Many Irish immigrated to Knox and surrounding areas in 1850s

From the Review Atlas (Monmouth, IL):

On Thursday night during the Warren County Genealogical Societies board meeting, Knox College senior Margaret Spiegel gave a presentation on her honors history project about Irish Immigration in 1850s-1870s Galesburg.

Spiegel said Irish immigrants first came to Galesburg in the 1850s as tradesmen. For example, the first Irishman was a blacksmith named Thomas Mooney.

The 1850s was a time period of rampant immigration amongst the Irish because of the potato famine in Ireland.

“Irish families were only giving dowries and land to their first sons and daughters,” Spiegel said. “The rest of the family had to find better lives in America.”

At the time, it was expensive and dangerous for immigrants to traverse the country, so many stayed on the East Coast. However, when the railroad made its way to Galesburg travel became cheaper and the population “sky rocketed.” By 1870, there were 553 Irish born people in Galesburg, or 6 percent of the population. Most of them were railroad workers and lived “south of the tracks” in the poor side of town.

Discrimination wasn’t as pronounced in Knox County and the surrounding areas as it was on the East Coast she said, but it did exist. The Irish were largely ignored.

The only newspaper coverage about Irish Americans in the area occurred in 1850 when a windstorm blew over a Catholic church. Even then, the story was about Protestants thanking God for the destruction of the church, she said. At the time it was illegal to build a Catholic church within the city limits. When the first Catholic Church, St. Peters, was built in 1863 it received no coverage.