From Charleston down to our sisters in Savannah, the Lowcountry knows how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. But it’s not just because we like green Jell-O shots — there is also a rich Irish history in the region. Historian Arthur Mitchell recently returned to Charleston to collect tales for his new book, South Carolina Irish. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Charleston’s Irish heritage.
1. Sullivan’s Island is named after Captain Florence O’Sullivan, one of the original settlers of the Carolina colony in 1670 and a man credited with being one of the first to build up defenses for the Charleston Harbor.
2. Charleston’s Anthony Ashley Cooper would do his best to sell the Carolinas to potential settlers in England and Ireland as an effort to grow the white population. Mitchell notes promotional pamphlets “declaring that there was excellent opportunity to cultivate olives, wines, figs, and silk in Carolina.”
3. The Hibernian Society of Charleston was created to help Irish settlers following the 1798 rebellion. Mitchell notes it is the oldest organization of ethnic origin with its own site in the country. Hibernian Hall still stands at 105 Meeting St.
4. White House architect James Hoban designed several Charleston buildings, including the old courthouse building at the corner of Broad and Meeting streets.
5. Priest Simon Gallagher was the pastor of Charleston’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church, the state’s first Catholic parish. He was also a faculty member of the College of Charleston in the early 1790s and the first chairman of the Charleston Board of School Commissioners.
6. Mitchell notes Rosser H. Taylor’s assessment of Irishmen in antebellum Charleston: They “were the most turbulent and pugnacious” and “true to Irish form, drank whisky freely and fought with or without provocation.”
7. Irish laborers helped build the U.S. Custom House on East Bay Street as well as railroad lines heading out of the city.
8. One of several groups created to assist the Irish during the famine was the Charleston Irish Mutual Benevolent Society. Mitchell also notes the new batch of Irish immigrants fleeing the famine provided for intense competition for work in Charleston between Irishmen and free blacks.
9. The Irish Volunteer Company of Charleston is said to have been the first militia unit to volunteer for the Confederate Army. Mitchell notes speculation that there was such strong support among the city’s Irish “as a means of solidifying their standing in the community.”
10. The South Carolina Irish Historical Society was created in 1985 by Judge Michael Patrick Duffy and local restaurant owner Tommy Condon, proprietor of Tommy Condon’s on Church Street. (See how we came back to St. Patrick’s Day festivities? Maybe it is all about the Jell-O shots).