Hiding in Plain Sight: Unearthing Irish History in 19th Century Germantown, Philadelphia

In the mid to late 19th century Philadelphia’s Irish immigrants could be found scattered throughout the city. The Irish migrated to neighborhoods where they could find work and affordable housing. The men worked as skilled and unskilled laborers and in some cases acquired new professions with on the job training. Irish women also worked in whatever capacity they could, and usually ended their outside employment when they married. They supported their churches and parish schools; paid their mortgages and rents; sent money back to Ireland, either to support their families who were left behind or to bring other relatives to the United States. The majority of Irish immigrants were Catholics, though some were Protestants. They tended to marry other Irish immigrants or Irish-Americans and occasionally they broke out of that mold and married immigrants of other nationalities and faiths. In these ways, Philadelphia’s Irish were like the Irish in other cities and towns who left Ireland for other countries to escape the Great Famine and its aftermath. Of course some neighborhoods in Philadelphia had higher concentrations of Irish living there, such as Southwark, Moyamensing and Kensington; and unfortunately, those areas became notorious for some of the more unsavory flashpoints in the city’s history with the Irish. However, those three sections of the city reveal only a small part of the whole story of the Irish in Philadelphia. While Germantown was not historically known as a hub for Irish migration, there were literally thousands of Irish immigrants living and working there in the 19th century.