Back in the 1800s, many Irish people emigrated to Wisconsin. To this day, their descendants continue to live throughout the state and influence its culture.
Irish names starting with “Mac” or “O” first appeared in mass in Wisconsin in the 19th century. “Mac” and “Mc” mean “son” in Gaelic, while “O “means that a person is part of a specific family. For example, the town of McFarland has a lot of residents that might be Irish.
After arriving, the Irish quickly spread throughout Wisconsin. Early settlements started in Prairie du Chien, Patch Grove, and Bloomington. In 1850, over 21,143 Irish lived in the state of Wisconsin. Hoping to get even more Irish to come to the state, community leaders created the Irish Emigrant Aid Society in 1866. In newspapers and other advertisements, they wrote, “come to Wisconsin. Find a peaceful and happy home.”
Some Irish immigrants in Wisconsin were able to obtain government jobs and often became well-known. Four were even chosen to help write the state constitution; one, Henry Baird, also served as the first Attorney General of the state. Five native Irishmen were sent to Madison to become legislators. And Edward G. Ryan, the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, became well-known throughout the United States, while Thomas McHugh ultimately became the first Secretary of State.
Overall, Wisconsin's early Irish settlers flourished, but they did have bad times too. Cholera, a fatal disease, struck in Green Bay. Though laywomen and nuns went there to help the sick people, sickness was not the only problem for people in Wisconsin. And in 1860, Milwaukee became known as the "City of Sadness" after a boat called the Lady Elgin, which was carrying many civilians, was rammed by a boat known as the Augusta. Many people died in this tragic accident.
Irish immigrants definitely played an important part in defining Wisconsin's early history. Today, Wisconsin residents—many of whom are of Irish descent themselves—continue to enjoy new Irish culture traditions.
Badger History-Irish in Wisconsin