In honor of Pittsburgh’s Irish community, with St. Patrick’s Day approaching, here are a few titles we recommend to learn more about the Irish and their influences, and experiences, here in Pittsburgh.
Irish Pittsburgh, Patricia McElligott
As part of the popular Images of America series, this book provides an overview of Pittsburgh’s Irish community from the 1840s forward. Many Irish Pittsburghers trace their roots to families who came to the United States during the 1845-46 Great Potato Famine. Unfortunately, as McElligott tells us in her introduction, Pittsburgh was no more welcoming than other cities, and those first families lived in deep poverty and worked the least desirable jobs. But, as this book demonstrates, within a generation, many families found their niches in the city and changed their fortunes significantly. I love the Images of America books – for me, seeing the faces of our ancestors creates a connection to history that goes beyond memorizing names and dates and reminds us that these men and women could be our own grandparents and great-grandparents.
Pittsburgh Irish: Erin on the Three Rivers, Gerard F. O’Neil
Once you have images of the men and women who came to Pittsburgh from Ireland fixed in your mind, dig into O’Neil’s more in-depth history of the Irish emigration and influence on the city. Far from the Irish community being a single monolithic group, this book details how various communities – whose members hailed from different regions in Ireland – fought, lived, and worked together as the city grew. The book also touches on more recent history, including details on a string of Pittsburgh mayors with Irish ancestry.
The Last Trip, Mark Holan
Mark Holan’s maternal grandfather, Willie Diggin, died when his mother was young, his passing marked by a brief article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a memorial in a trolley company newsletter. Holan wanted to know more, and his research into his family’s history, as well as a larger look at the history and politics of his family’s hometown in Ireland, provides a fascinating snapshot of one family’s Irish-American experience and how their lives were shaped by circumstances here in and in Ireland. His family’s story also ties into larger events happening around them, such as the Great Depression and the modernization of Pittsburgh.
Your Fondest Annie, Annie O’Donnell
Annie O’Donnell emigrated to America in 1898, one of five daughters in her family, and one of more than 15,000 fellow Irishwomen to do so that year. Her story undoubtedly shares many commonalities with of her literal (and figurative) sisters, but what is unique are the collection of letters that make up this lovely little book. O’Donnell met Jim Phelan, a fellow immigrant, on the ship to America and corresponded with him for three years starting in 1901. The letters detail Annie’s life as a children’s nurse for one of the Mellon families as well as Annie and Jim’s budding romance. Annie comes across as energetic, lively and madly in love with Jim, who saved these letters throughout their courtship and long marriage. I highly recommend settling in with a cup of tea and getting to know Annie!
Your Irish Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians, Ian Maxwell
Curious about your own Irish ancestry after reading about other families? While the Pennsylvania Department has numerous resources to help with genealogy research, Maxwell’s guide is a good introduction for someone just getting started looking for Irish family members. After some background information about major events in Irish history that helped drive citizens to make the grueling trip to America, this guide explains what types of records genealogists can expect to find in Ireland, where to find them, and why certain records may have survived. Together with Maxwell’s How to Trace Your Irish Ancestor: An Essential Guide to Researching and Documenting the Family Histories of Ireland’s People, this book will get you started on the right track.
Ádh mór ort! (Good luck!)
– Amy W.
Explore your family’s history (even if you’re not Irish)…...with the help of the library's genealogy resources!
Amy Welch is the lead librarian in the Pennsylvania Department. When she’s not up to her elbows in local history, you’ll find her attempting to convince her toddler to eat vegetables, knitting, or enjoying a classic cocktail in her back yard (during better weather than this, of course).