About Us

My name is Kaitlyn McNulty.  I’m from Long Island and am a sophomore here at SUNY Geneseo studying English Education. Along with literature and writing, I’m also very interested in history. For my research project and the independent part of our group project, I mainly focused on the living conditions of Irish immigrants and the draft riots of 1863. The common denominator between all of our individual research that tied our projects together was the topic of immigration and the struggles and hardships the Irish faced that came with leaving their home country.

My name is Anna Briganti. I am a freshman here at Geneseo and am currently an english major. I am from Lewiston, NY which is about 15 minutes from Niagara Falls, NY. The biggest thing that I had researched in regards to my research project was the Irish famine and the specific Kindred Spirits memorial that was built in memory of the famine. That topic interested me in the way that the sculptor represents the donation of the Choctaw tribe. The main topic that our group had focused on was the immigration process and everything that led up to the cause of immigration.

Jeanmarie Ryan is a senior history major from the Syracuse area. She researched Irish experiences on coffin ships, focusing on the long term effects of these experiences on emigrants, and the way these experiences were memorialized. This research tied back to our project as a whole, as we focused on the disconnect between the aspects of Irish immigration that are memorialized and the aspects that are ignored.

Living Conditions for Irish Immigrants

Many Irish immigrants gave up almost everything to restart their lives in the United States. They left behind whatever valuable possessions they may have had in Ireland, bringing only the shirts on their backs with them. A majority reached America with very little money, thus giving them very few living options. Many began to call the slums of New York City their homes. The most famous being a neighborhood called Five Points.

Five Points quickly over the course of a few years began to strike an uncanny resemblance to Ireland’s biggest and most corrupt city; Dublin. Prostitution, the rise of mobs, and violence flooded this New York neighborhood, which negatively affected many of its residents. “All but forgotten today, the densely populated enclave was once renowned for jam-packed, filthy tenements, garbage covered streets, prostitution, gambling, violence, drunkenness and abject poverty” (Anbinder 1).  The journey began when the Irish dreamt of escaping poverty, sickness, urban overpopulation and famine, but ended up only reliving it all once they got to America. Their long journeys on coffin ships typically induced and spread illness quickly. Upon arrival, those who survived epidemics and Quarantine ended up inhabiting areas scarily similar to those they thought they left behind in cities such as Dublin, that were crawling with disease, poverty and discrimination.

Five Points, over time however, caught the interest of journalists and writers who were intrigued not only the squalid living conditions, but the other unique aspects that seemed to stick in people’s minds. Five Points birthed tap dancing, some of the most talked about bareknuckle prizefights, and was one of the most diverse neighborhoods of it’s time.

The neighborhood mainly consisted of Irish, Italian and German immigrants as well as a large population of Blacks and Jews. Many of Five Points’ residents were in competition for work, and should work be scare, unattainable, or not providing the means one needed, many would resort to violence and illegal activity to either support themselves, their families, or an attempt to work their way up to a higher position of authority or wealth. Five Points was notable location for the occurrence of the Draft Riots in 1863.

Reaction of Irish Immigrants to the Draft

The 1840s were decade that consisted of extreme changes for the Irish. The potato famine was a major reason for their departure from Ireland. They were so desperate to leave their home county, that they endured terrible conditions on the coffin ships just to get to America in hopes of a better life. The adjustment to life in America wasn’t the easiest either however, with the impoverished Irish having to cram into tiny, run down, New York City Neighborhoods such as Five Points. Five Points quickly became a hub for prostitution and corruption, with it’s main inhabitants being the Irish and the Black communities.

The Draft that occured in 1863, was a catalyst for many eruptions between various groups of people in New York City. The Draft sparked the riots, which mainly consisted of Irish and German immigrants resisting being forced to partake in a war for a country that they were so new to. They felt that they  left the destructive nature of their motherlands for a better life; not to have their lives threatened once again. However, as the days passed the riots quickly turned into acts of white supremacy and racism.“The riots were an occasion for gangs of white workingmen in certain trades to introduce into the community the ‘white-only’ rule of their work settings” (Bernstein 27). Many Irish felt that their employment opportunities were threatened by blacks who were in competition with them for work. The poor, urban setting that they were inhabiting didn’t provide many good job opportunities very often, and Irish felt that whatever jobs were being offered, they should automatically be entitled to due to the color of their skin; however this was not the case and competition became fierce amongst them and the freed black community. The Irish thus began releasing their anger about this through violence during the week the draft riots began. They targeted blacks and abolitionists, killing many of them and destroying things such as churches, homes, and orphanages. As seen in the image below, many Irish would go as far as partaking in the public lynching’s of blacks, brutally killing them as a means of displaying the animosity they felt towards the lack of work there was within their struggling urban environment. Over the course of the next few days of this week of violence, the Irish’s anger towards the free black community, their impoverished living conditions, and lack of jobs was magnified. It shone an unwanted light on Irish Immigrants, and heightened the “savage like” stereotypes they had carried with them back in Ireland.

Although the draft riots were a major occurrence in history and largely affected many groups of people, it seems as though that it’s memory is trying to be pushed under the rug and forgotten about. There are no memorials or museums dedicated to the draft riots, which almost seems like an attempt to prevent the Irish to be viewed in such a negative light. Although the riots obviously don’t represent the feelings of all Irish immigrants about the draft or the freed black community, they still represent the majority of opinions of the inhabitants of Five Points, which at that time was the posterchild of Irish neighborhoods. As understandable as it is for Irish who did not partake in these events not wanting be associated with the actions of the members of Five Points, it is still a piece of history that should be remembered in an attempt to preserve our past, and not let anything like it occur again in the future.