Dr. Eileen McMahon, Professor of History at Lewis University, will discuss the Irish canal digger communities along the canal after a delicious dinner with fellow history enthusiasts at the Lock 16 Center in La Salle on Thursday, November 19 at 5:30pm.
One of the primary stabilizing forces in early Irish life along the I&M Canal was the church. While Irish canal workers, recruited to dig the canal, had a reputation for violence and drunkenness, the desire to settle down and build a community actually arose from within the canal digging ranks themselves. One LaSalle native, William “Billy” Byrne reached out to bishops in St. Louis, requesting priests be sent to the area.
These Irish workers and their families battled frontier conditions, meager or non-existent pay, violent crime and a lack of empathy by their employers. The legacy left by these Irish pioneers is still visible in the spires of Catholic parishes along the I&M Canal National Heritage Area, specifically between Lemont and LaSalle-Peru.
“The settling of Irish canal diggers in the Illinois Valley is a centric piece of the early days of the canal.” Says Dr. Eileen McMahon of Lewis University. “The Irish created a diversity in the early populations of these canal towns that simply didn’t exist before they arrived. If we are to fully understand the history of our area, that story isn’t complete without the Irish canal digger and his Parish.”
Learn more about this fascinating subject while enjoying an evening of drinks, dining and discussion along the I&M Canal. It’s sure to be an evening to remember!
Drinks are served at 5:30, dinner at 6:00. The lecture will follow at 7:00. Choose from either Lock 16’s deliciously seasoned pork chops with autumn apple stuffing, or a filet of lemon-buttered cod, served on a bed of harvest rice. Both entrees are served with roasted root vegetables, salad, rolls, and a special dessert!
Join us for both the dinner & lecture for $29, or just the lecture for $7. Reservations are required. For more information or to reserve, please call (815) 223-1851.
Dr. Eileen McMahon is Professor of History at Lewis University. She has published “What Parish Are You From?” The Chicago Irish Parish Community and Race Relation; Chicago War Chicago: Eyewitness to History Ohio University Press, winner of the Russell P. Strange Book of the Year, Illinois State Historical Society; “Illinois” in The Encyclopedia of the Irish in America.