Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

March 17, 2013

Beaver Island has strong Gaelic roots

TRAVERSE CITY — You don’t have to go far to find authentic Irish lore in northern Michigan, though if it’s Beaver Island lore you’re after, you might have to take a plane or ferry.

Lying 30 miles off the Charlevoix coast in Lake Michigan, Beaver island is northern Michigan’s very own Emerald Isle. Historians called it the “most Irish community in the Midwest” during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“By the 1870s, this was a Gaelic-speaking community throughout the island,” said William Cashman, local historian and director of the Beaver Island Historical Society.

Some inhabitants never learned English, and Gaelic survived into the early 20th century.

Knowing northwestern lower Michigan’s Irish history is a window into the state’s pioneer days and Beaver Island’s short-lived era from 1850-1856 as a Mormon kingdom under the autocratic rule of James Jesse Strang, self-declared king of the church.

About 30,000 Irish immigrants came to Michigan between 1830 and 1860. In 1840, Michigan legislators gave Irish names to four Michigan counties — Antrim, Clare, Roscommon and Wexford. Many of Michigan’s Irish found jobs constructing canals, roads and railroads or working in early factories. Some settled in commercial fishing camps that appeared along the Mackinac Straits and Beaver Island’s archipelago in the 1830s after fur trading died and the American Fur Co. switched its focus to fish.

By the 1850 U.S. Census, 483 people resided on Beaver Island, 74 percent of them Mormons who lived at the north end of the island in St. James, around the harbor and on interior farmland. A total 128 non-Mormons were in 33 households at Cable Bay on the south end.

In 1850, Strang pressured non-believers at Cable Bay into abandoning their homes. Of the 146 expelled, 102 were adults — 23 of whom had been born in Ireland. By 1852, all Gentiles had left and Mormons were in sole possession, as reported by Helen Collar, an early Beaver Island summer resident and historian from 1915 until her death in 1996.

Text Only

Twitter Updates
Follow us on twitter
Associated Press Video
Bill Murray Continues To Be Just Bill Murray By Eating Some Free Bill Murray Ice Cream Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect Hillary Clinton Blamed Bill's Affair With Monica Lewinsky On Abuse He Suffered As A Child 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Jimmy Kimmel Introduces His Baby Girl