Opening session lays out conference themes
By Theresa Lazzara
A daylong conference called “Eire on the Erie” about the connections between Irish immigration and the construction of the Erie Canal was was held at St. John Fisher College on Friday, Oct. 17.
Dr. Tim Madigan, director of the Irish Studies program at the college, and Ryan Mahoney, director of the Irish-American Heritage Museum in Albany, N.Y., opened the conference with speeches about those two main themes.
Madigan designed the event with the intent to educate the community on the involvement of the Irish in the canal, past the Irish immigrants that helped to dig it. The phrase “designed by Yankees, dug by the Irish” was the point of discussion for the opening to the conference.
Madigan discussed this point in his opening speech, citing William James, one of the biggest investors of the Erie Canal, as an example of Irish influence in its conception and construction.
Madigan told audiences about James’ journey to the U.S. at 18-years-old, in an effort to see Saratoga, New York. James became the second richest man in the country by the time of the canal’s conception, and invested land and funds into the Erie Canal project.
Mahoney introduced the Irish-American Heritage museum as a place dedicated to educating people about the Irish-American heritage and legacy. Mahoney stated that the museum has a mission to educate the public on the Irish-American heritage and legacy, as well as to dispel stereotypes of the Irish in American culture
Mahoney gave audiences a link to the museum’s website, and encouraged audiences to both see the library exhibit later into the conference and travel to Albany to explore the museum.
The museum’s Erie Canal exhibit was put on display at the St. John Fisher College Lavery Library. The exhibit is intended to show that not all of the Irish involved in the construction of the canal were laborers, but in fact, designers and investors as well.
The exhibit began in 2011, and travels to different locations in order to show the Irish involvement in the Erie Canal project from its conception to its completion.
Audience members used the break between the 8:30 a.m. opening and the 9:05 sessions of the conference to study the programs and merchandise set outside of the Basil 135 auditorium..
Fisher Irish Studies director Tim Madigan discusses connections of Irishman William James as a key investor in the canal.