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The Irish Immigrants and Allaire Iron Works

By Lori Draz

As we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, we remember the industrious Irish immigrants who have played such a critical role in the development of the region. Many of those original families still reside in our communities. So this month, we will take a look at the Irish and the sacrifices and contributions they made at the Howell Iron Works Company, now restored as The Historic Village at Allaire. We will dig a little deeper into Allaire Village in an upcoming Historic Havens, but this edition is more about the unique and important part played by the Irish.

What is now the restored Howell Iron Works Company was once an industrial community that flourished in the first half of the 19th century. In 1822, James P. Allaire purchased the property that was to become known as the Howell Iron Works. The purpose was to insure a source of iron for his New York City foundry, Allaire Works, the largest marine engine building shop in the United States. Since the location was far off the beaten path, Mr. Allaire developed the site into a self-sufficient community that could take care of all of the workers’ needs. The original community included a carpenter/pattern making shop, blacksmith shop, bakery, gristmill, workers’ homes, a boarding house, mills to finish iron products, a school, a church, and a general store with a post office. The Howell Iron Works thrived during the period of 1822 to 1848, with nearly 400 people living and working there.

Today, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day is a gleeful affair, with dancing, drinking, and symbols of being Irish and Irish-at-heart proudly displayed. This is far from the original way of life the Irish endured. One of the key differences is that many of the immigrants were Catholics. They came to the United States to escape famine and control, only to find distrust and persecution. Many of the original Protestant settlers and the Puritans of England were suspicious and downright abusive to the Catholic Irish. They were discriminated from jobs, as well as places they could live and shop.

Along came John Roach, who came to America at the age of 16 from Mitcheltown, County Cork, Ireland and got a job at Allaire’s Howell Iron Works. Mr. Allaire had grown fond of Roach, seeing him as an industrious worker, and waived his apprenticeship fee. Mr. Allaire’s instincts were correct, as eventually Mr. Roach went on to become the founder of the largest and most productive shipbuilding empire in the United States, John Roach & Sons. Mr. Allaire admired Roach’s determination to succeed and eagerness to learn. So, he allowed Roach to take St. Patrick’s Day off. This infuriated the other workers of the village, who retaliated and attacked Roach and others of Irish origin. Mr. Allaire’s subsequent intervention prevented a crisis and perhaps saved John Roach’s life, allowing him to fulfill his destiny as one of the greatest ship builders and maritime engineers.

Duffy’s Cut

In 1832, 57 Irish immigrants were employed by a construction contractor, named Duffy, to lay tracks for the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Soon after, there was a deadly outbreak of cholera thought to be brought by the Irish. All 57 died. While many did die from the disease, many are rumored to have been murdered just for being Irish. The rage over the outbreak spilled over into many industrial places, and again the Irish were alienated and persecuted. Currently, the recently discovered human remains of the victims are undergoing DNA testing and the bones that have been found are being returned to Ireland. To learn more, visit www.duffyscut.immaculata.edu/.

James Allaire did much to protect the Irish in Allaire Village. Life as it was in those original days is now celebrated with a very different kind of St. Patrick’s Day event, which will be held this year on Sunday, March 12 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This is not the place for shamrocks, bagpipers, and corned beef and cabbage. According to Angela Larcara of The Historic Village at Allaire, the 19th Century St. Patrick’s Day Event examines the plight of the Irish immigrant in the early 1800s in a very realistic and poignant way. It is the objective of Allaire Village, Inc. to present a historically accurate reenactment of the social climate of this time period. There will be a chapel program commemorating St. Patrick, as would have occurred back then, and the story of John Roach will be played out by costumed actors.

The carpenter, blacksmith, and tin shop will be open, with demonstrations taking place, and you will be able to tour the Big House, Mr. Allaire’s home, where he retired. The event is free, as is admission to the village at this time of year. It is truly a unique, educational, and moving event that is well worth your time. This is one of many historical reenactments, along with fundraisers, that take place throughout the year. Visit www.allairevillage.org to learn about them all.

The Historic Village at Allaire is located at 4263 Atlantic Avenue, Farmingdale. For more information, contact the Allaire Village office during business hours, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at (732) 919-3500.

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