The Irish in America

Irish in Minnesota


I remember when Patricia Johnston’s book, Minnesota’s Irish first appeared at our house. It was 1984 and Ireland was my new obsession. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about Ireland or written by someone with an Irish name. I listened to nothing but U2 and poured over Mom’s Ireland of the Welcomes magazines, dreaming of living in a dramatic coastal castle or a quaint village cottage.

When I cracked open the book, I assumed it would mostly be about my family. We were the most Irish people I knew in Minnesota. I looked at the index first, expecting to see significant entries for my family names, McCormack, Regan, Foley, Flannery, McMahon. Imagine my surprise when there was nothing.

That is not entirely true. There was one photo of St. Malachy’s Church in Clontarf, the Swift County town where my maternal relatives lived. The people in the photo were all so tiny, there was no chance of identifying any individuals. I was disappointed. I thought my Irish family deserved at least a mention. I also thought Ms. Johnston should have called my grandma for some better material.

The book opened my twelve-year-old eyes to the idea that there were a lot of Irish people who made Minnesota home. I was not as unique as I believed. The experiences of the Irish in Minnesota were more diverse than I had been aware. Now, all these years later, my mom and I are taking a dive into the history of the Irish experience in Minnesota, beyond our own family’s history in Swift County and Minneapolis.

Unidentified Town Scene — private collection

My mom and I love to do research. We are great at identifying resources, following leads, discovering connections, uncovering hidden nuggets, and accumulating information. We find it difficult to stop researching, to feel like we are ever finished. This project has “work in progress” written all over it. There is so much to discover and the research is too much fun.

I would love to hear from you about where your Irish and Irish American relatives put down roots in Minnesota. Is there a township or a village in Minnesota you would like to learn more about? Need some help with research? I think of this as part genealogy, part local history, with some folklore and oral history thrown in the mix. I will share what Mom and I are finding here on the blog. Leave a comment below to get in touch!

The Irish in Minnesota came from every county in Ireland (I actually don’t know that for sure, but I will find out!), endured hardships and celebrated successes at every stage of their migration. Minnesota was the last stop for some Irish immigrants and their families, others pushed further west, and a few even returned to previous homes. Regardless, they all made contributions to the social, cultural, and political fabric of Minnesota.


Author: Aine

I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota. My heritage pretty much covers the map of Ireland: great-great-grandparents from Cork (Crowley, Foley, Regan), a great-great-grandmother from Clare (Quinn), a great-great-grandfather from Fermanagh (McMahon) and his wife's parents from Mayo (McAndrew), a great-grandmother from Connemara (Hannon) married to my great-grandfather from Laois (McCormack), great-grandparents from Sligo (Flannery), and a great-grandmother from Kildare (Hill). All of those people ended up in Minnesota, where my four grandparents were born. Three and four generations after my people left Ireland for America, I retain all Irish heritage. So much for the melting pot...

6 thoughts on “Irish in Minnesota

  1. I am encouraged by your work. My Irish family settled in Saint Anthony/Minneapolis in the first 30 years between 1850s to 1880s. It appears many of the Irish came as village and or family groups from SE limerick and Tipperary. Now affectionately known by all as “Nordeast”. The more I research the more I have been disturbed about the lack of information regarding the contributions of the Irish settlers in NE Minneapolis. The were a large portion of the parish of Saint Anthony de Padua yet all the history books refer to it as a French church that also served the Irish community. My one of my presumed relatives Martin Ring rose from a quarry stonecutter to establishing the firm of Ring & Tobin that provided the stone that built many courthouses, schools roads and bridges in Minneapolis and the state as a whole but there is nothing about him in the history books. Many Irish worked as police and firefighters in the late 1880s only to lose their jobs under the Ames administration. History books said it was just because of graft but it may have been because he had espoused anti Irish sentiment. They were shop keepers and tradesman and businessman. One many owned the largest livery in Minneapolis but it is not mentioned histories of Minneapolis that I can find. Those are just a few examples. It is beginning to appear that their contribution to the growth of Minneapolis has been minimized or merely forgotten. In some respects I think historians find the facts that support their narrative. Saint Paul is the Irish town. Minneapolis is the New England and Scandinavian town and Nordeast is where the Eastern European and Italians lived. Its all too pat and forgets many backgrounds, not just the Irish. Perhaps I am not looking in the right places and should dig further but for now I feel saddened by their potential erasure.

    • Thank you so much for your comments, Angela! The history of early Irish immigrants has been largely forgotten. Part of the problem I’m finding is that the Irish who came to St. Paul and Minneapolis kept moving west as land became available and the railroad could easily get them there. The Irish assimilated quickly…because of anti-Irish sentiment? I have not read much about how that played out in Minneapolis but am very interested in learning more. Did the St. Anthony settlers from Limerick/Tipperary come directly from Ireland, or was it a stage in their migration? Thanks again and stay in touch! 🙂 Aine

  2. My family settled in Clontarf as well. The Casey family. John (my gr gr grandfather) came over with his 3 adult children (frank casey, Mary O’Neill, and thomas Casey-my gr-grandfather) and a young family. Story has it John helped found/build the church, and Frank was an early school board member. John died in Clontarf. Frank in nearby Benson, and thomas in Breckinridge MN.

    Do you have any record of them?


    • I have definitely come across the Casey name. Do you know approximately what year they came to Clontarf? Did they come from Salem, Massachusetts? Thanks for the info, Keith. I’ll keep my eye out for Casey now!

  3. This sounds like a interesting and worthwhile project!! Fun too!!

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