The Irish in Geneva

April 20th, 2018

By Karen Osburn, Archivist

We have had several  requests for an article on the Irish in Geneva. This is a topic that sounds easier to write about than it is in reality. When you try to look up Irish in the old newspapers of Geneva (around 1850, the time of the Irish potato famine) you find a lot of stereotypical jokes. Many refer to the Irish brogue, the supposed  Irish propensity for drunken behavior and references to how they may be quick of wit, temper or flattery. The amount of research a person would need to do in census records finding Irish surnames, birthplaces and streets they lived on would make a hefty research project for a blog post. While it would be nice to have all that information available, that type of research is time consuming for a short monthly article. It is especially difficult when you don’t recognize an Irish surname unless it starts with O’, for instance O’Brien.

young man in a button down shirt

Patrick Mahoney


Even though I grew up in an Irish area of the Town of Greece and the elementary school I attended was called Paddy Hill I did not realize the last names of many of my playmates were Irish because I was too young. They were my friends and we did not talk about cultural heritage in part because we were all born in the United States, and we were too busy playing. I do know that St. Patrick’s Day was a “big deal” in our area,  and I should never wear orange on March 17, but I had no idea why.

In order to begin to do justice to the subject of Irish in our city, I needed to find out what I could about Irish surnames so I would be able to pick them out of the City Directories.


Man in police uniform

Michael McDonald

The first thing I found out is the meaning of O’ and Mc or Mac. O’ means “descendant of”  and Mc or Mac means “son of”.  Surnames developed when governments began to tax people. In some countries this was called a Poll Tax (the word poll in this case refers to “head”). Ireland developed hereditary surnames very early in the 11th century, traditionally adopting the name of the first chief of the tribe, usually an accomplished warrior. Due to a lack of standardized spelling, there are often an astonishing number of variants of the original spelling of a surname.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 33 million Americans, about 10.5% of the total population, reported in 2013 that they had Irish ancestry. Eight of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence belonged to men of Irish decent. In New York State about 12.9 % of the population report they have Irish ancestors. According to Wikipedia, New York City has had 3 Irish-born mayors in its history and 8 Irish-American mayors up to this point in time.

Joyce, Greene, O’Brien, Conry, Hogan, Regan, Ross, Cullen, Rafferty, Harrington, Ryan, O’Malley, Sheehan, Murphy, O’Sullivan, O’Toole, McCarthy, McLoughlin, Byrne, Walsh, Doyle, Daly, Wilson, Brennan, Fitzgerald, Martin and Quinn are just a sampling of Irish surnames.

1903 Sanborn of Geneva’s Irish neighborhood

A manuscript in our archives gives the area of Middle St. and Wadsworth St. as home to many Irish in the Geneva. When I checked the City Directory of 1894, I found the names of Flannery, Roark, O’Neil, Hogan Jordan, Murphy, Mahoney, O’Malley, and McCulley. When I checked the occupations that went with the Irish surnames, I found bookkeepers, laborers, machinists, barbers, foremen, clerks, salesmen, carpenters and professors. Many of the women were dressmakers, waitresses, stenographers, laundresses, housekeepers or domestics. Domestics seemed to be the largest group.

The same directory shows some businesses owned by Irish or Irish Americans in Geneva. For example, J. F. Duffy had a barber shop at 533 Exchange Street, Lynch & Sullivan had a bakery/confectionery shop at 64 Castle, John O’Malley had a blacksmith shop at 574 Washington St., Mrs. Ann McGloon ran at boarding house at 303 Exchange St., J. O’Malley and Bros. ran a shoe store at 394-398 Exchange St., Roger Hogan had a cigar and tobacco shop at 18 Middle Street, F. A. Greene had a dentist office at 399 Main St., P. O’Malley was a drayman (hauling with large horses and wagons)  at 63 Middle St., Molly Lynch, Mary O’Connor and Julia Quin were all dress makers, John Brennan had a grocery on Exchange Street and Roger Hogan had one at 18 Middle Street. There are many more that I have not mentioned, which is why writing an article on the Irish in Geneva requires a lot more research.  This will have to suffice for the time being, but it is obvious that Irish roots in Geneva are well set and flourishing, making Geneva a better and stronger city.

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6 responses to “The Irish in Geneva”

  1. Beverly Lords (Utah) says:

    Thank you Karen–good job of digging into the past. My great grandfather laid Geneva’s sidewalks. His name was Patrick Mulcahy married at St. Stephen’s church 1852. He had 13 children. I wonder what was it about Geneva that attracted the Irish immigrants–jobs?

    Keep up the good work on whatever you choose to blog about.

  2. James A. Payne III says:

    My great-great grandmother Honora (Shannon) Payne was an immigrant from Limerick, Ireland who migrated to the US around 1849 at 13 or 14 years old and settled in Geneva. She Married John Payne and she later owned the Mansion House hotel at 37 Seneca Street, Geneva. The family owned the hotel for two generations,. According to family lore, Honora was the matriarch of the family who was highly regarded business owner and supporter of the Trinity Church in Geneva. The family home on Pultney St was owned by my father for several years that he sold and it burned down shortly after and became an entrance to Hobart College

    I would love to learn more about my family and their history in Geneva. The Payne’s are related to the Fink family (possibly through marriage) that were also business owners in Geneva in the 19th century.

    1. Paul Ashman says:

      Hello James
      I believe we are related through the Payne family. John Payne’s father, John, was I believe, the uncle of my great great grandmother (a Horton by marriage) who lived in Geneva in the 1870’s. I’d be very interested in comparing and sharing family history info. with you.
      Kind regards

  3. Mary Johns says:

    My Donlevy ancestors lived in Geneva for a time before moving to Oconto, Wis. before the Civil War. James Donlevy was a shoemaker. I, too, would love to know more about the Irish in Geneva.

  4. Patricia Ashley says:

    Just found this site recently. Enjoyed your article.
    My great great grandfather Thomas Kane arrived in Geneva in the early 1860s from Cty Clare Ireland and lived on North St. His 2 daughters DeBotts and Van Arsdales lived at 171 North St too. Researching the Kane names in Geneva has been confusing for me because there have been so many Kanes.

  5. Audrey Keplinger says:

    Karen O’Riley lived on Genesee St in a large 5 bedroom home, was possibly wealthy and had servants. O’Riley is of Royal decent.

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