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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Dodo Scorcese?

It has been a year since I’ve touched this blog. A few projects have brought my attention back to it, and I am ready to pick up the discussion where I left off! It has been a strange, sad year. I am looking forward to getting back to what I like to talk about…The Irish in America.

McMahon and Regan families at Christmas, 1963 (private family collection)

My cousins Fran and Andy recently gave us a copy of an old Super8 home movie taken by my great-aunt Dodo in the 1960s. It includes footage from visits with her sister Margaret in Florida, trips to Northern Minnesota to see her husband’s family, Minnesota snowstorm scenes, my mom’s high school graduation, and numerous family dinners and holiday get-togethers. The film serves as Dodo’s scrapbook; short scenes and snippets forming a record of a few years in her life. It is cool to see people I only ever knew as “oldies” in their younger shells, as well as people I never had the chance to know. They are all in motion – interacting, eating, teasing, rough-housing, and laughing. Family photos like the one above have suddenly come to life!

With my mother’s assistance, we are able to identify the people and places in the movie. I need to figure out a way to record these identifications. The film is digitized, so I am thinking there must be some way to take screenshots and ID the folks appearing in a scene? If anyone out there has suggestions, leave a comment and steer me in the right direction.

St. Malachy Catholic Church in Clontarf, Minnesota (private collection)

My mother and I are getting back into our research and writing on the Irish settlement in Clontarf, Minnesota. We are easing in by writing a history of St. Malachy’s Catholic Church. Once the centerpiece of the Catholic colony in western Minnesota, the parish became part of the St. Isidore the Farmer Area Faith Community a number of years ago and ceased regular services.

This photo is of the second church building, constructed in 1896 to accommodate a growing parish. The first church was built in 1878.

I will write later about a wonderful “discovery” I made last year on Ancestry.com. A few months into the pandemic, a generous woman from Florida united me with a family treasure. Oh, and there is another thing I found out on Ancestry.com. I am not, as I have always believed, 100% Irish. It seems as though a 7% strain of Scottish lineage has crept into the mix. I welcome the diversity, and if I ever figure it all out, I hope to do a future post on DNA and building your family tree.

Have you made any discoveries recently about your family’s roots? Unearthed any new stories about the Irish in America? Share with us by leaving a comment!