For years, there was little agreement on the boundaries of Irish Hill: some said Shelby Street on the east, College Avenue on the west, and the railroad tracks on the north and south, while others extended the east-west boundaries to State and Delaware streets. By 2020, the boundaries were College Avenue on the west, Washington Street and Southeastern Avenue on the north, Bates Street on the south, and State Street on the east. Most agree the neighborhood’s name came from Irish who escaped the potato famine of the 1840s and labored to build, canals, and roads in the Indianapolis area. It was the center of Irish American life in the city during the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Later male immigrants found maintenance work in the railyards or meat-packing jobs atnot far from “The Hill.” The choices were fewer for neighborhood women. They worked at Kingan, found jobs as domestics in wealthy homes, or wrapped chocolates at Hershey Candy Company.
A closely-knit community, Irish Hill took care of its own. Neighbors welcomed new immigrants arriving from Ireland and helped them find jobs and homes. Baptisms, weddings, and St. Patrick’s Day festivities were occasions for the community to celebrate. Family life centered on the church, where residents attended Mass, went to school, and took part in parish programs. Three churches served the large Catholic population of Irish Hill—St. Patrick’s, St. John’s, and Holy Cross. Residents enjoyed sporting events, card parties, ice skating on, and Thursday evening “breakdowns,” where revelers played and danced traditional jigs. Neighborhood saloons offered spirited political discussion and a place to drink and eat.
Just as the railroads helped to create Irish Hill, they also contributed to its demise. In 1918, therazed a number of homes to build elevated tracks through the neighborhood. Later, as the railroads declined, employment opportunities became scarce and families moved away.
Irish Hill is no longer either Irish or a hill. It represents a mixture of ethnic groups. It is an area bisected by rail lines and Interstate Highway 65/70. Nevertheless, both its name and its history are reminders of the Irish influence in Indianapolis.