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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)


The significance of the Irish immigrants in San Diego does not lie in their “Irishness,” but rather in their lack of it. Those Irish immigrants fortunate enough to leave the East Coast ghettos and Irish quarters, pursued the boundless opportunities presented by the American frontier and the West Coast. In this pursuit, they found communities who openly accepted them and afforded them the chance for advancement despite their heritage or religion. In the case of San Diego, so few families lived in the town in the 1850s and 1860s that perhaps the Mexicans and Californios felt they had no alternative. This is an unlikely scenario, however.

More likely, the residents of San Diego simply accepted anyone who contributed to the community. The lives of Andrew Cassidy, George Lyons, James McCoy and Joshua Sloane certainly attest to this. Their success stemmed not only from their own abilities and skills, but from the opportunities of which they took advantage in the growing community.

While the Irish immigrants in the large Eastern cities crowded together in poverty ata misery, Irish immigrants in San Diego pursued their dreams. Laborers and stone cutters owned rear estate. Painters and butchers had money saved to show for their efforts. Narratives of Irish immigrants on the East Coast and census data from Boston clearly reflect that the same opportunities did not exist in the crowded metropolitan areas.

Andrew Cassidy, George Lyons, James McCoy and Joshua Sloane are only a few examples of the Irish men and women who found success in San Diego County. They became an integral part of the larger community in which they lived. On the East coast, however, the Irish remained a close-knit community. They huddled together in the immigrant ghettos of Boston and New York, and took comfort in their shared heritage and mutual despair. Their niche consisted of fierce nationalism and Irish culture, as well as unemployment and drunkenness. The displaced of Ireland soon became the displaced of the large American port cities. They found little acceptance or opportunity in the new land where they settled.

In San Diego, however, a one-time farmer from County Antrim became a state senator and a young carpenter from County Donegal left his mark on the development of his town. The Irish who fled their homeland, fled in the face of misery and despair, not a quest for freedom and opportunity. The Irish who fled the American East Coast, however, sought the opportunity presented by the Western frontier.

The story of Irish immigrants in the United States, then, is not simply a tale of Celtic people unable to adapt to the customs of their new country. The experiences of the Irish in San Diego refute this. Those Irish immigrants who opted to settle in the Mexican town, adapted nicely to their new environment. Not only did they embrace the customs and culture of their adopted home, many immigrants also had to learn a new language -Spanish.

The problems encountered by the Irish who settled in the East, are problems related to the inability of Americans, in a predominantly Anglo culture, to accept the Irish Catholics who flooded their shores. The unwanted Irish took solace in their social groups and nationalistic organizations. These same groups are strangelymissing from the annals of late nineteenth century San Diego, however.

Relative to the millions of Irish who emigrated to the United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, few settled on the West Coast. Those who remained in the East, left a legacy of Irish culture, spirit, determination and nationalism which today still pervades the pubs and social halls of Boston and New York. Those Irish who ventured West and settled in San Diego, left a different legacy. Their spirit and determination are evidenced by their achievements in civic leadership and personal success. Rather than cultural contributions, the Irish made an impact in the realm of civic, political and municipal development in San Diego.

In contrast to Boston and New York, Irish political leaders do not visit San Diego today in search of support for their nationalist causes. Terrorist support organizations do not make headlines in the local newspapers and no single section of modern San Diego is known as a predominantly Irish quarter.

In the three decades following the America conquest of California, however, a consequential number of Irish immigrants made their way to the small, Mexican village of San Diego. These immigrants played an essential role in the town’s development into a thriving city. Their legacy will be evident even after their names have been forgotten.



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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.

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

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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.

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

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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 SocietyResearch Archives.

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

“TheExodus from Ireland to America.” New York Times. March14, 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 Union15 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