Irish Chain by Becky Brown
The Irish Chain remembers the Irish Brigades
150 years ago this week my great-grandmother Elizabeth Daly was born in Ireland, so it's a good week to recall the 140,000 Irish soldiers who fought for the Union during the American Civil War.
Irish Brigade soldiers and chaplains in Virginia
Army units often formed around shared ethnic backgrounds. Cities like New York and Boston with large immigrant populations formed Irish Brigades. A hard-fighting company was a point of ethnic pride whether the members were African-Americans, German-Americans or Irish-Americans.
The Irish had been coming to the United States in large numbers since the 1840s. They were held in contempt by many, often portrayed as baboon-faced paupers as in this cartoon attacking Stephen A. Douglas for courting the Irish vote in the 1860 Presidential election.
Maria Lydig Daly was a well-to-do New York City socialite, active in the Sanitary Commission and remembered for donating flags to the the 69th Regiment of the New York Irish Brigade. No relation to my Daly family (as Maria, I am sure, would have been only too glad to tell you) she married a New York judge of Irish background.
The "Tiffany" flag of the Irish Regiment
When the 69th needed a new set of flags, Maria Daly headed up a committee to replace them. She wrote in her diary in 1861:
"I have been busy today in assisting to raise some money for standards for the Irish Brigade, three United States standards and 3 green flags with Irish emblems and mottoes and the guide colors."
The flags were ordered from Tiffany's, which made flags (standards) as well as silver and jewelry. Maria Daly is remembered as the Irish Regiment's benefactor. In a 19th-century history of the regiment David Power Conyngham wrote a stirring if inaccurate account of them marching out of the City in the spring of 1861 (Maria didn't order the flags until the fall of the year).
"On the day of departure, after the regiment had formed into line in Great Jones street, they were presented with a splendid silk United States flag by the wife of Judge Daly. This appropriate present was received with cheers for the fair donor, and Colonel Corcoran requested Judge Daly to inform his lady that her flag should never suffer a stain of dishonor while a man of the Sixty-ninth remained alive to defend it."
Soldiers marching through New York
"About three o'clock the order of march was given. The regiment moved into Broadway amid deafening cheers; flags and banners streamed from the windows and house-tops; ladies waved their handkerchiefs from the balconies, and flung bouquets on the marching column. At the head of the procession was a decorated wagon, drawn by four horses, and bearing the inscription... "No North, no South, no East, no West, but the whole Union."
Cutting an 8" Finished Block
A Cut 8 dark squares 1-7/8"
B Cut 4 medium rectangles 1-7/8" x 5-7/8"
C Cut 4 medium rectangles 1-7/8" x 3-1/8"
D Cut 1 dark square 3-1/8"
Like many other quilt pattern names, "Irish Chain" was a familiar phrase before becoming a pattern name. An Irish Chain was a surveying tool, a chain used for linear measure. Each Irish Chain was divided into 100 links with each link 10.08 inches. The whole chain measured 1,008 inches or 84 feet.
An Old Surveyor's Chain
The earliest reference I've yet found for that name for a quilt design is in T.S. Arthur's 1849 story "The Quilting Party" in which a character lamented that "young ladies of the present generation know little of the mysteries of 'Irish chain...' "
This block (#2023 in BlockBase) was given the name Single Irish Chain by the Nancy Cabot quilt columnist in the Chicago Tribune in 1933, but she was undoubtedly not the first to use that name for a nine-patch variation.
Read T.S. Arthur's 1849 story at Google Books by clicking here:
Nostalgia for an "old-fashioned quilting party" was a staple of fiction even before the Civil War.
See some 1863 excerpts from Maria Lydig Daly's diaries by clicking here:
And read the diary in print:
Jean V. Berlin (editor), Diary of a Union Lady, 1861-1865. University of Nebraska Press, 2000.