The River City has roots dating back to Irish immigrants; celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

Published 8:00 pm Friday, March 15, 2019

The wooden tombstones are gone.

However, two green posts remain in the Cedar Hill Cemetery indicating the plot of land where the Irish in Vicksburg are buried.

“There used to be four posts,” Vicksburg undertaker Charles Riles said, that marked the area in the cemetery that was “affectionately” called, “Little Ireland.”

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Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day and with more than 34 million Americans claiming Irish ancestry, Vicksburg, too, can join in on the festivities because of its own Irish heritage.   

Court documents housed at the Old Courthouse Museum on Cherry Street indicate that in 1858, a group of Vicksburg residents who had Irish roots were successful in purchasing a parcel of land in the Cedar Hill Cemetery for the sole purpose of burying those who had emigrated from Ireland. The parcel was 100 feet x 80 feet and sits near the main entrance of the cemetery.

While there are only a few marble tombstones that remain in the plot, Riles said, underneath the hilly terrain are hundreds buried who were of Irish descent.

And not only does this land hold the remains of the dead, he said, its soil is also comprised of earth from the immigrants’ mother country.

“When some of the people would travel to Ireland and come back they would have little bags or containers of Irish soil, and they would put it in this lot. This lot probably has more Irish soil in it than American soil,” Riles said, and indicated that this had been a sacred practice for the immigrants.

“These people worked hard, played hard and drank hard and when they died they had not had a place to be buried,” he said, until “Little Ireland” was established.

According to, the first wave of Irish Immigrants began making their way to the U.S. in the 1700’s. This wave consisted of about a quarter million people coming from Ireland to the colonies and was comprised of both Irish Protestants and Catholics, which would inevitably lead to not only religious diversity in the U.S., but also a diversity of customs and language.

When some Irish immigrants made their way to the River City, they were not well received, writes Sister Mary Paulinus Oakes, R.S.M. in her book, “Angels of Mercy.”

Many had arrived on shanty boats and were poor.

Living in squaler

Per accounts from Sister Ignatius Sumner (1825-1895) Oakes writes, “Neighbors complained of Shanty Irish Children and Father LeRay had to calm their fears.”

Living conditions for these families were “squalish,” writes Oakes, and while parents were busy with work, which consisted predominately of helping build the levees, children were left unattended.

However, as the Irish immigrants in Vicksburg began to become more established, they eventually formed the Hibernian Benevolent Association, and in 1872 announced the first issue of the Irish Citizen Newspaper with I. C. Patrick serving as editor and publisher.

One interesting account about a local Irishman was that of Dr. James Hagen.

Hagen had been the editor of the Vicksburg Sentinel during the mid-1800’s and following an article he wrote for the newspaper was accosted and killed by an assailant, whose father had been outed in the publication.

A file at the Old Courthouse on Hagen states Hagen had uncovered evidence of state corruption and a Judge Adams and Gov. Tucker had become the targets. Adams’ son, Daniel, was not happy with Hagen and in a “street fight” shot and killed the editor on June 7, 1843.

Ironically, as were the customs of the time, Daniel Adams was acquitted of murder and went on to become a lawyer and colonel in the Confederate Army.

Because of Vicksburg’s location on the Mississippi River, it was a melting pot of all ethnic groups with the Irish only adding to the city’s rich history. Bubba Bolm, who serves as the curator of the Old Courthouse Museum, said many Irish immigrants served in the city’s Fire Department.

While there are plenty of Irish sayings and customs, some celebrated in the U.S. include culinary traditions.

Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day

Two establishments in Vicksburg will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a menu reflective of Irish fare.

On Saturday, Martin’s At Midtown, 1101 Belmont St. will be serving as a main courses beef and Guinness stew, corned beef and cabbage, fisherman pie and Dublin coddle, which owner Lisa Martin said, was a traditional Irish comfort food made by slow cooking bacon, sausage and potatoes. And of course there will be soda bread for mopping, she said.

Also Saturday, Martin’s will be serving Half and Halves on the deck, which Martin described as layered beer drinks.

“Some of the names are Black and Tan, Black and Blue and Midnight in the Garden,” she said.

For Sunday brunch, Martin said, offerings will include an Irish breakfast, which are scrambled eggs on top of roasted potatoes and corned beef hash, Dublin coddle and an Irish quiche.

At the Cottonwood Public House, traditional Irish stew and soda bread will be served alongside several Irish beers.

“Beer serves a pretty important part of Irish culture,” Zack Erickson said.

Erickson is the brewer and owner of Key City Brewing Company, which operates at Cottonwood Public House, 1311 Washington St.

“Public Houses or Pubs were often the center of communities. They are a meeting place for people to congregate and share in life’s ups and downs. Irish beers are at the heart of pub culture, with Guinness at the forefront,” he said, adding, “Traditional Irish beers are rather low in alcohol, which lends well to the Pub atmosphere of hanging out for several hours with your friends and family.”

And because several on staff, Erickson said, come from Irish ancestry, in honor of St Patrick’s Day two Irish beers will be offered for the occasion.

“We will have an Irish Red Ale, called ‘O’Hanrahan’s Curse.’ The beer is a deep ruby with notes of toffee, caramel, toasted bread, and dark cherry and is named after Michael O’Hanrahan, who was an Irish Freedom Fighter,” Erickson said.  “He was executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising, fighting for Ireland’s independence from Britain and he was an ancestor of my wife’s.”

Erickson said he would also have a dry Irish stout  — Cantwell’s Court.

“It’s an easy drinking beer with beautiful notes of fresh biscuits, dark chocolate, coffee, and hint of smoke. This beer is the same style as Guinness, so if you are looking for your Guinness fix come in and drink a local version,” Erickson said, adding, “The beer is named after an Irish castle, named ‘Cantwell’s Court.’ The castle was home, at one point, to the family of the owner of Cottonwood, Tim Cantwell.”

In addition to the beer offerings, Erickson said, several Irish whiskey’s, “handpicked” to pair with the Irish beers will be available.

Events will run from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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