“Anarchy and violence” – A St. Patrick’s Day riot in Carbondale – 1845

On March 17, 1845, a happy celebration of Irish tradition broke down into “anarchy and violence” on the streets of Carbondale.

This community, in what was then Luzerne County, was experiencing rapid growth as a railroad hub and mining town. In that decade, the population was in the process of doubling from 2,398 in 1840 to 4,945 in 1850. This came with growing pains.

Carbondale already had sizable Irish immigrant population. In fact, it had been one of the first communities in the Coal Region to hold a St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 1833.

But on St. Patrick’s Day 1845, everything broke down. The town’s Democratic newspaper, the Carbondale Democrat, described the scenes as a peaceful holiday celebration descended into alcohol-fueled mayhem. This story was published in the Wilkes-Barre Advocate on March 26, 1845.

The usual celebration of St. Patrick’s Day came off among us on Monday of this week. The number engaged in attendance was large, and the display creditable to our Irish citizens.

The harmony, and good order, however, which prevailed in the early part of the day was interrupted before night by one of the most serious quarrels that has ever disgraced our village.

It commenced between some young men who were here from a neighboring town, and one or two Irishmen, one [of] whom being knocked down, exclaimed, “Where is old Ireland?” this appeal to national feeling, in the excitement already existing against some of the young men, heightened too, by the free use of liquor, was sufficient to inflame many of his countrymen.

An affray ensued in which several of the combatants were severely hurt, but from the nature of the weapons used, no lives were lost. Clubs and stones were made to do as good execution as possible, and wounds were produced that will serve to mark out some of the principal actors in this shameful outrage upon law and order, for some time to come.

None of the citizens of the village, except the Irish who were engaged in celebrating the day, and many of them, took no other part than to use their utmost exertions to restore order, in which they succeeded about sunset, after anarchy and violence had reigned about an hour.

That this unhappy affair was mainly produced by that free use of liquor, which is too common amongst us, there can be no doubt. Indeed, so brutal a spirit as was then manifested, can hardly exist among men not affected by artificial excitement.

– Carbondale Democrat

Featured Image: An example of 1840s street fighting (Wikimedia Commons)

Read more about St. Patrick’s Day in America

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