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The Irish Emigrant Aid Society’s Greenwich Village Roots

On March 22, 1841, the Irish Emigrant Aid Society was established “to afford advice, information, aid and protection to emigrants from Ireland and generally to promote their welfare.” The Society was founded by Bishop John Hughes and Dr. Robert Hogan, president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and leading Irish merchants, philanthropists, and politicians. Hogan and his family lived at 175 MacDougal Street (which still stands today), and owned the two buildings to the north stretching to Eighth Street.

175 MacDougal Street, 2019

175 MacDougal was completed in 1837. In 1839, Hogan and his family lived at 3 St. Clement’s Place, which became 179 MacDougal Street when the street name changed around 1860. He also owned 5 St. Clement’s Place, which became 181 MacDougal Street. Both of these buildings were later demolished.

Corner of MacDougal Street and West 8th Street, 1916. 181 MacDougal Street is the building at the corner, 179 MacDougal Street is the building directly to the left, and 175 MacDougal Street is two buildings left of No. 179. Photo courtesy of the New-York Historical Society Digital Collections.

The Potato Famine of 1845 is often considered the main driver of Irish immigration to America, but large-scale Irish immigration had begun prior to that. In the 1830s about 200,000 Irish immigrants arrived. Class and social standing differentiated these early arrivals from later Irish immigrants driven to America by the famine. Most of the early Irish immigrants were Protestants from Ulster, and arrived with capital and marketable skills. As the agricultural crisis grew, so too did the percentage of unskilled Catholic Irish immigrants fleeing Ireland to survive. While only 28% of Irish immigrants arriving in 1826 were unskilled laborers, that number increased to 60% percent in the 1830s and continued to rise to over 80% by 1850.

Irish immigrant benevolent associations such as the Irish Emigrant Association existed earlier, but the Irish Emigrant Aid Society was the organization that made lasting and effective change. It also succeeded where others did not in serving the huge numbers of desperate immigrants needing their services. Pushback and racism from nativists was increasing at this time, and Irish Catholic immigrants needed protection and assistance. Dr. Hogan served as the Society’s first vice president, and for a time acted as its president.

Thomas Nast cartoon depicting violent Irish mobs attacking police officers. Photo Courtesy of The New-York Historical Society

The goal of the Society was to serve the Irish immigrant community with a variety of resources. They met immigrants at the docks, providing information on jobs and housing, and warning of the scams and crooks, both nativists and compatriots, that awaited their arrival. The Society opened an employment agency and published articles in Irish newspapers of the hardships that awaited in America to counter the alluring and often misleading ads of the shipping companies.

The organization not only transformed the experience of immigration from Ireland but also played an integral role in strengthening the size and influence of the city’s Irish community.

Ticket to the First Annual Ball of the Irish Emigrant Society, 1844. Image courtesy of MCNY Digital Collections

The Society intensely lobbied New York State for immigrants’ rights, leading to the creation of the Commissioners of Emigration of the State of New York in 1847, decades before the federal government would begin immigration controls via the Immigration Act of 1891. A seat on the Commission was reserved for the president of the Irish Emigrant Aid Society.

The Society also founded the Irish Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank on September 30, 1850 (now Emigrant Bank) to meet the needs of their community. As president of the Irish Emigrant Aid Society, Andrew Carrigan helped establish the Emigrant Savings Bank in 1850, which sought to protect immigrants’ money, allowing them to feel a sense of security, send money back to Ireland, or help bring more Irish over to the United States.

The original bank at 51 Chambers Street. It was eventually replaced by the beautiful 17-story Beaux-Arts Emigrant Savings Bank building which now stands there, built in 1909-12, which is both an interior and exterior NYC landmark. At the time, it was the largest bank building in the country and the first to use the H-shaped design in a skyscraper.

In 1868, Andrew Carrigan purchased 68 Fifth Avenue. This three-story Greek Revival rowhouse was constructed in 1838. The last twenty years of Carrigan’s life were devoted to philanthropy, more of which you can learn about in the Irish history and Civil War tours on our South of Union Square Map.

(l. to r.) 60, 64, 68, 70 Fifth Ave, 1940

Click here to read more about Dr. Hogan, the “Unsung Hero” of Irish New York, and here to read about Andrew Carrigan and the Irish community South of Union Square.

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