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  • Jennifer Donovan

Discover Downtown Gloversville Blog

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as a Way to Honor the Irish Labor of Our Area’s Past

There is an expression that states everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Whether it be tasting decorative sweet treats, wearing green clothing, indulging in authentic Irish dinners, attending an Irish concert or dance, purchasing items from businesses conducting holiday specials, or helping a service organization using the holiday as a fund-raiser, celebrating St. Patrick’s Day is big in this country. Some say the bright green colors and vibrant music help people push through the winter doldrums (like today’s weather) and think of spring and that is why they get into the spirit of observing the Irish culture at this time of year.

No matter the reason for celebrating, we should remember the Irish ancestors who had an effect on our area and upstate New York.

Irish immigrants had an impact on this region, most notably Sir William Johnson. Johnson, the British colonial administrator that oversaw this area in the 1700s, was actually an Irish official of the British Empire. Along with his family he recruited 12 families and friends to come to this region and “this began a pattern of settling Irish immigrants on his estates … these served as a buffer against the often antagonistic Albany Dutch, who had long held a virtual monopoly on trade with the Iroquois and also carried on an illegal trade with the French and native peoples in Canada,” according to the Dictionary of Irish Biography and on Johnson can be found at the National Park Service's website.

Irish immigrants were instrumental in the creation of the Erie Canal on the Mohawk River, which flows through nearby Montgomery County, and its many extensions that can be found throughout upstate New York, according to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. It took canal laborers roughly eight years to finish the project, finalized in 1825, and they cleared the land by hand and blasted through rock with gun powder. Canal history can be found at the New York State Canal Corporation website and here.

Irish laborers played a major role in the construction of the railroad system in the 1800s. They worked on early lines such as the Mohawk Valley’s New York Central, the line our Fonda, Johnstown and Gloversville (FJ&G Railroad) connected to in order to move freight to the west and to passengers to New York City. More information can be found here.

Be sure to visit our Downtown Gloversville businesses and eateries when celebrating this weekend, as well as supporting our local organizations, but also take the time to salute the work our Irish ancestors did for our area.


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