The Rise and Fall of River and Rail transportation in Madison, Indiana.

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Irish Hollow and St. Michael's Church

St. Michael's ChurchAt the beginning of the 19th century life in Ireland was harsh and cruel, due mainly to the English yoke pressed to the Irish neck. With nothing in store but starvation and persecution, the Irish began to immigrate to America.

The first trickle of Irish was assimilated into the American culture but when the trickle became a flood, the Irish were met with suspicion and hostility. “No Irish Need Apply” was posted with each job opening advertised. The Irish found themselves being exploited by the unscrupulous and shut out by the bigoted. They were relegated to the most demeaning and menial jobs at the lowest pay.

When work was offered in the coal mines and on the canals and railroads in the east and the mid-west, the Irish readily accepted. The work on the railroad was hard and it was dangerous. It was said that an Irishman was buried under every tie.

Under these circumstances and in this atmosphere, the Irish began to congregate together, building shantytowns along the railways. In Madison their gathering place was evidently “Irish Hollow”. The name is all that remains of the place. It was located on the flat area running to the edge of Crooked Creek and just east of what is now State Road 7, or Hanging Rock Hill. The railroad cut would have passed just to the west of the hollow.

We have little information about the hollow during the building of the railroad but it was probably built of unsubstantial and temporary dwellings for most of the workers would move on with the railroad when the work “played out”. There may have been a store for “staples” and pipe tobacco and such and there would have been a few saloons, or, as the Irish called them, pubs. It’s likely conditions would have been poor and that pestilence and fever carried off as many souls as did the railroad.

They would have felt the lack of a church deeply and being a determined and resourceful lot, they began to store the stone torn and blasted from the railroad cuts. It was hauled to the end of Third Street where it was piled and dressed and there the Irish began to build their church, St. Michaels. The Catholic priests in the parish probably prevailed upon the famous architect, Frances Costigan, a member of the congregation, to design the church. Since little money was available for other materials needed, the good Irish women raised money by tending feeder pigs to sell. They gathered the swill from the starch factory and hauled it in wooden tanks on ox carts to fatten the hogs. The hogs were sold at local markets and the money was donated to the church. In 1837, their efforts resulted in the beautiful Gothic style church that still stands today as a tribute to those early Irish immigrants.

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