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History of the Irish in Middle TN

by Conor Doolan, Division Historian

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Irish history, culture run deep in Nashville

As a Saint Patrick's Day parade returns to Nashville, now is the time to reflect on the Irish roots of Music City. How appropriate it is that Nashville is twinned with Belfast, County Antrim, in the northeast of Ireland. Indeed, Antrim is where we can trace the Scots-Irish roots of John Donelson and James Robertson, founders of Nashville.

Andrew Jackson’s entire immediate family were born near Carrickfergus in County Antrim. These 18th-century settlers were predominantly Presbyterians from Ireland’s most northern province of Ulster.

Among the signatories of the Cumberland Pact was the fearless Irish frontiersman Hugh Rogan. Hailing from County Donegal, Rogan was granted land near where Vanderbilt University stands today but ultimately developed a large estate in Sumner County.

Irish immigrants living in Pittsburgh journeyed south to construct the first bridge over the Cumberland River. They were employed by the Stacker and Johnston Company. In 1820, the earliest Catholic church, Most Holy Rosary, was constructed for the bridge workers. A simple timber-frame structure, it was located on Cedar Knob, where the State Capitol building now stands.

There can be no doubt that Saint Patrick’s Day was celebrated in Nashville as far back as the 1820s.. The Nashville Whig advertised a "Cotillion Party" at Elliston’s Long Rooms in 1824. Subsequently, the Hibernian Benevolent Society held a procession to "Vauxhall," which was near Demonbreun Street and Eighth Avenue, in 1839 that may well have been Nashville’s first Saint Patrick’s Day parade.

Irish-born settlers made up 8% of Nashville’s population by the 1860s. Their celebrations had become elaborate, featuring dignitaries, police and the military. Yet they seem to cease, somewhat abruptly, around 1905. We can only speculate as to why celebrations became confined mostly to services and entertainment at St. Patrick Catholic Church and school on Second Avenue South.

Music City is also blessed with an array of traditional Irish musicians who can be found playing all over Nashville and Franklin. Likewise, the Nashville Gaelic Athletic Club promotes Ireland’s national sports of Gaelic football and hurling, a field hockey game. In addition to this there are traditional Irish dance and music schools in the area. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, a Catholic fraternal association, was reestablished in 2018.

Who are the Hibernians?

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Click on the names below to find out more about Irish-Americans in Mid TN

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