The Irish Canal Workers

     The majority of laborers working on the Illinois Michigan Canal were Irish.  The relationship among the workers was not harmonious.  Specifically, there were persistent tensions between the Corkonians (the Catholics from Cork in southern Ireland) and the Far-downers (Catholics from the Irish Provinces of Leinster, Munster, and Connaught).  This was both a traditional rivalry and one related to the competition for jobs on the canal.
     In 1838, construction on the canal shifted from Ottawa to LaSalle.  This precipitated increased tensions
between the two groups.  In May of 1838, the Corkonians feeling that the best jobs on the canal were being given to the Far-downers engaged in a fight with their rivals in Marseilles.  They were successful in this skirmish.  Emboldened, they marched to the Split Rock region between Utica and the Little Vermillion River.  At this site, they joined with 200 men reinforcements led by a local labor boss–a Mr. Sweeney.  From this site, they moved to Peru destroying every shanty of Far-downers they encountered.
The sheriff of LaSalle County, a Mr. Alison Woodruff, was determined to get this riotous situation under control. He dispatched his deputy Zimri Lewis to recruit men for a posse. Major A. F. Hill and M.E. Hollister led an 80 men posse. They were joined by another group of men led by a canal contractor William Byrne.
The posse was able to locate the Corkonians in a region near Buffalo Rock. They drove them back to Ottawa. They then advanced on the rioters and ordered them to leave. The Corkonians refused and they were subsequently fired upon. They subsequently fled back to the Buffalo Rock region. They were pursued by the posse. Many of the Corkonians fled by swimming across the Illinois River. Approximately 15 men were killed during the uprising.

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