Guest post: From Donoughmore, Co. Cork, to Altoona, Pa.

Donoughmore, County Cork, historian Gerard O’Rourke is the author of ‘Ancient Sweet Donoughmore: Life in an Irish Rural Parish to 1900.’ He is trying to reach people with Donoughmore ancestors who settled in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The story below offers a clue about the connection. Visit Gerard’s website, donoughmore.com, or reach him at gerorour@gmail.com. MH

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Ireland’s Great Famine devastated Donoughmore, a rural parish 17 miles west northwest of Cork city. About 3,000 people died in Donoughmore from 1841 to 1851, which was 40 percent of the population at the time and roughly equal to the number living there today.

“There died of famine and fever from November 1846 to September 1847 over 1,400 of the people and one priest …. numbers remained unburied for over a fortnight, many were buried in ditches near their houses, many without coffins,” reads an entry in the Donoughmore parish Roman Catholic Baptismal register.

As in other parts of Ireland, this upheaval resulted in mass emigration. Many people from Donoughmore settled in Altoona, about 100 miles east of Pittsburgh. Among them was John Tuigg, who sailed to America in December 1849, just shy of age 30. He studied in St. Michael’s seminary in Pittsburgh, was ordained in 1850, and became missionary pastor to Altoona from 1853 to 1876, when he was consecrated as the third bishop of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh’s first bishop, Michael O’Connor, also was a Corkman, born at Queenstown/Cobh. He administered the new Pittsburgh dioceses from 1843 to 1860. He was succeeded by Michael Domenec, originally from Spain, who was transferred to a new dioceses in the region when Tuigg was appointed to oversee Pittsburgh.

Bishop Tuigg

Upon his accession, Bishop Tuigg found that the diocese’s property was financially encumbered. With foresight, energy, and extraordinary ability he reformed the diocesan finances with measures that, though harsh, endorsed and substantiated his wisdom and supreme management.

The Altoona Times reported that “he combined to a rare degree the unusual qualities of firmness and gentleness. Strong and unyielding … he was kind and courteous to those who differed and tender and sympathetic to the weak and erring. He possessed astonishing executive abilities, as the schools, the convent, and the splendid church of St John bear witness. Those that listened to his fervent and lucid appeals ranked him among the foremost preachers of the state.”

Bishop Tuigg became ill in December 1882 and remained in poor health for the next seven years. He died Dec. 7, 1889, just six months after a record flood killed more than 2,200 people in Johnston, 45 miles southeast of Altoona and part of the Pittsburgh dioceses.

Bishop Tuigg’s death created a vast outpouring of grief and loss. Altoona Mayor Edmund H. Turner described him as “one of Altoona’s oldest and most honourable citizens.” He urged residents to suspend business during the funeral. Fire companies were directed to attend the service. Other organisations, both secular and Christian, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, also paid tribute. The Altoona Tribune reported it was “the largest funeral ever held” in the city.

Bishop Tuigg was buried at St. John’s Cemetery in Altoona. He was succeeded by Richard Phelan of Ballyragget, County Kilkenny.

Whether Bishop Tuigg’s affiliation with Donoughmore influenced many people from this part of Ireland to settle in Altoona is a matter of debate. The fact that he was a native of the parish and held a prestigious position in America possibly attracted many of Donoughmore’s Catholics. Altoona’s thriving economy in the second half of the 19th century, a hub of the Pennsylvania Railroad, also would have lured these emigrants.

Your assistance with my research about the Donoughmore-Altoona connection is greatly appreciated.

Altoona in the late 19th century, with Pennsylvania Railroad shops in the foreground.

1 thought on “Guest post: From Donoughmore, Co. Cork, to Altoona, Pa.

  1. Larry Smith

    Many of the Irish immigrants to the central-Pennsylvania region found work in the iron industry or the railroad. During the period from the 1830s to the 1890s this region had many iron furnaces and forges. It was the ‘Pittsburgh’ of its day. A review of the 1850 U.S. Census, which was the first to include names, show many Irish names of young men living with families that had been in the region for many decades. The railroads likewise called many immigrants to this region. Altoona was established as a primary railroad center where engines could be repaired. The railroad industry therefore needed workers and young Irish men were drawn to it.

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