For over 160 years, the Irish have been a part of Yates County history.  Come celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday, March 17 beginning at 5 p.m with dinner, music and a historic presentation at Sarrasin’s on the Lake, Lake Street, Penn Yan.   

As part of the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War, the Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society has organized this event.  The Sons of the Gael are a Buffalo-based four- member group who perform traditional, modern and original Celtic and Irish tunes.  

The historical talk will feature Mike Gleason and Mike Leavy who will discuss the role of the Irish in the Civil War from both the Union and the Confederate points of view.

Penn Yan’s Dublin
Here in Yates County, by 1850, there were just over 300 Irish-born people.  The vast majority were in the village of Penn Yan, living along Jackson Street and across the outlet/canal near where Franklin and Sherman Streets are today in an area that became known as “Dublin.”  

Ten years later, the number of Irish-born people in the county more than doubled to over 700 (about 4 percent of the total population).  The greatest concentration was still in Penn Yan, but more than half were scattered across the farm areas of the different towns.  

They brought unskilled labor to an area that was rapidly developing agriculturally and industrially and was in need of it.  In the 1860 Census, 302 Irish born men listed occupations. Of them, 80 percent were listed as “farm laborer” or “day worker.” Of the 125 Irish-born women who listed occupations, all but two put “domestic servant.”

Religious impact
They also brought Roman Catholicism to Yates County. The first Catholic Church in the county, St. Michael’s in Penn Yan, was built in 1850 on land given by Abraham Wagener on what is now Keuka Street.

The driving force behind the founding of the parish was Thomas Hendricks, an Irish-born meat cutter with a large family.  The early parishioners were mostly Irish, and the parish priest in 1860 was Patrick McKenna who wasborn in Ireland. A few years later — in 1853 — St. Mary’s church in Rushville was organized.  

These early immigrants to Yates County were not welcomed with open arms by the established population. Not only were they “foreign” amidst “native-born” New Yorkers, but they were Roman Catholic in a strongly Protestant area that had recently experienced a wave of religious revival and evangelism.

Political Impact
When men became citizens and voted, they almost all voted Democrat in an area dominated by Whig/Republican politics.  

When the Civil War came and volunteer regiments were formed in Yates County, many Irish-born men enlisted with enthusiasm. Military service included the promise of accelerated citizenship.

In fact, it was the Civil War that started the uneven process of moving Irish immigrants into the mainstream of American life. Irish individuals and Irish regiments performed admirably during the war, but it was the rapidly expanding economy during the late 1800’s that provided Irish-born people with economic and political opportunities and eventual acceptance.

For more information about Irish families in Yates County or about the March 17 Irish Celebration event, please contact the Yates County Genealogical & Historical Society at 315-536-7318 Tuesday through Friday 9 a.m.- 4 p.m.