Irish Settlers: 1850s and Beyond

  • By John Keane
  • Posted 1/01/1998
  • Essay 2210

According to land claim records, as of 1856, approximately one in 12 claims in Washington Territory were made by Irish-born settlers. The majority of these people came to the United States both before and during the Famine years in Ireland of 1847-1850.

As a result of the Famine, many more came to the Northwest, attracted by the need for unskilled laborers in lumber mills and mines. Others came when gold was discovered in the Klondike, and when word spread about fortunes ready to be made. Once these immigrants settled here, their relatives came to join them in increasing numbers, especially during and after the turbulent years of the Irish War of Independence (1916-1921).

The Irish in Seattle in the early years of this century are remembered by Nellie Cullen Nolan, now the oldest active Irish-born member of Seattle's Irish community. Nellie came to Seattle in 1924 to join her Irish aunt, Bridget Mannion Aylward, and another niece of Bridget’s from Ireland, Mary Keane Tomkins. Both nieces worked as servants for their aunt in a house on Capitol Hill.

Bridget retired to Seattle after traveling to the Klondike in the late 1890s as cook for an expedition led by a Captain Healy and later ended up mining for gold on her own. After settling in Seattle, she was named Queen of Alaska at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909.


John Keane was President of the Irish Heritage Society.

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