Irish in Denver

Irish immigrants came to the United States in droves during the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1852) seeking a better life. Once they reached America however, they were met with discrimination and back breaking labor. Faced with the challenges of discrimination, the Irish fought hard to work their way up the socioeconomic ladder in America. The first-generation of immigrants did their utmost to pave a path to a better future for their children. Their efforts made it possible for second and third generation Irish to obtain positions that once had often been out of reach.

Many Irishman helped lay down tracks for the growing railroad industry and built roads and ditches for the growing infrastructure of the United States. Margaret Tobin Brown’s own father, an Irish immigrant, was a ditch digger. The booming mining business brought many Irish to Colorado in the late 1800s. According to census records for 1870, 60% of Irishmen listed their job as a “common laborer” while 70% of single Irish women listed their job as a “domestic servant.” Most of the Irish population during this time lived in the mountains. Working in mines and mining towns was both difficult and dangerous. They received menial pay for long hours and had unsafe working conditions. The Irish fought alongside other miners for better working conditions and better pay.

It was not until the early 1900s when the Irish started to move to the Denver metro area. In 1910, 44% of the Colorado Irish population lived in Denver. They lived in neighborhoods like Baker, Auraria, Highland, and Curtis Park among others. Ever since, the Irish have a strong political presence in Denver. This includes prominent political Irish families such as the Currigans and McNichols.

Martin D. Currigan was elected to Denver City Council from 1874-1900. His grandson Thomas was elected Denver’s first Irish Catholic mayor in 1962. William McNichols Sr. was a city auditor in from 1931-1935. His son, Stephen, became the Lieutenant Governor and then Governor of Colorado from 1957-1963. In addition, Robert Morris was the first Irish Protestant Mayor of Denver in 1881-1883. Edward Keating was managing editor of the Rocky Mountain News and served in the United States House of Representative from 1912-1918. In 1894, the Brown family moved to Denver and Margaret became an active player in Denver politics. Margaret Brown was involved with the Denver Women’s Club and the Denver Woman’s Press Club. She also helped raise funds to build the Church of Immaculate Conception located on the corner of Colfax and Logan Streets.

Today, the Irish culture is seen all throughout Denver. Perhaps one of the most iconic Irish festivities in Denver is the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade was first sanctioned in 1883 by Mayor Morris. The parade, just as the Irish, has seen some ups and downs in Denver and America in large. During the 1920s the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic theme espoused by groups such as the Klu Klux Klan suppressed the parade and the Irish people. However, the parade has swung back into popularity drawing over 120,000 people each year.

The role of the Irish in Denver runs deep. We can see it threading through our social, economic and political past and in traditions many hold dear. From the well-known politicians and activists to those whose names have been lost to history, it is their struggles and achievements that have helped shape this city into what it looks like today.

2013-03-14T18:54:26+00:00