Irish Flag

Pat Flannery

Creating "browseable" versions of important
historical documents

US Flag


This Site

Welcome Page

This Document

About this Document


No Irish need apply

Paddy comes to California

American San Diego

Andrew Cassidy

George Lyons

James McCoy

Joshua Sloan


"From Shamrocks to Serapes"

(Kelly Tobin O'Donnell - Masters Thesis USD 1995)

About this Document

This is the complete work done by Kelly Tobin O’Donnell for her Masters Thesis at USD in 1995. I scanned it at the Copley Library in San Diego and formatted it for the web (renumbering and creating hyperlinks for the footnotes nearly drove me crazy but it was worth it). 

First she contrasts the experience of the immigrant Irish who made it all the way to San Diego and the West with those who hung around the Irish ghettos of Boston and New York. In 1850 the Irish constituted 40% of the foreign-born population in the United States! 

She carefully documents how those who made the arduous trip “shaped the development of the third largest state in the Union, California.” Indeed they did and we are very proud of them e.g. the Irish contractor who developed many of the first roads in San Diego and the Irishman who was responsible for ensuring the preservation of Balboa Park as a public park. 

Ms. O’Donnell makes the point that “in San Diego where the need for a separate and distinct Irish community did not exist, those who braved the trans-Atlantic journey and the cross-country trek to settle on America's West Coast did not do so in order to create an Irish community on the Pacific Ocean. They did so in order to build a better life for themselves and their progeny, as well as contribute to the development of America’s newest state.” They just became Californians.

This had the peculiar effect of hiding the contribution of these early Irish because fellow San Diegans recognized their names and faces as neighbors and friends, not as immigrants and outcasts, as Easterners would have viewed them. The influence of early Irish settlers in California generally has been overlooked or under-appreciated precisely because of their integration and assimilation into the communities in which they lived. 

Many changed their Irish names in favor of the Spanish counterpart: Don Timoteo Murphy, a.k.a. Timothy Murphy, Juan Murray, a.k.a. John Murray, and Andrés Cassidy, a.k.a. Andrew Cassidy. 

Ms. O’Donnell asserts that on the East Coast: “the problem did not lie in being Irish, but being Catholic”, while on the West Coast: “the Irish immigrants had room to expand without fear of Anglo-American prejudice. They lived a life far removed from the oppression suffered at the hands of the British and from the prejudice experienced in the larger American cities. The opportunities seemed to be unlimited and the immigrants took advantage of the situations presented to them”. 

She goes on to say: “Irishmen who arrived in California before 1848 became prominent as rancheros and adapted to the Spanish customs and ideals of the area. The Irish who settled in California took strong root and thrived in the Spanish and Mexican hospitality. They adopted the culture of their new communities and the local inhabitants gladly accepted them.” That is their monument and a great tribute to Irishness! 

Her descriptions of ordinary life in San Diego in the mid-1800’s is a great read in the “American San Diego” section which describes how the Irish went from "Shamrocks to Serapes", a type of mantle worn with the head inserted through a hole in the center, which was standard wear for the men. 

As to how the Irish got here: “The first group of Irishmen arrived in San Diego during the Mexican-American War as a contingent of the United States Army destined for Mexico. General Winfield Scott estimated that of the 3,500 soldiers of foreign birth in his Mexico Army, 2,000 of them were Irish”. 

“The 1850 [San Diego] census revealed 36 distinct families with at least one adult born in Ireland. The majority either claimed “soldier” as their occupation or held an auxiliary position related to the camp such as clerk, carpenter or, for the women, cook and housekeeper”. 

“A decade later, the number of Irish-born in San Diego County had more than doubled. The 1860 census shows that 84 Ireland natives, plus their families, called San Diego home”. Most of these 84 were not of the 36 families who had been here in 1850 because most of those moved on with the military, “becoming part of the patriotic Irish brigades who fought so valiantly [on both sides] during the Civil War”.  

By the census of 1870, the number of native Irish had risen to 134. They recorded occupations as varied as carpenter, painter, blacksmith, grocer, surveyor, cook, farmer, merchant, undertaker and even sheriff. 

Unlike their counterparts on the East Coast the Irish in San Diego became prominent property owners. Ms. O’Donnell documents Andrew Cassidy, George Lyons, James McCoy and Joshua Sloane to exemplify the success of the Irish in San Diego. James McCoy became one of the best-known San Diegans of his time and eventually served as a state senator. 

Sources & Bibliography


An Illustrated History of Southern California. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Co., 1890. 

Adams, William Forbes. Ireland and Irish Emigration to the New World from 1815 to the Famine. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932. 

Bancroft, Hubert Howe. California Pioneer Register and Index. 1542—1848 Including Inhabitants of California. 1769-1800 and List of Pioneers. Baltimore: Regional Publishing Co., 1964.

Brakcett, R. W. The History of San Diego County Ranchos. San Diego: Union Title Insurance & Trust Co., 1951. 

Brandes, Ray. San Diego — An Illustrated History. Los Angeles: Rosebud Books, 1981. 

Christman, Florence. The Romance of Balboa Park. San Diego: The Committee of 100, 1947. 

Clark, Dennis. Hibernia America: The Irish and Regional Cultures New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. 

DePaor, Liam. Portrait of Ireland: Ireland Past and Present. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. 

Detzer, Jordan Edward Th.D. Jacumba: Mountain Empire Town with Bibles and Bullets on the Border. 1973. 

Engstrand, Iris Wilson. San Diego: California’s Cornerstone. Tulsa: Continental Heritage Press, 1980.

Fallows, Marjorie R. Irish Americans: Identity and Assimilation. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1979. 

Fitzgerald, Margaret E. and Joseph A. King. The Uncounted Irish in Canada and the United States. Toronto: P.D. Meany, 1990. 

Griffin, William D. The Irish In America. 550—1972: A Chronology and Fact Book. New York: Oceana Publications, 1973. 

A Portrait of the Irish In America. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1981. 

Hayes, Benjamin I. Pioneer Notes from the Diaries of Judge Benjamin Hayes. 1849-1875. Ed. Marjorie Walcott. Los Angeles: np, 1929. 

Lockwood, Herbert. Skeleton’s Closet. Vol. 1. San Diego: Bailey & Associates, 1973. 

Maguire, John Francis. The Irish in America. London, 1868. McGrew, Clarence Alan. City of San Diego and San Diego County: The Birthplace of California. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1922. 

Miller, Kerby A. Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1985. 

Pourade, Richard F. The History of San Diego. 6 Vols. San Diego: Union Tribune Publishing Company, 1960. 

Prendergast, Thomas F. Forgotten Pioneers: Irish Leaders in Early California. San Francisco: The Trade Pressroom, 1942. 

Schwartz, Henry. Kit Carson’s Long Walk and Other True Tales of Old San Diego. La Mesa: Associated Creative Writers, 1980. 

Smith, Cecil Woodham. The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849. New York: Penguin Books, 1962. 

Smythe, William E. History of San Diego 1542 — 1908. Vol 1. San Diego: The History Company, 1908. 

University of San Diego Department of History, Graduate Division. San Diego Architects 1868 - 1939. San Diego: 1991. 

Woodward, Arthur (ed.) . Journal of Lt. Thomas W. Sweeny. Los Angeles: Westerrilore Press, 1956.


Biographical files, various. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Cassidy, Andrew. Meteorological Journals 1853—1860 (9 vols.), San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Miscellaneous Notes on the Tide Guage; Tidal and Observations at San Diego, Cal. 1853/4, ins. Andrew Cassidy Meteorological Journals. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Costanso, Miguel. Diary excerpt, 15 July 1769, ins. Soledad vertical file. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives.

Ferguson, John. Letter to George Lyons. 4 July 1860. George Lyons file. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Kelly, Charles. “Recollections.” ts. 1935. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Knott, Beatrice Frichette. “Reading Between the Lines: Social History of San Diego During the Early American Period as Derived from Public and Business Records Master’s Thesis. University of San Diego, 1991.

Morse, Mary C. “Recollections of Early Times in San Diego.” Unpublished Essay, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Neasham, Vernon Aubrey (ed.) . “Casa de Estudillo,” California Historical Landmarks Series. Berkeley, 1936. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Reading, James E. “Old San Diego’s Background: An Interpretive Prospectus, San Diego Old Town, by the Department of Parks and Recreation,” 1968—1969. 

San Diego Historical Site Board Register no. 14(a), San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Sullivan, Sue. “James McCoy, Lawman and Legislator.” Unpublished Essay, 1976, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Squires, Mrs. T. G. Letter to Andrew Cassidy. Oct 11, 1882. Andrew Cassidy file. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Thomas, Benetia. Letter to Mrs. G. Y. Harry. Nov 9, 1899. Lyons Family File. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Trudell, Clyde. “Historical-Architectual Summary for the Casa de Jose Antonio Estudillo,” 1967. San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

“Unveil Broze Tablet Marking End of Kearriy Trail at Old Town.” Vertical file 439. San Diego Historical Societx’ Research Archives. 

Whaley, Lillian. “Old Times in Old Town.” Unpublished Essay, San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 

Wentworth, Lucy. “Notes.” San Diego Historical Society Research Archives. 


 Ames, John Judson. “A Wind Flour Mill.” San Diego Herald Feb. 5, 1859. 

“Development of San Diego Mail Service Since Early Settlement Throws Light on Local History.” San Diego Union June 30, 1930. 

“Exiles of Erin.” New York Daily Times. April 28, 1853. 

“The Exodus from Ireland to America.” New York Times. March 14, 1853. 

Garcia, Mario T. “Merchants and Dons; San Diego’s Attempt at Modernization, 1850-1860.” Journal of San Diego History. 21.1 (1975) 

“The Irish in America.” New York Daily Times June 28, 1852.

Kirchhoff, Theodor. “San Diego.” Californische Kulturbilder Trans. Eva Schwartz. 1886. 

MacMullen, Jerry. “Josh’s Shouts Gave us a Park.”San Diego, Jan. 13, 1960. 

“Saga of James McCoy: Soldiering to Senate.” San Diego Union March 11, 1962. 

“They Owe Him a Debt: Andrew Cassidy Conducted the First Tide Studies.” San Diego Union April 8, 1962. 

Montfort, Grace. “Few Celebrate Where Many Once Feted San Diego Hero Who Spiked Guns,” San Diego Union Nov 14, 1938. 

“The Old Mussey Grade,” California Rancher Jan 1958. 

“Resided Here 60 Years, Now Dead.” San Diego Union Mar 9, 1908. 

Richard Pourade, “Battle of San Pasqual Mingled Politeness, Bloodshed; Lancers Refused to Cut Up Unhorses Americans,” San Diego Union Mar 19, 1944. 

San Diego Herald, 1853 — 1859. 

San Diego Union, 1869 - 1900. 

San Diego Union Weekly, 1868 - 1871. 

Schwartz, Henry. “As Customs Aide, Patrick was All Dog.” San Diego Union. Dec 17, 1978. 

“Smallpox Brought Police Protection.” San Diego Union Dec 4, 1938. 

Stone, Joe. “He Survived a ‘Joke’ to Make a Serious Contribution.” San Diego Union May 29, 1977. 

“Windmills Blow Up a Nostalgic Storm.” San Diego Union 15 Nov 1970.

Government Documents

National Archives and Records Service. “Population Schedules of the 7th Census of the United States— 1850, San Diego County, California.” Family History Center, San Diego, California. 

“Population Schedules of the 7th Census of the United States - 1850, Suffolk County (City of Boston) Massachusetts.” Family History Center, San Diego, California. 

“Population Schedules of the 8th Census of the United States — 1860, San Diego County, California.” Family History Center, San Diego, California. 

“Population Schedules of the 9th Census of the United States — 1870, San Diego County, California.” Family History Center, San Diego, California. 

“Population Schedules of the 10th Census of the United States - 1880, San Diego County, California.” Family History Center, San Diego, California. 

Archives /Libraries

Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints Family History Center, San Diego, California.

San Diego Historical Society Research Archives

San Diego State University Library 

University of San Diego Library 

University of California San Diego Library 

San Diego Public Library 

San Diego County Recorders Office, County Administration Building

Old Town State Park