1858 Kenmare Guards
The story of how one of the first documented games of hurling in North America came to be played in Hoboken N.J. in 1858 begins in Ireland. The third marquis of Lansdowne born Henry Petty in 1780 was the owner of a vast estate of over one hundred square miles in the southwest county Kerry of which Kenmare (“An Neidín” in Irish or “the little Nest”) was the most populace town. His ancestor Sir William Petty was granted the land in the mid seventeenth century by Oliver Cromwell for his role in subduing the Irish who had resisted England’s conquest of Ireland. Lansdowne was from a line of prominent politicians. His father had been Prime Minister of Britain and Lansdowne himself had served as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and was three times Lord President of the Council. He twice turned down the position of Prime Minister of Britain. Approximately 12,000 tenants, some of the poorest in the country lived on his estate which had little arable land and was mostly covered in mountains and bog. They paid their rent by raising wheat and livestock destined for export and were dependent on the potato crop for their own subsistence. Thus they were particularly vulnerable when the potato crops failed during the potato famine which lasted from 1845 to 1852.
Like many landlords at the time who resided mainly in England, Lansdowne employed an agent to administer his Irish estate. His agent in 1850, William Trench, estimated that it would be cheaper to pay for his destitute and starving tenants to emigrate than it would be to feed them for a year. Thousands of his tenants had already died from starvation since the famine began even as wheat and livestock were being exported from the country under armed guard. The tenants agreed to emigrate in the face of certain starvation. Up to a third died on the passage to America due to their weakend state and the meager ships rations. Two of the most influential papers in America at the time wrote about the appalling state of these emaciated refugees. On March 19, 1851 the New York Tribune reported on recent arrivals in a “starving condition referring to Lansdowne’s emigrants. A few days after the Tribune article appeared the New York Herald devoted an entire editorial to the story. “It is really lamentable to see the vast number of unfortunate creatures that are almost daily cast on our shores,penniless and without physical energy to earn a days living…This is too bad-it is inhuman; and yet it is an act of indiscriminate and wholesale expatriation committed by the ‘liberal’ President of the Council of her Majesty Queen Victoria’s ‘liberal’ ministry.”
The majority of the Lansdowne immigrants settled in the notorious slum area of Five Points in lower Manhattan. It was a relatively lawless place dominated by gangs such as the Bowery Boys and Irish gangs like the Roach Guards, O’Connell Guards and the Dead Rabbits. The Roach Guards were formed originally to protect New York liquor merchants but began committing robberies and murder. The gangs were also aligned politically with the Irish gangs supporting the incumbent Democratic mayor Fernando Woods while the Bowery gangs supported the State Republicans. As the Irish in this area began to prosper they celebrated their culture in parades each St. Patrick’s Day. It was on this day in 1858 that a group of Lansdowne’s former tenants celebrated their sporting culture with a game of hurling in Hoboken New Jersey calling themselves the Kenmare Guards. It is in commemoration of this historic event that our hurling club in Hoboken is named the Hoboken Guards.
Niall Forde, HGHC