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John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Green Labor


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John William Tuohy
Grey Haired Irishmen: It was noted by Theodore Parker in 1850 that the rarest sight in America at that time, was that of a gray haired Irishman. There was some truth to the statement. Sickness, alcohol addiction, and the diseases that had leveled them in Ireland, took their toll among them in America as well. The Irish man became known as the perishing class, with a death rate, twice that of the general American population, a sad legacy that would follow for two more generations. In the decades that covered the 1850's, 60's and 70's. A full 80% of all Irish children died at birth. Death of the Irish male was twice that of the American born male and for Irish women, the statistics were about the same.
‘It’s off to America for me. It’s the last place in Ireland a man earn a living. Patrick Cahill, Cork Ireland

"Ten Thousand Mick's, They swung their pix's,
to dig the new Canal but the Cholerey, was stronger than thee, and twice it killed them all" The Editor, Times Picayune

My master is a great tyrant he treats me as badly as if I were just a common Irishman" Slave

"The very last Irish case we have heard, is that of a cook, who happening to let some candles fall into water, put them in the oven to dry" Times Picayune.
 "(These) Irishmen have been a great help to America in supplying the demand for rough and heavy work on canal, railways, etc. and the vast number of Irish girls have also found employment as servants in families. They are not, in all aspect, the best. But they were the only ones to be had in sufficient numbers. And they have their virtues. They are reasonably honest and almost invariably chaste. Their kindness and generosity to their relations also appeals to our best sympathies" Thomas Nichols

"In these mines works 300 men and boys and when I went through the buildings and through the mines I saw them all. Among all these 300, although I was with them for hours, I did not hear a laugh or even see a smile. In a little room in this big black shed a room not twenty feet square, where a broken stove, red hot, tries vainly to warm the cold air that comes in through the open windows, forty boys are picking their lives away. The floor of the room is an inclined plane, and a stream of coal pours constantly in from some unseen place above, crosses the room, and pours out again in to some unseen place below. Rough board seats stretch across the room, five or six rows of them, very low and very dirty and on these the boys sit and separate the slate from the coal as it runs down the inclined plane. It is painful to see the men going so silently and gloomily about their work, but it is a thousand times worse to see these boys. They work here in this little black hole, all day and every day, trying to keep cool in the summer, trying to keep warm in the winter, picking away among the black coals, bending over until their spins are curved, never saying a word all their live long day,... the smallest boys do not get more than a dollar a day" Memories of a Labor Standard Reporter visiting the coal mines near St. Clair Pa. in May of 1877


"This cause to help our Irish poor is so difficult of solution. The parents feel the obligation to place their children to work because they so badly require the meager wages they can bring in, none the less most of these mothers are poor hose keepers and the fathers often intemperate. I find it difficult to sympathize with this class of our population who learn to depend so easily on the labor of young boys and girls for bread as for rum and tobacco. The employer is not wholly responsible partly because such labor is cheaper partly because some work in factories is better done by children." Elizabeth Buffum Chace, factory owner wife Cranston Rhode Island 1881

"There have been so many death among the (Axe) grinders that no Yankee would take the job, and the Irish were awkward and stupid that we did not get the (orders filled) that we needed, even by having extra men working at night" New England Axe Manufacturer

"We do not know what we should do without him. We do not know what we should do with him" A New England Manufacturer explaining his Irish Employee.

"There are three kinds of power that run this great nation, water power, steam power, and Irish power...and the last works hardest of all". E.M Johnson

"how often do we see such paragraphs in the paper as an Irishmen drowned, an Irishman crushed by a beam, an Irishman suffocated in a pit, an Irishman blown to atoms by a steam engine, ten or twenty Irishmen buried alive by the sinking of a bank, and other like casualties and perils to which honest Pat is constantly exposed in the hard toils of his daily bread" Letter to Ireland, 1836.

"The rarest sight in America, is that of a grey haired Irishman"

"There are seventy thousand railroad ties that connect this city to the rest of our country, I would venture that we had to buried an Irishman under each one of them."

"Tugged up from their roots, taken and going willingly from the sea smells and peat smells, shoved into a boat with sweating and cursing and stinking and praying with deaths and births, with old age and youth, they landed and a shovel was placed in their hands or a hammer or a spade and they built Boston and New York and Chicago and Philadelphia. And in the evenings they walked home in the leaning shadows of the grey stone to their one or two rooms and fell into a bewildered sleep" Jack Dunphy.

"Yesterday morning I was spectator of a strange, weird, painful scene. Certain houses of John Watts DePeyster are to be erected on the northwest corner of this street and Fourth Avenue, and deep excavations therefore are in progress.
Seeing a crowd of strangers on the corner, I stopped and made my way to the front of the crowd. The earth had caved in a few minutes before and had crushed the breath out of a pair of ill-starred Celtic laborers.
They had just been dragged, or dug out, and lay white and start on the ground near where they had been working, ten or twelve feet below the level of the street. Around them were a few men who had gotten them out, I suppose, and fifteen or twenty Irish women, wives, kinfolk or friends who had got down there in some inexplicable way.
The men were listless and inert enough, but not so the women. I
suppose they were "Keening", all together they were raising a wild unearthly cry, half shriek and half song, wailing as a score of day banshees, now and then one of them would throw themselves down on the corpse, or wipe some trace of defilement from the face of dead man with her apron, slowly and carefully, then resume her lament. It was an uncanny sound to hear and quite new to me, our fellow Celtic citizens are almost as remote from us in temperament and constitution as the Chinese" George Templeton Strong

In eighteen hundred and forty five
I found myself more dead than alive
I found myself more dead than alive
from working on the railroad
For its "pat do this"
and its "pat do that"
Without a stocking or a cravat
Nothing but an old straw hat
while I worked on the railroad
In eighteen hundred and forty seven
sweet biddy McGee, she went to heaven
if she left one kid, she left eleven
to work upon the rail road"

"The laborers assembled in immense masses with banners bearing various devices and inscriptions and proceeding to supply their wants with strong hand. All efforts to arrest their proceedings were unavailing. The Catholic Priest resident there informed the authorities that all his efforts to restrain the men had proven useless and that they were desperate men who would have work or food. The town was completely given up to them, none daring to make any resistance. Several stores and mills were plundered of goods and flour and an American schooner, boarded and plundered of the pork which formed her cargo. We have not heard that any lives were lost, but our informant says it was a terrible thing to see so many hundreds of men frenzied with passion and hunger with no restraint upon their wilder impulses" Newspaper account of a protest by one thousand Irish day Laborers in August of 1842 near Buffalo New York. The Irishmen had been encouraged to come to the area by handbills sent out by the Well and Canal company. When the men arrived, there were no jobs to be had.

"At Least half of these Irish are engaged at common drudgery of the severest kind and the worst paid kind compared to one fifth of native Americans in the same economic strata. In New York, we find the Irish dying faster than any others, and more given to hard work and fasting then any others" 1850 Government report

"Of the first generation of Irish, fifty four percent are servants and waitresses, of the second generation, only sixteen percent. Whither have these daughters gone? Out of the kitchen into the factory, the store, the office and the school"
E.A.Ross, British diplomat

"There is no complaining on our streets, if a man likes work, he need not want for victuals" Letter to Ireland 1850

“Out of these narrow lanes dirty streets, damp cellars and suffocating garrets will come fourth some of our noblest sons of liberty whom she will delight to own and honor" Orestes Brownston

"Some of my nearest and dearest friends, are Irishmen!"
Whig Presidential Candidate Henry Clay at a Saint Patrick's Day dinner in 1832. Clay actually had little or no use for the Irish before or after the election, which he lost.

"... They were in a desperate search to make a living. They did not have the education to go in to business on any high level and they did not have the capitol to become farmers. They were left only with menial low paying jobs that were not going to lead to any degree of affluence in industry commerce or agriculture.
The only legitimate route open to them was politics. This is the real key to the American Irish. Most of our immigrants came to our shores in search of freedom or of the right to practice their own religion or to take advantage of economic opportunities for which they were already prepared. The Irish like, my great grandfather, came here because they wanted a square meal. There was no way of getting it except by taking over governmental agencies. In doing so, however, they not only seized power, but put the stamp of Irish ethos on it. They were pragmatic a group of men and women who thought of Government as a means of making a living rather than a vehicle for promoting an ideology. They cared little about the so called substantive issues, but a lot about the plight of the people who were hard up" George Reedy



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