Belmont County’s Irish Heritage
Many communities in Belmont County have a rich Irish heritage and history. The Irish were among the earliest white settlers of Ohio. Many migrated from Pennsylvania during the late 1700s and the early 1800s along Zane’s Trace. Others came later to help build the numerous canals constructed during the 1820s and 1830s. Many more came to the United States and Ohio as a direct result of the potato famine in Ireland during the 1840s. Unable to pay mortgages for their land due to the poor potato crop, many hoped they could start over in the United States. Because they arrived with little money and few possessions, instead of farming many were forced to take the less desirable jobs that required hard work for little pay. Jobs such as laying railroad tracks and working in coal mines brought many Irish families to Belmont County.
This legacy can still be seen in the villages of Bellaire and Barnesville, where high school mascots still pay homage to Irish heritage. St. John Central High School, known as the Fighting Irish, was a private, Catholic high school in Bellaire. It was part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Steubenville. Barnesville High School’s mascot is the Shamrock. The story goes that this was suggested by a teacher in the 1930s. Previously, they were known as the Hilltoppers.
In Bridgeport, there was a section of the old National Road known as the “Irish row” due to there being many Irish-owned taverns there.
Colerain Township was organized in 1808 and was named by Scotch-Irish citizens after a pretty, little village in the northern Ireland. It was from this area that the majority of these first settlers emigrated. Although Colerain was originally established by Quakers who fled the southern states in opposition to slavery, many Irish immigrants settled there due to the rich coal deposits. They, along with Polish and other Eastern European immigrants, worked in the numerous coalmines in Barton, Maynard, Crescent, and Fairpoint.
The village of Belmont, originally called Wrightsville, was laid out by Joseph D. Wright in the shape of a coffin, similar to his hometown in Dublin Ireland.
One of the pioneers of Belmont County was John Cunningham, who was born of Scotch-Irish parentage in March of 1771 in Berkeley County, Virginia. He and his brother Hugh were members of the militia sent out under General Lee to quell the “Whiskey Rebellion” in Pennsylvania. The brothers were among the first to drive wagons over the Alleghany Mountains. John was ordained as one of the two first elders of the Rock Hill Presbyterian Church in Bellaire. He was buried in the nearby cemetery.
Bellaire Police Chief Dick Flanagan said his ancestors immigrated to America through Buffalo, New York because Ellis Island was too busy. His great-grandparents followed work in coal mines from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Follansbee, West Virginia, finally settling in Bellaire in the 3300 block of Trumbull Street. The family eventually spread to the 3400 block as well. “The Irish stayed up on the hill,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan’s Bar in Bellaire is one of many bars (Irish-owned or not) in Belmont County that celebrates St. Patrick’s Day. Even if you are only Irish on March 17th, you can celebrate at one of our local bars, pubs or restaurants. Visit the Belmont County Tourism homepage for a list of St. Paddy’s Day events and specials and be sure to take advantage of our 20 percent off promo at participating lodging facilities through March 20th.