Rune” and is a contributor to the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book series.
After submitting a proposal for a book exploring the area's Irish immigrants, McElligott got a favorable response from Arcadia and spent the next 20 months collecting photographs, stories and snapshots of life for newly arrived Irish in the Pittsburgh area.
McElligott spoke with the Progress recently about the research for the book and her family's place in “Irish Pittsburgh”:
Q: How did you go about collecting material for the book, and how long of a process was it from start to finish?
A: The biggest challenge was collecting enough vintage photos to make up a 128-page book. I contacted every person and Irish-themed organization I knew and asked for images. Jack Webber of the Gaelic Arts Society of Pittsburgh, Chuck Peters from South Side Celtic Society, Father Joseph Mele of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Mary Frances Garrison from the Irish Centre of Pittsburgh, Diane Byrnes, host of the “Echoes of Erin” radio show, Pittsburgh Irish Network and Ancient Order of Hibernians all took the lead in spreading the word about my project. I can't thank them enough for their help. The book took approximately 20 months from inception to completion.
Q: How did the McElligott family come to America, and where do they hail from in Ireland?
A: The McElligotts hail from County Cork and came to the U.S. in the late 1800s. My mother's family, the Martins, hail from County Galway, and came in the early 1900s.
They did not come all at once because they couldn't afford to. The Irish generally immigrated singly or in pairs; when they earned enough money here, they sent for more relatives to join them. It was a practice called “chain migration.” Both families were escaping poverty. In post-famine Ireland, there was little or no opportunity for them to thrive. Emigration was their only hope for a better life. They came, as most Irish immigrants did, in the steerage class of ships, and entered the United States at the Port of New York.
Q: With the Irish being the second-largest ethnic group in the city, were you surprised that this book hadn't already been included as a part of the series?
A: Yes, I was very surprised that the book didn't already exist. The publisher told me that Arcadia did want a book on Irish Pittsburgh; they simply had not identified anyone who was interested in the project and qualified to write the book.
Q: What's been your favorite part of being involved with the book?
A: Resurrecting the memory of the thousands who went before us. The immigrants were despised because they were Catholic, Irish and poor. They suffered terrible hardships. In the 19th century men died in work-related accidents in such large numbers in Pittsburgh that one historian said they were “the industrial equivalent of cannon fodder.”
Women and children expired in shantytowns of poverty-related diseases that are unheard of today. And yet the Pittsburgh Irish survived to create a world where their children could move ahead, and where their grandchildren and great-grandchildren could live in comfort. Bringing back their images and their stories is my way of honoring them. This book has been a labor of love.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Penn Hills swimmers make their marks at WPIAL finals
- Weekly snack meeting with Penn Hills volunteers, students aims to make positive impact
- Beloved Oakmont food columnist shared more than recipes
- Imagine Penn Hills Charter School seeks a second location
- Charter school finds resistance from Penn Hills School District on expansion plans