19th Century – The Irish Immigration to Western Michigan

One of my all-time favorite genealogy research books regarding the Irish immigration to Western Michigan is “The Passing of the Gael” that is no longer in print.

Below is a slight “Reader’s Digest” version pertaining to the chapters on the Irish Settlers and their Settlements. The counties included are Kent, Ottawa, Ionia, and Washtenaw.

This outstanding book was written in 1975 by Father John W McGee. The Rev. John McGee was a Catholic Priest and a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan. He devoted much of his life researching the Irish exodus to the U.S. and then to Western Michigan.

Lure of The Irish Immigration to Western Michigan

The lure to Michigan by many settlers was for assorted reasons. The State of Michigan produced plentiful propaganda promoting the likes of fertile soil, lakes, wild game, and ore. They encouraged immigrants to buy land for $1.25 per acre as was the going price between the years of 1800-1854. Overall, the state officials did a great selling job, as thousands of immigrants flooded the state during the 19th century.

Michigan’s largest and widest river, The Grand River is approximately 260 miles long. It flows from Lake Michigan, beginning at Grand Haven and traveling throughout the center of the state, moving through the cities of Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Jackson. Settlers used that river as they made their pilgrimage to the western part of the state, often traveling by river barge or steamboat.

My ancestors the Brannans, and the Callaghans were part of this migration.  In the early 1840’s, my ancestors left County Mayo and traveled to the United States. They made their way to Michigan, up the Grand River and settled in the area of Polkton, in Ottawa County. Michael Callaghan and John Brannan (Brennan) were a part of the original settlers in that area. They bought land from government agents and began homesteading, something that would have been impossible to do in Ireland at that time.

The story “The Passing of the Gael” is a research book done with love. McGee’s love of his family and the Irish people make this book truly unforgettable. Hundreds of Irish names are listed in the book along with many genealogical dates and places. For instance, there are many such mini bios as the one for Michael Golden. 

He writes, “Michael Golden, born in 1780 in the Parish of Kilfyan, near Killala Bay, County Mayo, was married to Mary Walsh, and at her death he and his family of John, Mary, Michael, Martin, Anthony, Patrick, Catherine and Dennis emigrated. It was 1845, the famine year. They came to Pittsburgh, the father and young children working in the mines.

Two children were killed in the mines; hence they decided to go west to Michigan, to Ottawa County where many families from Kilfyan were already settled. Dennis worked for a time at a sawmill at Spoonerville, once located south of Nunica on the Grand. Another Golden family, Patrick’s, came from the same parish, but was not related. Patrick married Anna Golden of Michael’s family.”

What a treasure trove of information for the family historian. When I stumbled upon this book and found a few listings for my family, I shouted with glee.

I have a couple of old copies in tatters but am able to lookup names for anyone interested. Just leave me a message on the bottom of this article and I will have a look. Listed below are just a few of the Irish families listed in the book. Again, these are just a few of literally hundreds.

In no particular order:

Glynn, McCue, Malone, Golden, Culligan, McCarthy, McGrath, Brennan, Fitzpatrick, Cavanaugh, Hoban, Higgins, Calahan, Sullivan, Hart, Carpenter, Conley Stapleton, McNery, Roach, Pringle, Keenan, McKernan, Nelligan, Donavin, Galligan, McMann, Cotney, Minihan, Kelley, McDonagh, Magee, Devine, Nagle, Dorne, Early, May, McMahon, Clarke, Healey, Halpin, Dalton McInerney, Lynch, Donoghue, O’Brien, Talbot, Capels, McDonald, Prendergast, Lillis, King, Griffin, Mulvihill, Eagan, McCann, Burke O’Hearn, Doyle, Collins, Shields, Peet, McCarty, Caulfield, Brady, Killean, McGavin, Plunkett, Kinney, Eddington, McReynolds, McBirney, Shanahan, O’Neal, Whalen and these are just to name a few.

I hope you found this article helpful as it relates to your own research on Irish immigration to Western Michigan. Here are a few more of my recent articles to check out.

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