Community • Heritage • Faith
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The Irish go back to the very founding of Greenwich. Captain Daniel Patrick who emigrated from Ireland to Holland and on to Boston, founded Greenwich together with Robert Feakes. While known for his bravery as a soldier fighting against the Indians, the flamboyant Patrick was a thorn in the straightlaced Puritans’ sides. He was asked to leave Boston for alleged crude and unbecoming behavior in 1639.
The Greenwich Irish had no Roman Catholic church in which to worship at that time. They loaded into hay wagons, walked or rode horses to St. John’s Church in Stamford each Sunday. Rev. H. O’Reilly of St. Mary’s Parish in Norwalk celebrated the first Mass in Greenwich in 1854 in the tiny cottage of John F. Brennan on Greenwich Avenue.
The first Catholic church was built in Greenwich in 1860. It was the original St. Mary Church, a small, white frame chapel, on the corner of William and Church streets. It was the heart of the Irish neighborhood, known as the “Fourth Ward,” which was settled by Irishmen who worked in the town’s stores and as laborers for the railroad, the mill in Glenville and the stone quarry in Byram.
In 1896, the Greenwich police force was formed. At least 90 percent of the force was Irish. More than 50 percent of Greenwich policemen through the years have been of Irish descent. Around the turn of the century, the local chapters of the fraternal orders of the Knights of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians were founded. The Greenwich chapter of the Hibernians was named Thomas Davis Division, in honor of the Irish patriot who died at an early age of tuberculosis in 1845, but left the legacy of the moving rebel song, “A Nation Once Again”
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Patrick and Feakes headed south to Connecticut and on July 18, 1640, purchased from the Indians, for 25 coats, the land that is now Old Greenwich and Riverside. The influx of the Irish into Greenwich was slow for the next two centuries, but the few who were here were zealous patriots and fought in the Revolutionary War.
The Irish began flowing into Greenwich in the 1840s, when the potato famine caused the great migration from Ireland. Most of the town’s Irish went first to Ellis Island and then into ghettoes in New York before moving up to Greenwich. Most of them became farmers. The land here was much like their homeland - hilly and rocky, but with rich soil. The farmers shipped their produce to New York by boat from Cos Cob and Indian Harbour. At harvest time, they shipped as many as 28,000 bushels of potatoes – the crop the Irish where most familiar with – each week from the Greenwich docks.
The Irish were becoming active in New York politics at this time, as grass roots workers known as “ward heelers”. It was from this term that an Irish immigrant, Tom Egan, then road commissioner of the borough of Greenwich, derived the name “Fourth Ward”. The “borough” comprised most of the area of what is now Central Greenwich. The interest in politics has continued to thrive in the town’s Irish. A great number of selectmen and judges here have been of Irish descent.
And the Greenwich chapter of the Knights of Columbus was formed by the Irish. In the early 1900s, wealthy New Yorkers began moving into Greenwich, buying up farms to form their grand estates. They staffed their households with the Irish men and women of Greenwich. Many Irishmen were gardeners, chauffeurs, butlers, groomsmen and dog handlers. The women were often employed as housekeepers, cooks and maids. Throughout this century, with the aid of education, the lot of local Irish has improved. The congential ability and drive of the Irish is reflected in the speed in which they rose to the top of the profession they entered.
The Greenwich Time March 17, 1981, interview with former Greenwich Police Chief, John M. Gleason.
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