Here’s a tip o’ the tam to all those who can trace their ancestry to the Irish labor force who built the Erie Canal. There were certainly other immigrant groups including Germans and and Brits who contributed to the project – the only water level route through the Appalachian Mountains. But Irish workers were the largest, most significant group working for 37 to 50 cents a day (and maybe a ration of whiskey).
These hard working individuals learned construction techniques along side the early engineers. Before the age of steam engines principal tools were the pick and shovel. These people found efficient methods and fashioned new tools many of which still play a role today like the wheel barrow and stump puller.
“Not only did the Irish lend their unique hard work ethic to the canal, they also put their stamp on it in many other ways, including “canal songs” that they wrote, fashioned after popular Irish tunes, with new words to fit the environment. And of course, they settled in towns all along the canal route, seen in the architecture of buildings, reminiscent of Ireland.” – Maryann Tracy.
A special salute to all our volunteers with even a bit of Irish still working to tell the spirited stories and pass along our heritage along the Mohawk Towpath Byway.