Nineteenth-century longshoremen. Image Source: Professor Kurt Schlichting.
Mar 10 2017 Posted: 11:32 GMT

NUI Galway lecture ‘Manhattan’s Irish Waterfront Neighbourhoods: From the Famine to the Movie Classic ‘On the Waterfront’ looks at the famine Irish who settled in the neighbourhoods along the East and Hudson rivers creating the Irish waterfront

NUI Galway will host a public lecture by Professor Kurt Schlichting from Fairfield University in Connecticut on the subject, ‘Manhattan’s Irish Waterfront Neighborhoods: From the Famine to the Movie Classic ‘On the Waterfront’.

Professor Daniel Carey, Director of the Moore Institute at NUI Galway, commented: “Professor Schlichting’s lecture tells an important story, part of a shared Irish history of migration and labour in America.”

The US National Archives created a database of 605,000 Famine Irish who arrived on ships in the port of New York between 1846 and 1851. Drawn from hand-written ships’ manifests, the records include the port the ships departed from in Ireland and England. Over 75% left on ships from Liverpool. The sea lane between New York and Liverpool was well established by 1846 where regularly scheduled packet-ships left every week of the year. The famous Black Ball packet line carried 39,618 Irish, some born in England to Irish parents, to New York.

Galway was also a port of departure and the ships that left carried 8,518 passengers to New York. Just one hundred and eighty six passengers left in 1846 on the ships the Clarence and the Kate. A total of 57 voyages followed on 47 different ships, most made one voyage while the Clarence made five trips, one each year between 1846 and 1851, carrying a total of 859 passengers.

Many settled in the neighborhoods along the East and Hudson rivers creating the Irish waterfront. They found hard work on the docks as longshoremen as New York became the shipping centre of the world. In nearby immigrant neighborhoods, the families of the longshoremen lived in tenements and fought to survive. The Irish waterfront neighborhoods remained distinctive Irish enclaves into the 20th century.

In 1954, the classic American film, On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando, vividly portrayed the violence along the Manhattan waterfront and the stranglehold of corrupt union officials, and the mob. The waterfront priest played by Karl Malden under the name of Father Barry was based on an actual Jesuit priest, Father Peter Corridan, who taught at the Labor Institute at Xavier parish in Manhattan on West 16th Street near the Hudson River docks.

Corridan and other young Jesuits, the labour priests, came of age during the 1930’s and 1940’s when the Catholic Workers movement, led by Dorothy Day, championed the rights of workers to form unions and collectively bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. Inspired by Day and the Papal labour encyclicals, the labour priests saw their ministry as dedicated to social justice for the longshoremen. Corridan battled not just the unions and mobsters but also the Archdiocese of New York that saw the Church’s mission as saving souls, leaving social justice to the labor unions and the politicians.

The lecture is free and open to the public. It will take place on Tuesday, 14 March at 4pm in Seminar Room G010, Moore Institute, Hardiman Research Building at NUI Galway.

-Ends- 

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