International project “We Built this City” examines how the Irish left their mark on London, NYC and Chicago.IAF

On November 10, “We Built this City - Chicago,” was screened at the Arts Club of Chicago as an introduction to a panel discussion about the contribution Irish people have made to the built and cultural fabric of the city.

The short film is part of a new documentary project examining the role Irish labour played in creating London, Chicago and New York. The project aims to celebrate the contribution the Irish have made to some of the world’s largest cities.

The Irish Architecture Foundation, in collaboration with the Office of the Minister for Diaspora Affairs of Ireland, have commissioned Dublin filmmakers Bonnie Dempsey and David O’Sullivan to produce three films as part of Irish Design 2015, an initiative backed by the Irish government that celebrates and promotes Irish design in Ireland and internationally, The Irish Times reports.

Through stunning images and narration, the project explores the “hidden story of the Irish diaspora” and the role Irish immigrants have played in shaping these urban cities physically and culturally.

As the short film shows in the opening scenes, many residents of Chicago are unaware of the city’s Irish roots. In the 1830s, Irish immigrants dug the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which helped Chicago grow from a small frontier town on the shores of Lake Michigan to the second largest metropolis in the United States. Thousands of Irish workers died from disease, injuries and poor conditions while building the 96 mile canal.

Narrated by Clare Lyster, an Irish-trained architect who teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s School of Architecture, the film juxtaposes dramatic views of Chicago’s lakefront and downtown area with thee modest neighborhood homes built by the canal workers. Also captured is Old St Patrick’s, the oldest public building in Chicago and the “mother parish” of the Chicago Irish. 

The film also mentions the contribution Irish architects, such as James J Egan, Louis H Sullivan, Barry Byrne, Marion Mahony, and Joseph W McCarthy, have made to Chicago’s reputation for innovative design.

We Built this City - Chicago from Irish Architecture Foundation on Vimeo.

The conversation continues in the spring of 2016, when the filmmakers focus their cameras on New York.

For more information visit or follow @wbuiltthiscity on Twitter.