The Irish wisely settle on the Land in California

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XIII (6) start of chapter

Fortunately for their ultimate and permanent success, many Irishmen either failed in their mining operations, became dissatisfied with the wearisome monotony of the daily drudgery, or desired to engage in some more lucrative employment; and they wisely turned their attention to what was more certain to reward steady industry —the cultivation of the soil. The moment, too, was singularly propitious. During the height of the gold fever, when the one pursuit absorbed almost every thought, all kinds of garden produce were sold at fabulous prices; and even in a year or two after, 12 or 15 cents for a pound of potatoes was regarded as a moderate price for that essential article of food. The hourly increasing demand for the produce of the field and the garden imparted a wonderful stimulus to agricultural industry, to which the Irish brought both energy and experience. When they had made money in the mines, they purchased a convenient piece of land, and soon rendered it productive and profitable; or had they been unlucky in their hunt after the precious metal, they hired themselves as farm hands, and being paid enormous wages—wages which would render high farming in Europe an utter impossibility—they in a short time accumulated sufficient capital to purchase land for themselves. Employment was to be had in every direction by those who were willing to work; and none were more willing than the Irish. Everything had to be built up, literally created—cities and towns as well as communities.

Labour, which is not estimated at its true value in older countries, where the great work has long since been accomplished, and in which society has its grades and classes and distinctions, was highly prized and reverently regarded in California; for without it nothing could be done, where everything had to be done; and the humble Irishman laid the foundation of his own fortunes while rendering to the infant State services which were priceless in their value. Happily, the cities and towns did not seduce the Irish from their legitimate sphere, and the dollars made in the mine, or in ditching and digging, or in hard toil of various kinds, were converted into land; and indeed with such success did they pursue this sound policy—which it would be well for the race were it more extensively adopted in America—that one-fourth of the farming of the State of California is in the hands of Irishmen. This is remarkably so in the counties of Santa Clara, San Joaquin, Marin, Sonoma, Almeda, Contra Costa, and Santa Cruz. As agriculturists and stock-raisers, the Irish are the leaders in almost every county in the State, more particularly those counties lying on the sea-coast and adjacent to the bay and waters of San Francisco.

Inasmuch as it is more interesting to note what the humble man—the Irish peasant—has done through his unaided industry, than what the gentleman has accomplished through the possession of capital, or with the advantages of education, an instance of this nature may be mentioned.

There are two townships in Marin county—Tumalis and San Rafael—largely owned and occupied by Irish. The former of these is as extensive and as rich as any tract of land in the State, and is almost exclusively possessed by Irishmen, nearly all of whom a few years ago were labourers, working for monthly wages on the ranches of the old proprietors, or delving in the mines. They worked and they delved until they saved enough to purchase a piece of land; and now these men, who at home were poor peasants, and, perhaps, would have been little better had they remained in the old country, are the proprietors of estates ranging from 160 to 1,000 acres of the best land in California! Here are three Irishmen, two of them 'boys' from Tipperary, who in 1850 worked on Anally Ranch; one of these is the owner of 800 acres of land in Tumalis, well-stocked and cultivated; and the Tipperary boys are rich farmers, and surrounded with every comfort. There are, and will be, among the children of these successful settlers those whose special genius or whose bent of mind will naturally lead them to the city and its pursuits; but their parents adopted the wisest and safest course for themselves and their descendants—they planted themselves on the soil, and thus laid the foundations of a prosperous and independent race. Many of our people are, from special aptitude, knowledge, or experience, best suited to a town life, where alone they may find employment for their trained skill, or a suitable field for their talents; but the vast majority of those who leave their native country fur America were born on the land, were reared on the land, were employed on the land; and the land is the right place for them, whether in America or at home.

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