The earliest Irish immigrants who traveled to the Rockford area settled in a place known as Irish Grove in 1838. Between Pecatonica and Durand, it was a community made up of farming families that surround St. Patrick’s Church, which was established in 1841. The church and community are still present today, keeping their history alive.
As the first foreign-born group to immigrate to Rockford, the Irish arrived in large numbers to escape the Great Potato Famine in 1846-47. They occupied two square blocks bordered by S. Rockton Ave., Cedar St., Short Horsman St., and Chestnut St. This area became known as the “Irish Patch,” the “Potato Patch,” or sometimes just the “Patch.” Many of those who settled in this area are known for laying the first railroad track through Rockford and building the Chicago & Northwestern railroad bridge across the Rock River. Quickly outgrowing the Patch, many Irish occupied the areas around the Water Power District, where the men worked in the factories along the Rock River, as well as the on the east side of the river near St. James Church.
To preserve their history in Rockford, a group of Irishmen formed the Irish Fellowship Club of Rockford in 1920. The club, like its counterparts nation-wide, had a mission to promote the culture and traditions of the Irish heritage with the area’s citizens.
If you go out on the town this Saturday night, you may be looking forward to a big mug or a tall glass of green beer. But the Irish are most often associated with a love of whiskey. An Irish wake consisted of sitting up all night with the corpse of the deceased friend, “Paddy,” toasting him, sharing memories, and giving him a last ‘hurrah.’
St. Patrick’s Day was, and remains to be, the most celebrated Irish occasion. Rockford radio personality and third generation Irish immigrant Morey Owens said that on St. Patrick’s Day “there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who are Irish and those who wish they were Irish.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Midway Village!