St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
Completed in 1815, St. Patrick’s was the first Catholic church in New York. It was designed by Joseph Francois Mangin, who began life as a slave in Haiti and escaped to France during the Slave Rebellion of 1791. In Paris, he was trained as an architect, and then fled to New York when the French Revolution turned bloody.
Mangin was quite successful here and designed a number of important buildings, including City Hall. As a member of the congregation, Mangin was a natural choice to design the Cathedral.
Below is a wonderful painting of one of the New York Irish Regiments – The Fighting 69th – heading off to war in 1861. At left is St. Patrick’s School, founded by Elizabeth Anne Seaton, the first American-born saint; at right is the Cathedral.
Irish Immigration to America
In 1800, the United States was predominantly an English, Protestant country. Less than 1% of its 5 million citizens were Catholic, and the Protestants wanted to keep it that way. The religious wars of the 17th century had subsided, but were not entirely forgotten.
In 1845, the Great Irish Potato Famine began, lasting for 6 years. During that time, a million Irish Catholics immigrated to the US, principally through New York. The city was scarcely prepared for them. The population nearly tripled from 312,000 in 1840 to 813,000 by 1860. City services groaned under the weight. Drinking water, sanitation, fire and police departments – soon everything was in short supply. Prices soared, wages plummeted. And naturally, the long established citizens placed the blame squarely on the foreign, Catholic hordes.
The Civil War: The Irish Brigade
But when the Civil War came, the Irish, as well as the Germans and other recent immigrant groups, would stake their claim to American citizenship in blood. The original Union regiments in 1861 were all volunteer, and Irish of New York mustered a couple of them – the 69th (seen above), and the 42nd. At Gettysburg, the 42nd was given Cemetery Ridge to defend against Pickett’s famous charge. Despite the way their newly adopted country had treated them, those soldiers held the line in the nation’s decisive hour. All told, 170,000 Irish fought for the Union in the Civil War.
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