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My Grandfather's Immigrant Eyes

by Lynne Belluscio

I attended the Irish Tenor’s concert in Rochester on Sunday, and I was particularly taken by a song, “Immigrant Eyes” also known as my “Grandfather’s Immigrant Eyes.” “Old Ellis Island was swarming, Like a scene from a costume ball, ... When my father’s own father stood huddled, With the tired and the hungry and scared ... For he gave me the gift of this country, And the look in his immigrant eyes.” Between 1820 and 1860 the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants into the United States and by the 1840s they comprised nearly half of all immigrants. Most of men worked in the coal mines or built the railroads and dug canals. Over 3000 Irish immigrants were hired to help dig the Erie Canal beginning in 1817. It was back-breaking work. After the canal was opened, some stayed on to take care of the mules that pulled the canal boats. It was noted that Catholic parishes that served the Irish workers sprung up along the Canal. The women became servants and domestic workers. The 1845 potato famine in Ireland brought boatloads of Irish to the American shores...


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