History of the Irish in Columbia, SC

Dying the fountain at St. Pat’s in Five Points | Photo via @stpatsinfivepoints

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Cola. 🍀

Soda Citizens are used to celebrating St. Pat’s in Five Points, but today we are saving the green beer + fountain for 2022 and throwing it back to the nineteenth century when the Irish first arrived in South Carolina. Groups immigrated here to escape the Great Famine in the 1840s and they settled across the Palmetto State, but these weren’t the first Irish in the area. 

According to the 1860 census, approx. 8,800 people of Irish descent lived in South Carolina.   Nearly two-thirds of the Irish immigrants lived in Charleston and among the growing population, most were poor, unskilled, or semiskilled workers. Along with laboring, they were dominant in the police force + a variety of business ventures. 

The other Irish settlements in South Carolina were centered around major public works projects, including a growing Irish presence right here in Columbia. 

Based on the census and other records of the time, they were concentrated in four neighborhoods in Columbia — near the Carolina Coliseum area later known as “Little Dublin”, surrounding the State House, Arsenal Hill, and near the South Carolina State Hospital in the BullStreet District.

The three-mile-long canal we all know today as the Columbia Canal (completed in 1824 by the Irish) was the first public transportation infrastructure in the state. It was considered one of the most profitable of South Carolina’s river canals and Irish laborers were selected for this project because of the dangerous nature of the work. It was considered one of the most profitable of South Carolina’s river canals and Irish laborers were selected for this project because of the dangerous nature of the work. 

Irish monument at Riverfront Park | Photo via One Columbia 

There is an Irish monument at Riverfront Park to remember + honor the Irish that dug the canal in the early 1820’s. The monument reads “They were indentured to the river they linked.” Find out more about the dedication ceremony and the monument here

Following the growth of the railroad industry, another large Irish community settled in the Upstate around Tunnel Hill near Walhalla in the 1850s to construct a railroad tunnel through Stumphouse Mountain.

Today, St. Peter’s Catholic Church is not only an addition to the Columbia skyline with it’s historic gothic-designed steeple, but also a connection to the Irish in Columbia.

The church was originally designed by Robert Mills in 1824 specifically to accommodate Irish building the Columbia Canal. It was later replaced in 1906 with the redesigned building we see today by Frank Milburn. St. Peter’s School has been at the same location since 1875 and continues to offer elementary and secondary education.