JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Mark Holan, a professional journalist and self-described amateur historian, has been studying Irish immigrants for several years, and recently came across a reciprocal relationship the Emerald Isle had with a city close to home – Johnstown.
The Pittsburgh native had been looking into a recent financial contribution that the Irish people provided to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservation communities to help with COVID-19 relief when he found the local connection.
“In looking at that, that’s how I stumbled upon this reference in this report that there had been a contribution from the Johnstown area,” Holan said.
Holan’s most recent work, “Forgotten Charity Between Ireland and America, 1889 and 1921,” was featured on www.theirishstory.com, a site featuring Irish history, podcasts, articles and ebooks.
He also operates a blog that features his studies on Irish history.
Holan’s interest in Irish immigrants and history stems from his maternal grandparents, who traveled from Ireland in the early 1900s to settle in the U.S., and a curiosity about others similar to them in Pennsylvania, which at one time had a high population of the Irish.
“There’s just that strong connection that’s of interest to me,” Holan said.
During his research, he found that after the devastating Johnstown flood in 1889, the people of Ireland, through the help of activist Michael Davitt, came together to help.
“Within days of Davitt’s letter and less than two weeks after the Johns-town flood, Dublin Lord Mayor Thomas Sexton opened an account at Hibernia Bank, College Green, and ordered £1,000 cabled to the governor of Pennsylvania, a move supported by Dublin Corporation,” Holan wrote. “Sexton subscribed £50. Davitt donated £25 on behalf of his Irish Woolen Manufacturers and Export Company, and £5 personally. Cantrell & Cochrane gave £100, matched by A. Guinness and Co.”
Collections were taken up all around Ireland and even the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin contributed money.
Holan said in the article that a donor list released by the Pennsylvania governor of the time showed $4,861 was initially sent from Ireland, with possibly $16,000 in total.
Some of his main sources for this information were records from the Irish White Cross and American Committee for Relief in Ireland.
“I’ve spent a lot of time looking through those reports,” Holan said.
Nearly 30 years later, when the Irish War of Independence was raging and Cork city was burned in December 1920, the American Committee was created in order to supply humanitarian aid.
The campaign for assistance officially began St. Patrick’s Day in 1921, but donations had been made before that.
Despite the passage of time, Johns-town and Cambria County did not forget the charity of Ireland, Holan said, and “as a token of its gratitude for help,” more than $3,000 was donated.
Additionally, the amateur historian reports that a list of American subscriptions, other than those from the American Committee, that appeared “in the Douglas papers at the National Library of Ireland” shows a more than $5,000 donation from the Catholic Dioceses of Altoona.
Johnstown had sent roughly $10,000 with more than $25,000 expected, according to The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, Holan wrote.
“Thomas P. Cahill, ‘a stalwart friend of Irish freedom,’ initiated the relief from Johnstown,” he added.
Holan considers this article “another piece of the mosaic” or “another clue to a bigger story that can be told.”
“Mark’s article highlights the constant back and forwards interaction between Ireland and its diaspora in America from the late 19th century into the 20th,” Irish Story website editor and writer John Dorney said. “The two had become so intertwined that Irish politics, particularly its more radical nationalist wing, could not be separated from its Irish-American support base.”
The independent historian considers the relief activities from Johnstown as a clear example of this.
“Mark’s enthusiasm for this shared Irish-American history has opened many doors to our understanding of this shared past,” Dorney said.