Cincinnati’s Irish American Saloonkeepers
By: Mickayla Beckett
The digitized Cincinnati birth and death records from 1865-1912 are widely available to the public, and the records of primary interest here are those of the Irish and their descendants. Cincinnati, as well as having a rich Irish population, once also boasted a large primarily German brewing industry. Although the breweries may have been German, the Irish logically would have had their influence on the city as well. For that reason, a compilation of data about Irish saloonkeepers has been collected and analyzed.
Between 1865 and 1912, there are records for 47 Irish saloonkeepers in Cincinnati. Overall, there are birth or death records for approximately 1,700 saloonkeepers and 20,000 Irish in the city during that time. Of the 47 records of interest, thirteen were records of children born to Irish saloonkeepers and the remaining 34 were death records of Irish saloonkeepers or ex-saloonkeepers. It is interesting to note that of the thirteen children, only seven had Irish mothers as well, which is slightly more than half. The remaining children had mothers of American (3), German (1), Dutch (1), or Canadian (1) origin. Of the saloonkeepers with death records, 29 were buried in St. Joseph Cemetery or St. Joseph’s New Cemetery, three were buried in Calvary Cemetery, two were buried in Spring Grove Cemetery, one was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, and three did not have cemeteries listed. Sixteen of the 47 Irish saloonkeepers lived between W. 2nd and W. 7th streets, with half of them on W. 5th street. This area is just south of the central business district of Cincinnati, which included hotels, government offices, department stores and other retail businesses.
The average age of death for Irish saloonkeepers was 51, almost 11 years above the average American life expectancy in the period in question (Bogardus, H.). Of course, it is important to keep in mind that increasing urbanization, decreasing sanitation, and the American Civil War were all factors in the low life expectancy. However, the average national life expectancy stayed around 40-41 years between 1865-1912 and the Cincinnati Irish saloonkeepers, on average, lived longer than this (Bogardus, H.). The range of deaths was from 28 years to 71 years of age, with most deaths occurring in the fourth and fifth decades of life. Ten of the death records were related to heart diseases, eight were related to infectious diseases such as dysentery and cholera, and seven were related to lung disorders such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. The remaining deaths were less related, including causes such as falls, cerebral hemorrhage, and debilitation. The most common causes of death were preventable but would be expected at the time—heart disease from poor diets, infectious diseases from unsanitary conditions, and lung disorders from the city’s pollution.
One of the death records outside this average was unique in another way as well. On January 14, 1901 Bridget Glenn, grocer and saloonkeeper, died of fatty degeneration of the heart and liver. All of the records except for Bridget’s were for men. According to “The Ohio Law Reporter,” Bridget was continuing the grocery and saloon of her deceased her husband, Martin S. Glenn (Shepard, V.). Curiously, Martin was not listed as a saloonkeeper on his death record—he was listed only as a grocer. He died at 45 of rheumatism and valvular heart disease in 1898. This leads to the very natural question of how many other Irish saloonkeepers at the time did not have the fact recorded on their death records. There were likely more than the recorded 47, but the lack of records on the individuals and the old saloons makes it difficult to determine.
At the time in question, Vine Street alone had 136 saloons. When Prohibition came into force, it was targeted in Cincinnati at the immigrant Irish and Germans as they were stereotyped as the heaviest drinkers. As legend has it, and it is only a legend, temperance movement activist Carrie Nation famously did not attempt to take a hatchet to these saloons because there were so many. “In 1893, the average beer consumption here was 40 gallons for every man, woman and child – 2 1/2 times the national average” (Noble, G., & May, L.). Cincinnati annual beer consumption was far above the average per individual. The city boasted more than a few breweries as well, which provided a great deal of the beer consumed by the people. Admittedly, many of these breweries were founded and operated by Germans or German immigrants, but they did have a significant influence on the Irish American population as well. “To German immigrants and their descendants, beer was part of their diet, and beer was safer than the local water in those days” (Noble, G., & May, L.).
It is also important to note that the high German population—and the essentially complete control of the German population on local breweries and, therefore, records—decreased the number of records available for the Irish immigrant population in relation to saloons. As such, it is difficult to extract the evidence of Irish influence on Cincinnati’s saloon culture. The evidence of 47 births to children of or deaths of saloon keepers in as many years is the best evidence that the Irish were a significant part of the city’s saloon culture. Perhaps the most notable lasting influence is the fact that an authentic pub like Crowley’s, founded in 1937, still exists in the traditionally-Irish neighborhood of Mount Adams today and there are several other Irish or Irish-themed pubs in the city. The Irish aren’t finished making their mark on Cincinnati’s saloons just yet.
Bogardus, H. (2013, September 23). United States Comparison – Civil War. Retrieved March 08, 2017, from https://my.vanderbilt.edu/f13afdevfilm/2013/09/united-states-comparison-civil-war-and-sierra-leone/
Cincinnati Birth and Death Records, 1865-1912. University of Cincinnati Digital Resource Commons, http://digital.libraries.uc.edu/collections/birthdeath/
Noble, G., & May, L. (2017, January 17). Cincinnati’s rise and fall as a brewery town; Part 1: From porkopolis to beeropolis, how it all began. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://www.wcpo.com/entertainment/local-a-e/cincinnatis-rise-and-fall-as-a-brewery-town-part-1-from-porkopolis-to-beeropolis-how-it-all-began
Shepard, V. (1908). The Ohio Law Reporter (Vol. 5). Cincinnati, Ohio: The Ohio Law Company.