South Bend Indiana Irish Community in the mid 19th Century
As the rail lines pushed west from New York, immigrants like my second great grandfather Martin Brennan stopped on the way to Chicago, and South Bend's Irish Community took root. "A group of Irish immigrants took residence in South Bend in 1851, after working on the construction of a railroad connecting Buffalo, South Bend and Chicago." (Giffin, 2006, p. 37). My great grandfather wasn't part of this railroad construction crew, but as the train lines pushed west, it brought other Irish immigrants like my ancestors and their Irish friends as well.
Portage Township became the center for the fledgling cluster of Irish immigrants. The east side, 4th ward of this township was the hub for Irish laborers like Martin who were employed by the University of Notre Dame. Irish families like the Brennans, McNultys, McGowans, Cavanaghs, Byerlys, Roaches, Hobens and Gormans lived next to each other on Notre Dame Avenue and adjacent streets. Many of these Irish families purchased lots from Father Sorin of the University of Notre Dame in an area known as "Sorin's Subdivision."
The fourth ward was also known as "Little Dublin" and was located between Hill Street and St Joseph Church. (Giffin, 2006. p. 55).
Another cluster of Irish immigrants lived in the 3rd ward where many worked for the railroad and held other skilled jobs. The Singer Sewing Company provided employment for many Irish workers in both wards. The Irish on the west side attended St Patrick's Church while the east side Irish attended Sacred Heart Church at Notre Dame in the early 1850's and St Joseph Church in the later 1850's. A large number of German immigrants from Bavaria and Wertenberg were intermingled throughout the east side with the Irish families, as were the Polish and Belgians on the west side. Over time they all naturally gravitated to their own ethnically segregated parishes.
Due to the close proximity of South Bend to the Michigan border, if you believe you have family in this community it would be worth checking Niles (Bertrand as it was known) Michigan, Berrien County records as well. There were 327 documented Irish immigrants living in Berrien County in the 1850 census. The 1850 census for St Joseph County Indiana where South Bend is located documented 142 Irish born individuals spread between 12 different Townships. Seventeen of the 142 were "brothers and sisters" of the local catholic religious order, and the majority of Irish were living in Mishawaka, Clay, Penn and Portage Townships.
The objective of my research is to analyze the Irish families that attended Sacred Heart Church and St Joseph Church in the mid 19th Century; those that clustered in Portage Township, Ward 4 of the South Bend Census, many of whom held parcels in what was known as "Sorin's Tract." Thus far, I have started pages tracing 26 different Irish families (not including my own) to try to see what common threads they might have shared. Our family lore suggests the Brennans traveled with the McNultys and Frains from at least New York when the train lines opened up in the early 1850's. My great grandparents had a son, John born in Ohio around 1852. Bridget Roach, though born in Ireland, was said to have come from Ohio around 1854 (according to her obituary) and the Cavanaugh Family had a son Edward born in Ohio in 1856 before their arrival in South Bend. Did they all take the train in the early years after it was opened up from New York? Did some of these immigrants travel together and stop in Ohio for a period along the way? Did they know each other from before their train journey, and if they did and were they from the same county in Ireland? It is clear from the St Joseph and Sacred Heart Church Records that these Irish families had the same clusters of friends witnessing marriages and sponsoring their children's baptisms. Were they drawn together by their Irish origins, by the close proximity of each other's residences, or did a shared bond of originating from the same county or area in Ireland bring them close. I have observed shared ancestral trails from County Mayo and County Roscommon Ireland to specific areas in Yorkshire England in my research, and believe that some of those trails may extend beyond England to the U.S. I hope to hear from others who are descendents of these South Bend Irish families so that we might all work together to uncover our Irish origins!
I intend to take an extensive look at this Irish community through 1900 by documenting the Irish families in Census records, Sacred Heart Church Records, St Joseph Church Records, directories and other resources.
The following pages pertain specifically to my Irish ancestors, the Martin Brennan and Catherine Corcoran Family from their County Mayo and County Roscommon Origins to South Bend, Indiana:
- My Irish Descendency Chart
- The Martin Brennan and Catherine Corcoran Family of Huddersfield England: An analysis of their Migration from Ireland to Huddersfield England to South Bend, Indiana
- The Martin Brennan and Catherine Corcoran Family in Church Records: St. Patrick's Church, Huddersfield England, Sacred Heart Church, Notre Dame and St. Joseph Church, South Bend, Indiana
- Anna (Brennan) Gray's Recollections of her grandparents Martin Brennan and Catherine Corcoran: Their departure from Ireland to England and on to the United States as Told by Barbara (Gray) Cutter
- More Recollections from Anna (Brennan) Gray's of her Grandparents Martin Brennan and Catherine Corcoran: Their Passage from England to New York and on to South Bend, Indiana as Told by Barbara (Gray) Cutter
Note: Specific Irish family records are documented by surname in the St Joseph Church and Sacred Heart sections listed below. Please contact me if you are a descendent of one of these Irish families- it may enable me to trace these families back further and identify shared migration trails they might have taken!