How the Irish Succeeded in the Cities

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XIII (7) start of chapter

We may now see what the Irish have done in the cities of California. San Francisco, the most famous of the fair cities of the United States, will suffice as an illustration of the position and progress of the children of Erin. It is rather a singular coincidence that an Irishman, Jasper O'Farrell, laid out the city which his countrymen did so much to build up; and that in 1850, while all was still in chaos and confusion, and license was the order of the day, another Irishman, Malachi Fallon, was called on by a vote of the assembled citizens to leave his position at the mines, and assume the administration of the police affairs of the city; which he did with admitted success. It was two Irishmen—James and Peter Donahue—that erected the first foundry in San Francisco, which enterprise led to the rapid increase of mechanical industry. The same firm projected the gas works; and with such success was this important undertaking crowned, that the stock of the Company has increased to six million dollars. The same firm erected the largest hotel in the city, at a cost of more than half a million. The first street railway—from the City to the Mission of Dolores—was projected by an Irishman, Col. Thomas Hayes. Among the private bankers of San Francisco, Donahue, Kelly, & Co. take the lead; their firm, established in 1864, does a larger amount of business than that of Rothschild, which dates as far back as 1849.

But a still more interesting item—the first public donation to a charitable purpose was made by two distinguished Irishmen, Don Timoteo Murphy and Jasper O'Farrell, who 'donated' the lot of ground now occupied by the Orphan Asylum, and which is at present worth 200,000 dollars. The greatest ovation ever offered by the citizens to an individual was given to John G. Downey, an Irishman, who for two years ably filled the office of Governor of the State. Irishmen held a prominent position in the convention by which the constitution was formed; and in both branches of the Legislature Irishmen, or the sons of Irishmen, are to be found. Among the largest holders of city property, the most extensive merchants, the most successful men of business, the ablest engineers, the most accomplished architects, and the most reliable contractors, are Irishmen; and in all branches of the legal profession, whether practising in chamber, or in civil or criminal business in courts, Irishmen enjoy an enviable repute.(17)

In fact, as soon as society, which, from the special circumstances of the country, had been in a somewhat chaotic state, settled down into its ordinary grooves, the Irish took their place among the foremost in the battle of life; and in the eager struggle for wealth and distinction they held their own with their co-labourers of every other nationality.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America