St. Patrick's Day

Mar 17, 2023

7 mins read

Margaret Louise Cox Perkins, daughter of Henry Cox and Margaret Walsh Cox

Happy St. Patricks Day!

St. Patrick’s Day, celebrated annually on March 17th, is a day to honor St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and to recognize Irish culture and heritage. While the day has religious roots, it has evolved into a global celebration of all things Irish, with parades, feasting, music, and the wearing of green. It’s the perfect time to reflect on the rich history of our Irish ancestors and celebrate the customs and traditions they passed down to us. For my family, that means honoring the memory of my maternal great-great-grandparents, Henry Cox and Margaret Walsh, who bravely left their homeland in the 1880s to start a new life in America.

The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in New York City in 1762, and over the years, the festivities have grown in both scale and popularity. For Irish immigrants like Henry Cox and Margaret Walsh, St. Patrick’s Day was a special opportunity to come together with fellow Irish Americans, forging a strong sense of community and pride in their shared heritage.

Henry Cox hailed from Navan, Meath, Ireland, while Margaret Walsh was a native of Balinrobe, Mayo, Ireland. The details of their lives before emigrating to America remain a mystery, but we do know that Henry was a hardworking laborer. Once in the United States, he found employment as a laborer. According to census records his employment was with a railroad company in 1910 and later with a steel mill in 1920. They settled in Pittsburgh, a city that would become the heart of their American experience.

One of the most cherished legacies Henry and Margaret passed down to their descendants was their devout Catholic faith. This strong foundation of belief has been an essential part of my family’s identity for generations, from my great-grandmother Margaret (their daughter) to my own mother and is what led to me being raised Catholic.

While Henry and Margaret may not have passed down specific customs or stories, their journey to America and their determination to build a better life for their family remains an inspiring testament to the Irish spirit. My growing curiosity and passion for genealogy inspired me to delve deeper into the lives of my Irish ancestors, including Henry Cox and Margaret Walsh. While I have yet to uncover specific events or anecdotes from their lives, my investigation has led me to examine the broader context of their experiences in Pittsburgh. Among the many events that shaped the city’s history during their time, the Homestead Strike of 1892 caught my attention. This labor dispute was not only historically significant, but it also seemed like the kind of event that would have had a profound impact on the lives of working-class families like my own. Although I have not yet found concrete evidence linking my ancestors to the strike, the possibility of their involvement has sparked my imagination and deepened my appreciation for the struggles they faced as they sought to build a better life in America.

Although it’s difficult to draw a direct connection between St. Patrick’s Day and the formation of labor unions in America during the 1890s, the sense of unity and camaraderie fostered by the holiday may have played a role in encouraging Irish immigrants to stand together in the face of adversity. Many Irish Americans, including those in Pittsburgh, found employment in industries such as steel and railroads, where working conditions were often harsh and dangerous.

The late 19th century was a time of significant labor unrest, with workers across America organizing to demand better wages, working conditions, and hours. The Homestead Strike of 1892, which we mentioned earlier, was just one example of workers banding together to fight for their rights. Irish immigrants, who often faced discrimination and struggled to make ends meet, were among the most active participants in the labor movement.

It’s worth considering that the sense of solidarity and support fostered by Irish-American gatherings, including St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, may have contributed to the willingness of Irish workers to join labor unions and participate in strikes. These events provided an opportunity for Irish immigrants to connect, share their experiences, and find strength in their shared heritage.

In a broader sense, St. Patrick’s Day serves as a reminder of the resilience and determination of the Irish people. The spirit of the holiday, which celebrates the triumph of St. Patrick over adversity and the perseverance of the Irish culture, is echoed in the stories of Irish immigrants who fought for better lives in America.

By exploring the history of St. Patrick’s Day and the labor movement of the 1890s, we gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by Irish immigrants like Henry Cox and Margaret Walsh. Their story, like those of many others, is a testament to the enduring spirit of the Irish people and the lasting impact they have had on American society.

St. Patrick’s Day is not only a time to celebrate our Irish roots but also a time to remember the courage and determination of those who came before us. For my family, the story of Henry Cox and Margaret Walsh serves as a constant reminder of the strength and resilience that define the Irish spirit. This resilience was undoubtedly forged during the difficult years of the Great Famine in Ireland, which Henry and Margaret’s parents would have experienced firsthand. The challenges they faced during that time must have been immense, and their ability to persevere is a testament to the indomitable Irish spirit.

Intrigued by the thought of who Henry and Margaret’s parents must have been, I embarked on a quest to find records of their lineage. Through Ancestry DNA, I discovered that I have relatives descended from an Anne Cox, who is likely Henry’s sister. Further research led me to find birth records revealing that Anne’s parents were George Cox and Catherine Lynch. This exciting discovery not only provided me with valuable information about my family history but also deepened my connection to the strength and resilience that has defined the Irish spirit for generations.

My search for Margaret Walsh’s parents proved to be more challenging than finding information about Henry’s family. Although her death certificate states that her parents were John and Margaret, I have been unable to find any definitive records for them. Ancestry DNA hints that many of my Irish ancestors originated from North and South Galway, and I have identified several relatives descended from Ellen Walsh and Luke Flood, who were from that area. Ellen is of an age that suggests she could have been John’s sister.

Unfortunately, locating paper records in Ireland can be particularly difficult due to the loss and destruction of many documents over the years. However, I remain hopeful that with the help of DNA testing and the growing community of genealogy researchers, I may one day uncover more information about John and Margaret. The journey of discovering our ancestors is a continuous one, and each new piece of information brings us closer to understanding the lives of those who came before us and the indomitable Irish spirit that they embodied.

Today, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a mix of traditional and modern customs, from wearing green to enjoying delicious Irish dishes like corned beef and cabbage. As we gather with family and friends, we remember the sacrifices and accomplishments of our Irish ancestors and give thanks for the opportunities they have given us.

This St. Patrick’s Day, let us raise a glass to Henry Cox, Margaret Walsh, and the countless other Irish immigrants who left their homes in search of a better life. Their bravery and determination live on in the hearts of their descendants and the vibrant Irish American community that continues to thrive today.