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Early Years 1870s–1900s

Kerrigan's "Pleasant Hour," 42nd Street, New York City. Thomas Kerrigan (1843–1898) is third from left. / Unidentified photographer. 42nd Street, New York, 1890s

Irish women and men, including many “Scots Irish” from Ulster, were well represented in the early waves of European immigration to North America. New York City was often where they disembarked but not often where they stayed. A hunger for farmland drew many to the mountainous frontiers. But a large proportion of the Irish who came to New York fleeing the Great Hunger of the late 1840s never got farther west than the Hudson River. Millions of Irish newcomers continued to arrive at Castle Garden or Ellis Island in the following decades, giving New York a larger Irish population than any other city in America.  

Among the Irish in New York there have always been pipers, fiddlers and other musicians who played the songs and dance tunes of the old country in the New World. We can have no direct knowledge of the music played before the invention of modern recording technology, but there were always dance halls, saloons and social clubs where traditional musicians were welcome.

Irish immigrants and their children dominated the ranks of popular entertainers in late 19th century New York. Irish traditional musicians and dancers were regularly featured on the variety and vaudeville stage, and the Irish influence on contemporary popular music was enormous.

Recordings from the Early Years

Images from the Early Years

Thomas Kerrigan, 1843–1898

Edward Harrigan, 1844–1911

Kitty O'Neil, 1855–1893

John Kimmel, 1866–1942

Patrick J. Touhey, 1865–1923

James C. McAuliffe, d. 1910