A History of the Irish in Newport

The following article was published in Newport This Week on March 11, 2004.

"With Newport's rich Irish history, it goes without saying that the city would have one of the most celebrated St. Patrick's Day Parades in the country.

From the Fifth Ward to Fort Adams, there's hardly a place or time in Newport that hasn't been touched by the Irish.

The Irish first began to trickle into Newport in the 1600s.

Unlike the throngs that would arrive later, these first immigrants were mostly Protestants from Northern Ireland who came stateside as indentured servants. Except they weren't really Irish. They were Scots who were sent to Northern Ireland by the British to spread Protestantism among the Irish.

Let's start over. The first large wave of Irish immigration to Newport came in the 1820s. The Irish were leaving their homeland in droves due to constant political upheaval, famine and religious persecution.

Newport, as it happens, scored $50,000 from Congress in 1824 to rebuild Fort Adams. The project was part of President Monroe's plan to beef up our coastal defenses after the British (them again!) burned down Washington D.C. in the war of 1812. The Irish sought opportunity, the Fort Adams project provided it, and Newport's Irish roots took hold in earnest.

Since, the Irish have become a vital part of Newport history. Historic Newport is littered with Irish connections. The Newport Irish History Museum, which has an office at Fort Adams, hosts a tour of Irish Newport. The first Irish cemetery in Rhode Island, established in 1828, is adjacent to St. Mary's Church. Rosecliff was owned by an Irishwoman, Theresa Fair Oelrichs, the daughter of an immigrant from Belfast.

Dances were held at the Forty Steps by the men and women who lived and worked in Newport.

The Newport Ancient Order of Hibernians, an organization of Irish men and women committed to Irish culture, ideals and history, was established in 1876 and is the oldest order in the state.

The first St. Patrick's Day parade in Newport, held in 1863, came years after Newport's Irish community was already well-established. According to Parade Chairman Dennis Sullivan, the parade was held on and off until 1956, when it hit its stride. This year, the parade celebrates its 48th consecutive year."

BY HEIDI EFFINGER - Newport This Week March 11, 2004