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Irish-Milwaukee history begins with the first Irish immigrants who arrived during Milwaukee’s founding in the mid-1830s. Irish laborers helped shape the city by cutting down bluffs, filling in marshes, digging a canal, and creating streets. They were joined in the late 1840s by more Irishmen who were fleeing the Great Famine and starvation in Ireland.


It’s a history populated with heroic figures like Patrick O’Kelly, the city’s first Catholic priest and the founder of Milwaukee’s first Catholic church; John O’Rourke, the first editor of the Milwaukee Sentinel; and Timothy O’Brien, who emerged as a hero during the cholera epidemics—as well as other colorful characters like the scoundrel Robert B. Lynch, kind-hearted Hannah Kenneally, the “White Irishman” John White, firefighting hero Patsy McLaughlin, and militia leader John McManman.


And it’s a tale of overcoming some of Milwaukee’s biggest tragedies: the sinking of the Lady Elgin, which cost the lives of 300 people, most of them from the Irish Third Ward; the Newhall House hotel fire, which took more Irish lives; and finally, the Third Ward Fire, which destroyed hundreds of buildings and scattered the Irish to other parts of the city.


This historical tour captures it all—from the difficulties in adapting to American ways, as seen through events like the Leahey riot and the lynching of Marshall Clark, to the successes, such as the founding of the city of Cudahy by a poor Irish immigrant, the film stardom of Tory Hill’s Pat O’Brien and Merrill Park’s Spencer Tracy, and the many people who have Milwaukee streets and parks named for them.


From the Emerald Isle to the Cream City describes how the Irish influenced the political, educational, religious, and sports landscape of Milwaukee and their impact on other ethnic groups, overcoming early poverty and bigotry to help make Milwaukee the city that it is today.


Carl Baehr, a native Milwaukeean, is the author of Milwaukee Streets: The Stories Behind Their Names, which was awarded the 1994 Gambrinus Prize. He has also written many local history articles, including the City Streets column for Urban Milwaukee.

From the Emerald Isle to the Cream City: A History of the Irish in Milwaukee

  • Author: Carl Baehr

    Imprint: Everything Goes Media

    ISBN: 978-1893121-39-3

    Price: $19.95

    Page Count: 275

    Pub Date: November 2018

    Format: Trade paperback, 6" x 9" 

    Features: New research, historic photos, index

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