Friday, November 6, 2015

Irish Organizations in San Antonio in the late 19th Century

As the Irish population grew in San Antonio, Irish settlements and neighborhoods like Avoca, The Irish Flats, and Government Hill were plotted and planned. Homes were built and families flourished. With a growing Irish population it was only natural that Irish organizations would be established to build kinship, establish traditions, and foster a sense of community among the Irish.

Recently, my friend Tim Draves stopped by my office with a photocopy of the City of San Antonio Directory from 1885. There, on pages 56 and 57, two Irish organizations were listed. The Irish American Association was organized in 1873, and chartered in 1877. At the time of the printing, Peter Shields was the president, and meetings were held at Meyer’s Hall on the last Saturday of each month. There were 150 members. The Irish Land League was established in 1881. This organization was also led by Peter Shields. Meetings were held at his office on the first Sunday of each month, and there were 100 members.

Interestingly, in 1870’s Ireland, the Irish Land League was established as a political organization which sought to assist Irish tenant farmers. Landlords, faced with a depression and a failed potato crop in the early 1870’s, began to extract higher rents from tenant farmers who could not afford them. The Land League was the answer to the tenant farmer’s plight.

Led by Charles Stewart Parnell, The Land League was founded in Castlebar, Co. Mayo to abolish landlordism and enable tenant farmers to own the land that they worked on. ( ) The ensuing struggle for Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure and Free Sale, (the “Three F’s”) launched the Land War of 1879 – 1882, which eventually (beginning in 1902) led to opportunities for Irish farmers to once again own land in Ireland.

For more information on the land wars, check out the Irish History Podcasts:

So now that I know the back story, I wonder why the Land League was established in San Antonio. Was it to support the movement in Ireland, or to establish fair rents for the Irish community in San Antonino?

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