What makes the Old First Ward so distinct, even to this day? One could point to the fact that the Irish were one of the first immigrant populations and one of the largest, reaching around 10,000 as a result of the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. However, large groups of Italian, Polish, and German immigrants settled in Buffalo as well. These ethnic groups are celebrated, yet the Irish heritage of the Old First Ward remain notably intact. The geographical isolation of the ward played an important part as it prevented a level of assimilation many other immigrant groups experienced. The Irish culture and new surroundings seemed to connect and became ever infused. For many people, their livelihood remained tied to residing, working, and living out their lives with great pride in the First Ward.
There is a Gaelic saying, “Ní neart go cur le chéile”, which translates to “There’s strength in unity.” A familiar idiom today is, “It takes a village.” There’s a similar sentiment of community in these two phrases. When considering the Irish of the First Ward, however, one should take this as more of a lived agreement than an idea. Many of those who made names for themselves beyond the First Ward boundaries carried on the idea of taking care of their own. Take the great Michael Shea for example. Shea’s Buffalo opened in 1926 with great success until the Depression hit three years later. It’s said that Shea was losing a million dollars a year, yet still, he wouldn’t lay off any of his employees. On the Old First Ward walking tour, we look at some of the remarkable and some of the infamous stories of well-known Old First Ward figures to piece it all together.
To help illustrate the strength of the ward, we focus on the stories of individuals like General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the “Father of American Intelligence”, and 1928’s light heavyweight champion of the world Jimmy “Slats” Slattery. There’s also the infamous saloon boss William “Fingy” Conners and Buffalo’s man of entertainment, Michael Shea. These men made names for themselves in different fields, but it can be argued that their resiliency and determination was tied to their roots.
We examine this idea during the 90-minute to two-hour tour, while also pointing out some of the regeneration taking place in the Old First Ward. Just a few points of interest include Mutual Riverfront Park, Gene McCarthy’s and the Old First Ward Brewery, The Barrel Factory, Elevator Alley Kayak, and Lakeward Spirits. Join us Friday, July 28th at 6 pm down in the Old First Ward to see the old and the new. Come see the vibrancy of the area for a special “Tour Mob” event where we will be accepting $5 admission for the tour! No advanced reservations just meet at Mutual Riverfront Park for a unique chance to explore the Old First Ward.