Currently on Display
Irish and the Erie Canal
The Irish were involved from start to finish, from originally proposing the concept a hundred years before a shovel was even put into the ground, to the routing, to its design, to securing support from elected officials, to the elected officials themselves, to its construction and finally to its navigation and transportation services once it opened
From the early 17th century to the end of the 20th century, approximately seven million Irish men and women came to North America. These immigrants and their descendants made significant changes to the fabric of American life, and like any ethnic group, the experience of the Irish Americans was contingent, not preordained. Therefore the social, religious, and socioeconomic character of Irish America continuously shifted throughout the course of American history. Perhaps no other topic in this interesting history better illustrates Irish America’s changing face than that of the Erie Canal.
In fact, the Erie Canal may be seen as a microcosm of Irish America- the ethnic group’s experiences along its route closely paralleling those of the Irish across the nation. And just as it is impossibile to think of American history without the Irish, it is just as hard to think of the Erie Canal withut the Irish and the culture they created. From politicians to surveyors, engineers to contractors, laborers to boatmen, more than any other group the Irish embodied the complete story to the Erie Canal.
The Museum’s Rich History of Acclaimed Exhibits
Over the last two decades, the Museum has developed and produced a number of very successful exhibits.
- “The Irish and the Erie Canal” In keeping with its mission, the Irish American Heritage Museum presents its newest exhibit “The Irish and the Erie Canal.” This exhibit reveals the historical contributions of the Irish to the planning, designing, engineering, funding and construction of the Canal. This famed achievement transformed early America, and in particular New York City, into a world economic power by linking the Great Lakes and the interior of the young nation to the Atlantic Ocean and the world.
- “Dublin: Then and Now.” Our internationally acclaimed exhibit of stunning photographs portrays life on the gritty streets of Dublin and in its “docklands” in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It likewise portrays life in Dublin in the same areas during the first decade of the 21st century to reveal the transformation in Irish life over 50 years.
- “Soldiers Are We: The Irish in Military Service” tells the story of centuries-long service of the Irish to their homelands.
- “The Irish in Music” chronicles the contributions of the Irish to music in our culture, including writers, composers, performers and entrepreneurs.
- “Corporate Irish” celebrates the lives of the men and women who rose to powerful positions in the business world and helped shape the economic future of the United States — from the colonial period to many contemporary entrepreneurs.
- “The Irish and Labor” reveals the contributions of the Irish to the American labor movement.
- “An Gorta Mór: The Great Hunger” chronicles the tremendous impact of the Irish famine in the mid-19th century.
- “Fire Upon the Hearth” celebrates the contributions of women of Irish heritage in America.
- “Go and Preach the Kingdom of God” tells about Irish religious and how they clothed, fed, housed and educated the waves of Irish immigrants that flooded America’s shores.
- “Presidents of Irish Descent” is the story of our 20 presidents who claim Irish ancestry.
All of the Irish American Heritage Museum’s exhibits are available for presentation on a loan basis and are in great demand. In 2010, the Museum presented “Dublin: Then and Now” at the Irish Consulate in New York City, the Commodore Barry Irish Center in Philadelphia, the Gaelic-American Club in Fairfield, CT, and the Waterford (NY) Senior Citizens Center. The same exhibit drew international acclaim in 2006 when the Museum became the first American Museum of its kind to exhibit at Ireland’s National Library in Dublin.
The Museum’s various exhibits have been on display in such venues as the Children’s Museum of West Virginia; the Heritage State Park Visitor’s Center, Lawrence, MA; the Kerry County Library, Tralee, Co. Kerry, and the US Embassy in Dublin Ireland; The Margaret Mitchell House, Atlanta, GA; the Milwaukee Public Library, Milwaukee, WI; the Trade Center in St. Paul, MN; the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans; the Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO; the Hatikvah Holocaust Education and Research Center in Springfield, MA; the Arlington Heights Historical Museum, Arlington Heights, IL; and the St. Petersburg International Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Irish Memories: Sixteen on Sixteen
Contributed by Dr. Margaret Lasch Carroll
Associate Professor, Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
When Sociologist Reginald Byron visited Albany, New York in 1989, he was “struck by its Irishness.” Albany, he wrote, is “one of the most Irish places in America and has been so for a century and a half.” Byron then used Albany as the case study for his book, Irish America, published in 1999.
Pictured at right is Thomas Dongan- 2nd Earl of Limerick.
The Irish have been shaping the Albany area since the days of the Dutch. The British Governor, Thomas Dongan was an Irishman and his Dongan Charter contained unprecedented social freedoms for the colony. The Irish formed St. Mary’s in Albany, the second Catholic Church in the state of New York during the early years of the new American Republic; they played a major role in the construction of the Erie Canal; and they changed the demographics of the region in the years of the famine. Michael Nolan was the first Irish mayor of the city of Albany in 1878 and, Times Union publisher, Martin Glynn, the first Irish Catholic governor in 1913. Through the 20th century, the Irish continued to come to the Capital District forming vibrant AOH Halls in Troy, Schenectady, Watervliet, and Albany. The opening of the Irish American Heritage Museum in 1986 stands as testament to the impact the Irish have had in the Capital District, New York State, and, indeed, to the entire county.
At left, James Connolly- signer of the Proclamation of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic in 1916. For portions of time between 1902-1905 he lived in Troy, NY. It is not surprising that the connections between the Irish in the tri-city area and Ireland were fluid and active through the 20th century and remain so today. As part of the centenary commemorations of the Easter Rising of 1916, the Irish American Heritage Museum is posting a column of family connections that sixteen Capital District residents have to the Revolutionary years in Ireland, years that charted the course of Ireland for the future. The memories involve not only 1916, but the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.
We will continue to look for more family memory and stories. If you have a story to tell about your own family’s connection to the Easter Rising in 1916 or the revolutionary decade that followed, please contact us at the museum and share your story with us!