The Irish in America


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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


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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.


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Letters from North America

The New Brunswick Archive in Canada has a great collection of letters to and from Irish emigrants to the area.  You can read the actual hand-written letters, or if you prefer not to struggle with nineteenth century script, transcriptions are available for download. The collection contains items from the nineteenth century, as well as some from the early twentieth century.  Also included are a diary, family histories, and other documents.  Take a look around the site…fascinating stuff!

An example of what the New Brunswick archive has to offer…

The Laurence Hughes collection (MC2618 :: Laurence Hughes fonds) contains several letters written to Laurence Hughes of Fredricton, New Brunswick from relatives in Ireland and elsewhere in North America.  I think these letters are particularly interesting for they demonstrate the networks of Irish emigration and how that support facilitated further migration from Ireland and within North America. The letters span seventeen years (1837-1854) and see several relatives in Ireland considering emigration and dealing with the decision to stay.

In 1837 Laurence’s brother Thomas writes from Newry sharing the news from home.  Thomas encourages Laurence to move to Boston and gives him advice on how to be successful there:

Now before you go to Boston enquire of every respectable person that knows you if
they can give you a line or two of recommendations to any person they may be acquainted with…[damage]…the Catholic Priest of Fredericton…

Good advice, I would say.  Thomas provides his brother with options, outlining a plan for Laurence’s return to Ireland since, “It is only natural to expect you would prefer living in Ireland.”   Laurence stayed put in Fredricton, at least until 1854.  Thomas mentions that he had four children and was looking forward to more…”We calculate on having one every 13 or 14 months that’s not bad trade thank God.”

In the 1837 letter, Thomas mentions another brother, Edward, who had also gone to New Brunswick.  By 1852 he was living in Pennsylvania with a large family and looking to move west to Iowa:

I some times think of selling it to go live in the west. There is a fine
colony of settlers from Carlow in loway State sent out by Rev. James Heigher and they have fine schools there now for boys and girls. I think dear Lawrence if we would go there it would be a fine chance for our children but I am afraid it is not healthy there.

Read Edward’s full letter here.  I wonder if Edward ever made his way to Iowa?  Establishing Catholic colonies in the midwestern United States was popular during this time (until the mid-1880s.)  The goal of such projects was two-fold: provide opportunities for Irish immigrants to escape congested Eastern conditions and own land, farm, and raise families in a Catholic community, and to strengthen the American Catholic Church by populating the West with Catholic settlers.

These letters are full of interesting observations.  Edward comments on his fellow Irishmen who work on the railroad, a job many felt lucky to get:

There is a great deal of railroads making here but the most degrading characters work on them now. Some of this is a disgrace to the land that gave them birth.

This comment is important because it reminds us that all Irish immigrants were not treated equally in America, even by their fellow countrymen.  Clearly Edward was educated to some degree, and from his letter it is apparent he was a religious man who did not approve of drink.  Irish in America like him would have had little time for the poor, uneducated, Famine-era emigrants.  Edward and his brothers made the decision to come to North America before the worst years of the Famine hit Ireland while for many of the million who came during the Famine, the alternative was starvation.  This is not to say that conditions in Ireland were favorable at the time of the Hughes brothers emigration, but judging from the letters, it was not a case of emigrate or starve.

Research Help Requested…

Edward mentions a “Catholic Almanac” in his letter to Lawrence.  Has anyone ever heard of that before?  I would love to know where I could find 19th century copies!


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The AOH: From Concord to Clontarf

I wanted to write about Irish fraternal organizations and societies that emerged in nineteenth century America as the population of Irish immigrants grew, but then I realized I really don’t know anything about the subject.  Instead, I will share some thoughts on the Irish immigrant experience, with a bit on Irish-American organizations.

When I was in Concord, New Hampshire early in October, the parish secretary of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church pointed to a house where Mass was said in the days before the church was built and the parish established in 1869.  She said that the Irish (who were more or less the only Catholics in Concord at the time) had to be careful because they could be evicted for having a priest say Mass in their home.

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church - Concord, NH (photo by Regan McCormack)

My great-great-grandfather came to live in Concord shortly after arriving in America in 1864.  His name was Patrick Foley, and he came from Kilmichael Parish in County Cork (see the last post.)  Patrick Foley could read and write, and at various times served as doorkeeper, secretary, and president of the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society in Concord.

Another one of my great-great-grandfathers, John Regan, came from Kilmichael Parish in County Cork as well and settled in Concord.  He could neither read nor write, and very likely couldn’t even speak English when he left Ireland.  If the people of Concord were intolerant of Catholics, one can imagine they did not have much time for non-English speakers.  Organizations such as the St. Patrick’s Benevolent Society and the Ancient Order of Hibernians (the AOH, who had a branch in Concord) would have been very important in helping new immigrants adjust to life in America and help protect their religious rights.

My great-great-grandfathers moved west to Clontarf, Minnesota in the late 1870s as part of Bishop John Ireland’s Catholic colonization efforts.  Most of the early settlers were fellow Irishmen and women who had worked for ten years or more in the crowded cities on the East coast or farmed small plots of rented land, saving what money they could for a chance to own land and live in a community where they had their own church and their own priest.

St. Malachy Catholic Church Clontarf, MN

The AOH hall still stands in Clontarf, Minnesota and serves as St. Malachy Parish Hall.  On the prairie of Western Minnesota, the goals of the AOH began to shift.  They could turn their attention toward selling insurance policies and planning St. Patrick’s Day programs now that they were free to practice their religion.

What does any of this mean to you, as you search for your Irish relatives who came to America?  Not sure, exactly, except I hope it contributes to your understanding of what life was like for Irish immigrants in America.

The AOH still exists today.  There are a number of local branches throughout America.  Go here for a list.  Maybe your relative was once a member, or your cousins still are…