Limerick, Louisville, Kentucky was a neighborhood built by the Irish. At one point in time it was so densely populated by railroad workers from Co. Limerick, Ireland, that it seemed appropriate to name the place after them.
Limerick is a small neighborhood with a population of 1,448, situated one mile south of downtown Louisville. When the Louisville & Nashville Railroad bought the Kentucky Locomotive works in 1858, the area saw an influx of Irish workers and their families moving from Portland to be closer to their jobs. Many of these Irish were working class immigrants who lived in shotgun houses while the Irish with greater incomes (or “lace curtain Irish”) relocated to St. Catherine St where they built mansion houses.
While the general belief is that the neighborhood is named after the Irish county and city, there are historic accounts that claim that it could have been named by an early resident, Tom Reilly.
The Irish community in Limerick were passionately active in maintaining their links with home and a St. Patrick’s Day parade began there shortly after the Civil War, with crowds gathering to start the procession at St. Louis Betrand Church. The sudden influx of Irish Catholics to the area had come at a time when Dominican priests were searching for a site within Louisville where they could establish a new parish. St. Louis Betrand Church, designed by local architect H. P. Bradshaw, was completed in 1872 and soon became the center point around which the social lives of the Irish revolved. The St. Patrick’s Day parade continued until 1918 when it took almost a 60-year break. This may have been due to the Great Depression in the 1930s or to the waning Irish population in the area.
So great was the Irish population in Limerick at one time that it was also the publishing place of the weekly Louisville newsletter “Kentucky Irish American.” The newsletter was started in 1898 by John Barry, a Limerick resident, and his two sons, Mike and Joe, and continued to spread news to the Irish community for almost 70 years.
The L&N Railroad, where the majority of the Irish population were employed, relocated again to Highland Park, Louisville in 1902 and with that, many of the Irish also relocated. Some younger Irish Americans had become employed as white-collar workers and they also moved out of Limerick in the search of more affluent neighborhoods.The Highlands took over from Limerick as the new Irish district.
The Irish in the Highlands saw a revival of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in 1974 where it is still held each Saturday before the official Irish holiday (it will take place on March 14 of this year). The “Irish District” in Louisville is currently located on Baxter Ave and Irish celebrations are still vibrant during March.
This year will see a Blessing of the Beer, the Wearin O’ the Green Celebration and celebrations in local restaurants and pubs along with the annual parade organized by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The Order has also worked with Kentucky state officials to have March declared as Irish Heritage month throughout the state.
If you live in or know of a city, town, or even a street with a distinctly Irish name and history, let us know in the comment section! There's so much Irish influence to be explored.
* Originally published in 2015.