By Nancy Finlay for Your Public Media
A huge influx of Irish immigrants arrived in Connecticut during the second quarter of the 19th century, driven by political unrest and economic hardship. Most of them were Roman Catholics and many of them found work as laborers. While anti-Irish sentiment was widespread, Hartford’s Kellogg brothers, publishers of thousands of brightly colored popular prints, viewed these new Americans as potential customers.
“St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland” is one of a large number of prints with Catholic subject matter issued by these New England Protestants. While St. Patrick was especially calculated to appeal to an Irish audience, it’s likely that many of the purchasers of other overtly Catholic subjects, such as the Stations of the Cross and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, were also mostly recent Irish immigrants.
Prints of Irish War Heroes and Political Slogans Target New Market
“The Battle of Bull’s Run,” one of the Kelloggs’ numerous Civil War subjects, depicts the heroic Colonel Michael Corcoran leading “the gallant 69th” in a charge on the Rebel batteries. Corcoran was born in County Sligo and immigrated to New York as a young man. The 69th regiment of the New York State Militia, which he led, was entirely made up of Irish immigrants, who charged into battle screaming their Gaelic war cry “Faugh A Ballagh!” (“Clear the Way!”). Corcoran was one of the founding members of the Fenian brotherhood, a group of Irish nationalists who violently opposed British rule in Ireland. While “St. Patrick” and “The Battle of Bull’s Run” may have appealed to other customers, no one but a staunch Irish patriot would have been likely to buy a radical political print like “The Fenian Banner” with its slogans “Erin Go Bragh” and “Justice for Ireland”.
The imagery of “The Wearing of the Green” is less overt: an attractive young woman in a wild landscape, probably meant to evoke the hills of Ireland. Nineteenth-century Irish-Americans would have known the words of the popular song of this title and recognized this print as yet another protest against British rule.
The staunchly Protestant Kelloggs certainly did not share these sentiments, but they knew what sorts of subjects would sell. Rather than producing anti-Irish propaganda, as many of their contemporaries did, they chose instead to produce inexpensive prints that Irish immigrants could use to decorate their new homes in America.
Nancy Finlay, formerly Curator of Graphics at the Connecticut Historical Society, is the editor of Picturing Victorian America: Prints by the Kellogg Brothers of Hartford, Connecticut, 1830-1880.
© Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network and Connecticut Historical Society. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared on Your Public Media