The Irish in America


Leave a comment

St. Malachy’s in the News

On Saturday, they are holding an auction at the former St. Malachy Catholic Church building in Clontarf, Minnesota. They are selling pews, windows, plant stands, and anything else that lacks “religious significance.”

I was interested in the half of the old confessional that was stored in the sacristy. They removed it from near the entrance when more room was needed to accommodate the new, larger caskets. I am out of luck; they aren’t selling it. Not sure how it is more religiously significant than the pews which held the devout parishioners week in and week out for over a century…

A report of the Dedication of the “new” St. Malachy’s Church appeared in the December 15, 1896, edition of the Benson Times. The event was a big deal, not just for Clontarf Catholics, but the pomp and ceremony must have intrigued everyone in the area. I wonder if it is the most people who have ever been in Clontarf at the same time? I’ve included a copy of the newspaper article, but it’s not great, so I also added a transcription below.

According to the article, the builders left the plaster ready for fresco painting. I wonder if it was ever done? Did Tim Reardon tell us that there was some painting on the ceiling that was covered up by the 1960s remodeling? My memory fails at the moment. Does anyone know if they ever got a bell?

Here’s a transcription of the newspaper article:

Benson Times — Dec. 15, 1896

IT IS DEDICATED.

THE NEW CATHOLIC CHURCH AT CLONTARF BLESSED.

BISHOP COTTER OFFICIATES.

The Beautiful and Impressive Ceremonies Witnessed by a Large Crowd Tuesday Morning.

Tuesday was a gala day for the Catholics of Clontarf in particular, and of Swift County in general. It brings the occasion of the dedication of the new church at that place. For a number of years the members of St. Malachi’s [sic] parish have had in contemplation the erection of a new edifice of worship, but owing to the stringency of the times, it has yearly been deferred, until early last spring when the contract was let and the work pushed until there now stands in the little town a church which is a credit to the congregation and a standing monument to the untiring efforts of its beloved and respected pastor, Rev. Father Oster.

The building is a substantial frame one, 40×100 in the main with a 20 foot ceiling, with a large and well-arranged sanctuary and sacristy in the rear end. There is a seven foot basement under the entire building, in which is located the heating plant, which is of the latest improved pattern. A very noticeable feature in the church is an alcove just back and above the main altar, in which are placed the statues of the Sacred Heart and adoring angels, the opening being beautifully draped with rich curtains. The roof of the alcove is of colored glass which throws mellow light upon the figures, giving the whole a beautiful appearance. In the front end of the building is located a gallery, which reaches across the entire width, and about 20 feet deep. This will be for the use of the choir and is reached by a winding staircase from the front entry. The plastering has been left in what is known as the “floated” condition, so that at some future time it may be frescoed. Besides the main altar, there are two side ones, which stand on either side of the building inside of the communion railing. The windows are of beautiful colored leaded glass and are the fights of individuals or societies, the names of the donator appearing on each window. Taken as a whole the interior presents a pleasing appearance. On the exterior rises a gracefully modeled steeple, the top of which towers high above the building. In this, provisions have been made for a large bell, which no doubt, will be placed therein at no great distant day. The accompanying cut gives a much better idea of the appearance of the building than words could convey. The church will comfortably seat 500 persons, and will accommodate this congregation for years to come.

 The Dedication

The day of the dedication of this building to the purposes for which it was erected was an ideal one, and an early hour delegations from Murdock, DeGraff, Benson, Danvers, Hancock, and in fact from the entire surrounding country, began arriving, and by 10:30 fully 1,000 persons were gathered in and about the building. At the time stated the dedication procession started from the main altar, headed by Father O’Connor of DeGraff who acted as master of ceremonies for the day, followed by six altar boys, Bishop Cotter, of Winona, and a number of priests coming next. A tour of the outside of the church was made and the regular ritual work of the church for such occasions gone through with. On returning, the litany was recited and the interior of the building blessed. 

After the dedication ceremonies had finished, the Blessed Sacrament was brought from the old church to its new abode in solemn procession. This was one of the most imposing events of the day: the bishop clad in his purple robes, the priest in vestments, surrounded by altar boys in bright gowns carrying colored lanterns and candles, made a scene which will not soon be forgotten by those who witnessed it.

After this came the solemn high mass, which was celebrated by Rev. Oster, Father Kane acting as deacon, Father Egan as subdeacon and Father O’Connor as master of ceremonies. The music was furnished by the combined choirs of Clontarf, Benson and Murdock; Chas. Maginnis presiding at the organ, and assisted by a string orchestra. The fact that the day was the 40th anniversary of the ordination of Father Oster made this mass the more impressive, and many a silent prayer was offered, asking that the life of the “grand old man” might be yet spared for many years. The following priests, in addition to those mentioned above, assisted at the mass: Rev. Gauvreau, of Beardsley; Rev. McDavitt, of Mannanah; Rev. Boland, of Litchfield; and Rev. O’Brien, of Graceville. 

At the close of the mass Bishop Cotter took the pulpit and read the 83rd Psalm, which he used as his text. On opening, he paid a glowing tribute to the life and work of Father Oster. He told of his work in the pioneer days of Minnesota, how he had visited and ministered to the sick and those in want when such services called for long tiresome rides over unsettled country, and that he had never been wanting where duty called. The bishop congratulated the members

 Of the parish in their good fortune of having such a man as Father Oster to lead and teach them. Assuring them that if they would but follow his counsel they would certainly reach the goal for which all christians are striving. After further congratulating the congregation on the completion of their beautiful house of worship, he proceeded with his sermon, and for over an hour held the vast audience spell-bound and all were loath to have the discourse come to a close. Bishop Cotter is a sound reasoner, a profound scholar and a finished orator, and it is indeed a treat to hear him. At the close of the sermon he gave a few words of advice in regard to the financial management of the church affairs. The services of the day then closed with a solemn benediction.

While the bishop and priests were administering to the spiritual needs of the congregation, the ladies were busy preparing for their temporal needs, and by the time services were over, they had a bountiful dinner in readiness in the old church, and to this place a grand rush was made. The sum of 25 cents was charged and it is needless to say that the ladies realized a neat sum for their efforts. 

It was expected that Arch-bishop Ireland would be present, but just at the last moment he was called to Chicago.

Sketch of Rev. Oster.

This article would be incomplete without giving something of the life and work of the pastor who has spent so many years in building up the Clontarf parish.

Rev. Anatole Oster, the senior pastor in charge of the Clontarf parish and also the Benson Catholic church is very favorably known to most of our readers. He is highly esteemed, not only by the members of his several parishes, but by all who know him regardless of religious affiliations, for his many estimable qualities and deep religious convictions, He was born in Alsace Lorraine about 63 years ago. He spent his early childhood in France, where he commenced his studies for the priesthood. He came to this country in early manhood and finished his studies under the venerable Bishop Creaton [sic], the first Catholic bishop of St. Paul, by whom he was ordained to the priesthood 40 years ago; the festivities of the dedication of this new church being the 40th anniversary of the celebration of this first mass. He has spent all the years of his ministry in Minnesota and was identified with the growth and development of the early settlement of the territory as well as the state since its organization. He shared in the privations of the early settlers and missionaries, and has seen and rejoiced at the development and growth of the state as well as the church of which he is a conspicuous member. He has seen the latter institution grow from a society of only three priests to minister the religious wants of its members in Minnesota and the Dakotas, to the proportions it now assumes, viz: An archbishopric at St. Paul, with five suffragan bishoprics located at Duluth, Winona, St. Cloud, Sioux Falls and Jamestown, N.D., respectively, and a working corps of nearly 500 priests, besides numerous hospitals, houses of refuge, and institutions of learning, two of which latter institutions are located at St. Paul, being St. Thomas college and the HIll seminary, which ranks with the best in the country.

In all of the work incident to this tremendous growth and development, Rev. Oster has taken a very conspicuous part, and always with great credit to himself and his church. He is a man of deep and scholarly attainments, and an exemplary citizen as well as a model minister of the gospel. He has been located at several different points in this state during his ministry, and has built a number of other churches as well as the dedicated one on Tuesday. He came to Swift county in the early part of 1878 and has since resided at Clontarf, also having charge of the Catholic Church in Benson, and those at Danvers and Hegbert.


Leave a comment

The Windows of St. Malachy’s

When sunlight streams through the muted colored panes of glass, the church is filled with subtle warmth, comfort, and beauty. It is all about the windows at St. Malachy’s Catholic Church in Clontarf, Minnesota.

Window donated by Robert Riordan – inscription is in the center of the “ventilator” section near the bottom of the window. (Photo by Anne Schirmer, 2021)

The following is an informational listing on the windows of St. Malachy’s. The details are there: size, cost, payment, dates, and donors. If you are interested in any of these windows, go to Clontarf, Minnesota this Saturday, May 21st at 9am for the auction!

THE WINDOWS OF ST. MALACHY’S

The most striking feature of the 1896 St. Malachy Catholic Church building is the beautiful stained glass. The windows give character and a sense of elegance to the simple frame church. Father Oster wanted to put Clontarf and St. Malachy’s on the map, to represent the thriving, prosperous community it had become in less than twenty years. A St. Malachy parishioner (or group of parishioners) paid for each stained-glass window. Inscriptions of the donor’s name(s) appear on most of the windows.

Who made the windows?

Father Oster hired Brown & Haywood of St. Paul, Minnesota to design and manufacture all the stained-glass windows in the church. In the 1890s, Brown & Haywood was one of the most sought-after stained-glass studios in Minnesota, employing some of the top artists in the region. Many civic buildings and churches throughout Minnesota featured their stained glass, including St. Mary’s in Waverly, Minnesota. The company moved from St. Paul in 1898, shifted its focus, and was later sold to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.

Advertisement in the “Improvement Bulletin” Vol. XV. No 9. January 30, 1897.

How much did they cost?

An account of the full window charges from Brown & Haywood from November 13, 1896, appears in the financial book on the date of payment, December 27, 1896. The amounts listed represent windows and installation.

10     36×130 leaded     $325.00                (five on each side)

  2      36×70 leaded          $35.00               (left side “duplex” on front)

  2     36×70 leaded           $35.00               (right side “duplex” on front)

  1     56×56 leaded           $21.00               (“Rose” window)

  1     57×28 leaded           $11.00               (transept above door)

16     20X26 CATH            $  9.00               

12     Ventilators @2.50    $30.00

14     Inscriptions @.50   $  7.00

TOTAL CHARGES (including approx. 60% discount on two small windows): $454.20

When did St. Malachy’s pay?

December 5, 1896       $150.00

December 27, 1896     $256.70

January 15, 1897          $ 93.80

TOTAL PAYMENTS: $500.50 (missing pages might account for this perceived over-payment)

Who were the donors?

(Note: The following figures from 12/8/1896 differ slightly from earlier entries due to shipping or installation charges.)

TEN Main Windows (five on each side along length of building, all inscribed)

     -Ladies of Pope County – 3 windows – paid $60.90 (December 8-9, 1896)

36×130 leaded window (each)

Account entry for July 14, 1895, states that the July Fourth Fair raised $41.48 for stained glass windows.

This included proceeds from Mrs. Mockler’s fancy table ($21.18) and quilt raffle ($11.75).

     -Young Folks – 2 windows – paid $40.60 (December 8-9, 1896)

36×130 leaded glass (each)

Entry from July 10, 1896, lists $30.00, proceeds from “play by Clontarf Troop for windows.”

     -Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) – paid $20.30 (December 27, 1896 via J. O’Donnell)

36×130 leaded glass

Breakdown of Charges for 36×130 windows (listed under AOH):

32 ½ leaded glass              $16.25

Ventilator                           2.50

Inscription                           .50

Transportation                1.05

       TOTAL                             $20.30

     -Charles Axier – paid $20.30 (December 8-9, 1896)

36×130 leaded glass

     -John Milmoe – paid $20.30 (December 8-9, 1896)

36×130 leaded glass

     -Isidore Daniel – paid $20.30 (December 8-9, 1896)

36×130 leaded glass

     -Robert Riordon – paid $20.30 (December 8-9, 1896)

36×130 leaded glass

FOUR Front Windows (“Duplex” style on either side of façade)

     -Jos. Daniel – paid $21.60 (December 8-9, 1896)

     -J.B. Daniel – paid $21.60 (December 8-9, 1896)

ROSE Window (on front of building)

     -Eugene Daniel       $9.50   56×56  12/9/1896 (no inscription)

TRANSOM Window (above front door)              

     -Simon Conaty – Contractor/builder on project              $5.20   57×28  12/9/1896 (inscription)    

AGONY IN THE GARDEN (above and behind placement of the original altar)

     -The only window depicting a scene at St. Malachy’s

     -No specific information was found in the account books for this window  

Note:

Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records from Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. The excerpts were copied by Eileen McCormack when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. Record books are presently at St. Francis Catholic Church in Benson, Minnesota.

Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022


1 Comment

If You Build It…

Actually, they were already in Clontarf, they just needed a better church. Parishioners were filling up the small 1878 church building every Sunday and Holy Day, and for baptisms, weddings, and funerals in between. Clontarf needed a church to reflect the success of the growing community that began as a small colony just twenty years earlier.

Clontarf is an Irish place name and St. Malachy is the first Irish-born saint to be formally canonized, but the parish was built by Irish and French-Canadian residents. The two groups did not always get along, but they were united in faith by Father Anatole Oster, a native of France.

There are LOTS of names listed below…if you see one you recognize, let me know about your connection to Clontarf, Minnesota.

Wouldn’t you love to know who those people are on the front steps of St. Malachy Catholic Church?

PLEDGES AND PAYMENTS: CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH

So much can be learned from looking through the account books. Sure, we see how much folks contributed to the construction, but we also gain an understanding of how important the church was to the residents of Clontarf and the surrounding townships. They were invested in the church and the community, they had a stake in its success. This can be seen in the money pledged and the hours of donated labor.

Letting Go of the Old

Part of the preparations for the new church was dealing with the old one. They would need the old church for mass while the new one was constructed and they wanted the new building in the same spot, so…move the church!

 On July 3, 1893, Nels Erickson was paid $82.00 for “moving the church 117 feet east @ 70 cents per foot…” Later that year on October 14th, Erickson was paid $26.00 for “wages at mason work.” An entry dated November 2, 1895, reads: “On Nov. 2 the following men worked banking old church 3 hrs: Wm. Shinnick Jr., Rich. Bulger, Wm. Purcell.”

Pledged Donations (noted in account book)

1892 – D. F. McDermott $100, H. Ernst $20, Edward Mockler $20, J.W. Flynn $25

1893 – Charles Axier $25, J. O’Donnell $50, R. O’Brian $5, John Kent $10, Father Oster $345 (“to bldg. fund”),  Louis Chamberlain $5

1894 – Michael Donovan $100

1895 – Frank Casey $10, Andrew Riordon $20, Thomas O’Brian $10, Michael Halloran $5, Sam Daugherty $20, John Gosson $25, Joseph Daugherty $5, Henry Riorden Jr. $10, P.A. McCarthy $5, John Hanlon $5, Richard McGraw $60

1896 – James Kent $10, Patrick Chenery $50, Mrs. Reen $25, Jane Kenna $25., John Sullivan $25, Edward McGinley $20

1897 – Ernest Goulet $20, Napoleon Camiri $20, William Kenna $10., Patrick Foley $25, Martin McAndrew $10, James McDonald $5, John McDonald $5, Patrick Langan $10

(See below for a list of pledges recorded June 8 – 10, 1896 as received and recorded at the Bank of Benson.)

Everyone Pitched In

Much of the construction was completed by the men of Clontarf. They helped with digging foundations, hauling, framing, and finishing. Although they were not paid, the labor is accounted for in the financial records. Various individuals appear throughout the records listed by name, date, hours worked, and type of work they contributed.

 Payments to Contractor

  • 7/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $100 (Contractor/builder on the project)
  • 8/7/1896 – L. F. Young for drawing contract and bond $5.00
  • 8/7/1896 – Simon Conaty payment 1st part of contract $400
  • 8/29/1896 – Simon Conaty Part payment on $500.00 (from D. F. McDermott note to St Malachy?) $300
  • 9/24/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $294
  • 10/5/1896 – Simon Conaty payment $206
  • 12/10/1896 – Simon Conaty payment of $220 “For rails and wainscoting”
  • 1/18/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $600
  • 6/28/1897 – Simon Conaty payment of $876.01

Specialist Work

  • Thomas Beagan – foundation/concrete & mason work, in 7/10/1896 entry is a listing of work in the basement with measurements
  • Prendergast Bros. – 12/30/1896: furnace & delivery payment $223.26

The following list of pledged donations to the building fund may show some duplicates from the above list. Beware of spelling inconsistencies – all names are transcribed directly from account book.

  • Wm Duggan $60
  • James Kent $50
  • Jer Riordon $20
  • Roger O’Brien $10
  • Thomas Sullivan $25
  • Peter Harrison $35
  • M J Connolly $10
  • John Hughes $50
  • Thomas Shea $40
  • Robert Riorden $20
  • John Riorden $20
  • Henry Riorden Jr. $35
  • John Regan $60
  • Timothy Galvin $60
  • John Gosson $50
  • John Gaughan $15
  • Laurence Daugherty $30
  • M. H. Mear $15
  • John Mear $15
  • P.H. Mear $15
  • James McGowan $10
  • H.W.Daley $15
  • W.H.Daley $5
  • Thomas O’Brien $35
  • M.E.Conlogue $25
  • John Gallagher $20
  • James Fleming $20
  • M. Fenton $25
  • J. Conroy $25
  • L. Doran $20
  • H. Riordan $40
  • T, Riordan$20
  • A. Maguire $10
  • J. Chevalier $25
  • George Goulet $15
  • ? Callaghan $35
  • Andrew Riordan $20
  • P. H. McCarthy $15
  • John McDonough $15
  • T.J. Purcell $15
  • J.M. McDonnell $10
  • V. Riley $10
  • John McDonnell $10
  • Dan E. McDonald $10
  • Maurice Galvin $15
  • Joseph Thornton $24.62
  • Frank Faneufsen $25

Note:

Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records from Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. The excerpts were copied by Eileen McCormack when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.

Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022


1 Comment

Does History Go to the Highest Bidder?

Letter from late April 2022

The Catholic Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota plans to demolish the recently deconsecrated St. Malachy Church building, but not before they auction off “St. Malachy’s Memorabilia.”

Memorabilia makes me think of my brother’s Don Mattingly baseball cards or a jersey worn by Joe Mauer. Remember how people bought sets of the iconic blue plastic seats from the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome when it was taken down? They put them in their “man caves,” ice houses, and basements all over Minnesota. Will the St. Malachy’s church pews have the same appeal? Maybe, but the word memorabilia seems to cheapen what the pews and stained glass windows of St. Malachy’s represent.

Years ago when my mother, Eileen, and I began looking into family history in the Clontarf area, she had copies made of pages from the St. Malachy’s account books. Pages were chosen because they pertained to our families – the Regans, the Foleys, and the McMahons – as well as known neighbors and associates. The copies by no means represent the full fiscal picture of the building of St. Malachy’s, but they clearly shows how the people of Clontarf paid for the building, a building whose elements will be auctioned off as memorabilia and will soon be demolished by the Diocese of New Ulm.

The following narrative is the first installment on the building of St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, based on the original financial records.

FUNDRAISING AND THE BUILDING OF THE NEW ST. MALACHY CHURCH

By 1896, it was clear to most that the parish of St. Malachy’s had outgrown the original building constructed in 1878. Children of the original settlers were marrying and starting families of their own as new residents joined the community and the town grew. The financial record books indicate that raising money for the new St. Malachy Church was every bit a community effort – “all hands on deck!”

March 17, 1896 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT

The parishioners of St. Malachy’s assembled an event to raise money for the new church building while celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. With attractions that included a watch drawing, Pidgeon target shooting, a cigar and candy stand, play performance, dinner, and fireworks, the fundraiser would certainly have been popular with the wider community.

Margaret Duggan of Tara Township and Mary Purcell of Clontarf donated the watch and the drawing raised $256.50, over half of the total funds raised at the event ($470.05). Expenses for the festivities were listed as $52.00, but most were covered by donations.

November 1896 – FALL FAIR

Later in the year, once the crops were in, Clontarf area residents held a Fall Fair to celebrate and raise more funds for the building of the new church. Records provide no final numbers for funds raised by organizers, but it appears to have been quite an affair.

Spanning two days, with dinner served on both Saturday and Sunday, Fair events included a horse raffle, another watch drawing, a fishpond, a play, and a cigar and candy stand. There were raffles for a kettle and a cigar box, as well as three “Fancy Tables” organized by Mrs. Moore, Mary Hurley, Miss Riley, and Mary Purcell.

The records note that Patrick Freeman of Clontarf donated the horse for the raffle and Frank McMahon of Tara and Eugene Daniel of Hoff went out ahead of the raffle to sell tickets to area residents.

Examples of funds raised:

  • Fancy Tables – $50.00
  • Play tickets – $14.35 (95 tickets sold @ 15 cents each)
  • Dinners – $68.00 (“at least”)
  • Watch Drawing – $92.00

March 17, 1897 – ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVENT

Limited information exists in the record books for this event, but undoubtedly there were the usual nineteenth-century fundraiser staples: raffles, cigars, candy, dinner, and a play.

Included in the March 17, 1897, financial records entry are a few details on the Dramatic Club of Clontarf. Sixty-four tickets were sold to the performance for total sales of $16.00. The ticket prices rose to 25 cents a seat. After renting wigs ($1.85) and purchasing a “tableau fire” and “sundries” ($2.15) and paying printing costs ($4.36), the records indicate they contributed $10.60 toward the window fund. They must have received a discount on some of their props.

Note:

Information in this article is from copied pages from the St. Malachy Financial Records and copies are located in Eileen McCormack’s files. These copies and the information contained here do not represent the complete financial record. Eileen McCormack copied specific pages when the books were at the parish house in Clontarf, 2004-2005. The record books are located at Saint Francis Church in Benson, Minnesota.

Eileen R. McCormack and Aine C. McCormack, March 9, 2022

For more information on Clontarf history, please visit here and here.


5 Comments

Jumping In: Irish in Minnesota

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.

Dakota Tribe (from Xavier University’s Quote Archive

As I started work on the Irish in Minnesota project this month, I had some trouble settling in with the research and getting organized. I’ve come to the conclusion that while I am familiar with a wide range of Minnesota history topics, I need to do some reading to get up to speed on the larger picture of nineteenth century Minnesota. That being said, I would like to get the ball rolling with a bit of background information and an introduction to a Minnesota “First.”

Irish immigration had a tremendous impact on the development of nineteenth century America. Migrating to nearly every region of the country, the Irish carved out lives in eastern cities and states, as well as established new communities throughout the West. The Irish came to America because of famine, oppression, and the lack of opportunity at home. Some were forced to emigrate, but others acted with agency and chose to come to America. Ann Regan writes in Irish in Minnesota that the experience of Irish immigrants in Minnesota “defies generalization….they have created stereotypes and broken them, held to traditions and made new ones.” This is a good point to keep in mind as we sift through the history of the Irish in Minnesota.

Irish immigrants began coming to the Minnesota region in the 1820s as soldiers at Fort Snelling and lumberjacks from Canada. Because of its location on the east bank of the Mississippi River, St. Paul grew quickly through the 1840s and 1850s. The future capital city of Minnesota, St. Paul was a town where anything seemed possible and it attracted ambitious Americans and immigrants alike. St. Paul served as a launching point for westward migration, first via steamboat and later the railroad. (More on the Irish in St. Paul to come.)

Why did the Irish come to Minnesota? The simple answer is land. The United States government signed the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux with the Dakota in 1851, which opened the territory west of the Mississippi River. This included the Minnesota River Valley, a timber-rich region accessed with relative ease from St. Paul by steamboat. With the Treaty of Mendota later in 1851, a total of 24 million acres of land became available for new settlement. (Wikipedia)

For Americans and immigrants feeling the effects of “Western Fever” the treaties came at the right time and represented opportunities for new lives. It is important to keep in mind, however, that for the Dakota, “these treaties marked another step in a process that increasingly marginalized them and dismissed them from the land that had been—and remained—their home.” (Eric W. Weber, MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society)

The U.S. government furthered its agenda of expansion with the treaties. (Did you know that the term Manifest Destiny was coined by Irish American editor John O’Sullivan in 1845?) According to the Wikipedia entry on the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux, the U.S. government agreed to pay annuities to the Dakota equal to about 7.5 cents per acre. New settlers would pay about $1.25 per acre. Not a bad deal for the government, especially considering the Dakota were never fully compensated. (Wikipedia)

Patricia Johnston mentions in Minnesota’s Irish that many of the Irish in Minnesota were “two boat” migrants: One boat brought them across the Atlantic from Ireland, and a second to Minnesota. The second leg of the journey would often involve several modes of transportation, but the steamboat was important for the early arrivals in Minnesota. It wouldn’t be until later in the nineteenth century that more Irish would come directly to Minnesota from Ireland, typically joining family already established in the area. (p. 23)

McMahon Family of Tara Township, Swift County, Minnesota — Ireland, New York, Wisconsin, Civil War, love, loss…a “typical” 19th century Irish American family. (photo from private family collection)

The stages of Irish migration can be clearly seen in census data from the1850s-1890s. Patterns emerge with parents who were born in Ireland, they arrived in the U.S. and married in eastern states such as New York, Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania where their oldest children were born. Migration west resulted in middle children born in Ohio, Illinois, or Wisconsin, with the youngest born in Minnesota. Extended families, in-laws, and friends moved across the country together and in phases. As the railroad extended from Minnesota to Montana, Washington, and California, the younger generation of Irish and Irish American migrants often followed.

Claims to the “First” anything are typically controversial, especially when those claims are made at a time when events were happening quickly and record-keeping was hit-or-miss. The township of Jessenland, on the Minnesota River in present-day Sibley County, is widely accepted as the “First Irish Settlement in Minnesota.” The story goes that the Doheny Brothers (Thomas, Walter, and Dennis) took the steamboat “Black Oaks” up the Minnesota River from St. Paul and spotting a beautiful site fifty miles into the richly wooded region (part of the “Big Woods”), stopped the steamboat and made their claims. This spot would be known as Doheny’s Landing and marks the first permanent Irish farming community in Minnesota. Doheny’s Landing grew into Jessenland.

Jessenland’s “origin story” is described by John Gerald Berger in the 1965 book, A History of St. Brendan’s Parish, The Village of Green Isle, and Minnesota’s First Irish Settlement:

We might imagine that it was a beautiful spring morning when the three brothers got off the boat, and that the lush green valley with its wooded bluffs and glens reminded them of their homeland. They had left the Emerald Isle, some years before, like so many others, because of the potato famine…All they carried with them, besides the clothes on their backs, were shovels, axes, and grub-hoes. That first summer they managed to clear enough land to plant a few potatoes, but they were frozen by an early frost.

(Berger, p.2)

A few pages later, Berger proposes that the “traditional” story of the Doheny Brothers may not be absolutely accurate but he asserts that, although there were concurrent arrivals to the area, a Doheny brother made the earliest claim by an Irishman, establishing the first Irish community. Edward Neill, writing in 1882, offers some clarification:

Thomas Doheny, the Irishman who came up on the Black Oak in July, 1852, and located his own and other claims, returned in the spring of 1853, bringing with him several others, who formed the nucleus of the Irish settlement. Doheny planted a few potatoes and then returned to St. Paul while Michael Grimes, Sr., remained and built himself a house, and became the first Irish settler.

(Neill, History of the Minnesota Valley, 1882 – excerpt on GenealogyTrails.com)



I was curious about Michael Grimes, Sr. since he was not mentioned by name in Berger’s account. If he was the first Irishman to build a house and spend the winter at the site, he deserves further attention. I will have access to a reprint of Neill’s book soon and will check on the Grimes story. A quick search provided that the Doheny and Grimes families both lived in Middletown in Susquehanna County in northeastern Pennsylvania prior to coming to Minnesota (more next time). Over the next few years, the Irish would fill Jessenland and spill over to Washington Lake, Faxon, and Green Isle townships: Boland, Bray, Carlin, Dunne, Egan, Mullen, Mulligan, Shaughnessy, Wilson, and Young are some of the families who joined Doheny and Grimes.

Next time I want to take a closer look at some of the individuals who established Jessenland and see how the Irish community grew from its humble beginnings at Doheny’s Landing to include four townships. If anyone out there is a descendant of (or has a connection to) the early Irish in Sibley County, please leave a comment!

Township map of Sibley County. Irish established Jessenland, Fazon, Washington Lake, and Green Isle in the northeast corner of Sibley County along the Minnesota River.

Notes and More Information:


6 Comments

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.


Leave a comment

100 Years at The Tazewell

Not all the residents at The Tazewell Apartments were Irish American, but this article may be of interest to anyone who enjoys topics in history such as the rise and fall (and rise again) of urban America, 19th-century social history, apartment building architecture, or the history of one of St. Paul’s most well-known neighborhoods (Cathedral Hill) told through the lives of some of its lesser-known residents. 

 

Click here to read The Tazewell: 100 Years in the Life of a St. Paul Apartment Building from the Winter 2019 issue of Ramsey County History Magazine (Volume 53, Number 4).

 

 


1 Comment

Four Nickels

Thomas Patrick McMahon was born August 30, 1907, in Tara Township, Minnesota. Tom was the third of seven children to parents Thomas and Mary (Foley) McMahon. Tom was one of my grandma’s older brothers.

 

Grandma remembered the time she complained to Tom that she had a headache. He looked at her, sighed and shook his head gently. “No, Agnes, no,” he said quietly, “You need to have brains to get a headache. What you have is rheumatism of the skull.”

McMahon siblings on the farm – Grandma is in front with hair in her eyes, Tom on the right, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

Grandma said she could feel her eyes well up, but then Tom placed a hand on her shoulder and she immediately felt better. They had a good laugh. Tom was never mean-spirited, he just had a way with words. Tom was very bright and he enjoyed working on the farm with his dad. He was always a great help, as well as great company to his dad.

Tom on the farm outside Benson, Minnesota, 1919 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

The McMahon family moved to Minneapolis from the farm in 1924. Life completely changed for the McMahons. They all eventually adapted to life in the city, finding their ways, except for Tom. He never quite fit in. There was no place for farmers in the city and treating telephone poles in the pole yard with his dad wasn’t quite the same as working on the farm with him. Tom started drinking, started missing work and eventually stopped coming home.

Mary McMahon and her son Tom, 1939 (Agnes Regan Family Collection)

My grandma had a currency collection – buffalo head nickels, Barr dollars, drummer boy quarters, and “wheat pennies” – the penny minted in the US from 1909-1956 (see picture at left). I was at Grandma’s one day when I was about fifteen-years-old. I had found a couple of wheat pennies for Grandma to add to her collection.

As Grandma pulled the plastic bread bag of wheat-backed pennies from the drop-down desk, a small envelope fell to the floor. It was one of those tiny manilla envelopes, the kind a landlord might give you with the key to your new apartment.

“What’s this?” I asked Grandma as I bent to pick up the envelope. It looked old.

She took the envelope from my hand, pushed back the flap and poured the contents into her hand. “Four nickels. Twenty cents. This was what my brother Tom had in his pocket when they found his body. Four nickels. It was all he had in the world.” Grandma clasped the nickels in her hand and motioned for me to sit. Then she told me all about Tom, how smart and funny and kind he was and how that all disappeared when they moved to the city and he began drinking.

Tom died on September 5, 1949, or at least that’s when they found his body down by the Mississippi River. He drowned. No foul play, most likely slipped and fell, they said. Tom had no ID, no home, no possessions. The police knew who to call when they found him. They had picked Tom up many times over the years, and it was my grandpa who’d come pick him up. Tom would stay for a day or two – he could have stayed with Grandma forever – but then he’d move on. When my grandpa went to identify the body, the envelope was the only thing he came home with. It was all Tom had.

My grandma kept the envelope tucked up among her collection of bills and coins. I am sure it fell out from time to time and I can see her opening the flap and pouring the nickels into her hand as she did with me that day. My grandma was never one to dwell on the past, on the sadness of life, but I bet she allowed herself a moment to hold on to those coins and remember her brother Tom.


4 Comments

Meant to Be

 

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

John Foley (ATMR Family Collection)

 

John Foley and my grandpa John Regan were good friends. They spent their early childhood together in Clontarf, Minnesota.  John Foley moved to Minneapolis with his family in the mid 1920s.

It was only natural that the two boys were friends. Their paternal grandfathers (Patrick Foley and John Regan) were friends in their native Kilmichael, County Cork, and they came to America together, settling in Fisherville, New Hampshire before venturing to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s.

I don’t know if “the Johns'” fathers (Tim Foley and Neil Regan) were friends when they were young. Clontarf was (and is) a small place, but from what I have heard, the two had little in common. If I consider as evidence my grandma’s collection of studio portraits of many of the young men of Clontarf, Tim and Neil were not close. – there are no photos of the two of them together. However, the evidence does show that John’s uncle John Foley and Neil were friends (see below and click here to read about it).

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated (ATMR Family Collection)

Cornelius Regan and John Foley seated, around 1900 (ATMR Family Collection)

As I mentioned earlier, Clontarf’s a very small place so even when folks moved to Minneapolis, as so many did in the 1920s and 1930s, families remained close, supporting one another as they made their ways in the big city. The community was strong whether it was in the rural west or the largest city in the state. It was sometimes difficult to see where family ended and neighbors and friends picked up. It could all get very complicated…

For example:

One day in late 1930s Minneapolis, my grandma’s Aunt Bid Foley (John Foley’s mom) invited her over for cards. Have I mentioned yet that John Foley and my grandma, Agnes McMahon were first cousins? How about that they were double first cousins?

John Regan was staying with his old friend John Foley at the time of the invitation. Agnes and John Regan had crossed paths over the years, but it wasn’t until Uncle Tim asked Agnes to take his place in a cribbage game with John Regan, that sparks flew.

I don’t know who won that game, but I bet it was fiercely contested. They fell in love over a cribbage board and were married in 1941. They were a perfect couple.

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man...

Agnes and John Regan, with guess who as the best man…

Agnes’ maternal grandfather was Patrick Foley and John Regan’s paternal grandfather was….John Regan. The two friends from Kilmichael, County Cork.

When we visited Kilmichael Parish in Cork, Ireland several years ago, we learned that the connection between Patrick Foley and John Regan may have been stronger than we thought. John Regan’s mother was Ellen Foley. Patrick and John were cousins.

I thought this was very cool. Then my sister mentioned how that would have made grandma and grandpa some sort of cousins, too. Distant, of course, going back to their great-grandparents generation. In 19th century rural Ireland that must have happened a lot…right?

Distant cousins, yes, but friendship connected the Foley and Regan families through the generations, across an ocean and into a new world.

And I didn’t even tell you how my grandma’s mom and grandpa’s aunt were life-long besties….

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)

Nellie and Minnie (ATMR Family Collection)


Leave a comment

St. Patrick’s Day Fun in Holyoke

SPD_parade+_Holyoke

St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Holyoke, Massachusetts

In case you aren’t ready for St. Patrick’s Day to be over for 2014, there’s one more big celebration to come. On Sunday, March 23rd the Massachusetts town of Holyoke hosts the second-largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States (only the New York City parade is larger!)

Holyoke residents are fiercely proud of their Irish heritage, and they know how to show it. The town of about 40,000 will welcome up to 400,000 visitors to its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Here’s what the parade website has to say:

The Holyoke St. Patrick’s Parade has been a cherished institution since 1952. Each March, our city streets fill with happy folks from near and far celebrating Irish heritage, civic pride, faith, family, friendship and tradition. A regional event attracting over 400,000 on street spectators, this Parade is the Pioneer Valley’s biggest homecoming of the year!

Festivities will kick off at 12:30pm on Thursday with the raising of the Irish flag at Holyoke City Hall. Then, at 1:00pm is a preview of the “Grand Colleen” float.

 Photo by Manon L. Mirabelli| Holyoke 2014 Grand Colleen Sheila S. Fallon, of Holyoke, with her father, Daniel Fallon

Photo by Manon L. Mirabelli| Holyoke 2014 Grand Colleen Sheila S. Fallon, of Holyoke, with her father, Daniel Fallon

Many thanks to reader Ed O’Connor for telling me about the Holyoke parade. I am always learning something new about the Irish in America! Good luck to everyone in Holyoke – I hope you have a beautiful Spring day to celebrate your Irish heritage!