The Lasting Legacy of the Irish in St. Paul

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re going to explore a little of the significant impact the Irish have had on St. Paul’s, and indeed Minnesota’s, cultural, political, and religious life. A legacy you can experience during your visit to the B&B.

Edward Phelan, John Hays, and William Evans (all Irishmen) were among the early soldiers stationed at Fort Snelling. When they were discharged in 1938, they bought land in and around what would become downtown St. Paul (which was incorporated in 1849).

View of St. Paul 1851
View of St. Paul, 1851. Joel Emmons Whitney. Daguerreotype. Minnesota Historical Society

Later, Hays was the victim in the city’s first murder. One of his countrymen, Edward Phelan, was accused of the murder, but released for lack of evidence. Eventually, Phalen Creek and Lake Phalen were named after him.

John Ireland
Archbishop John Ireland (1838-1918). 1908. Golling Studio. Minnesota Historical Society

Irish immigrant John Ireland, appointed Archbishop of St. Paul in 1888, was hugely influential in the city as well as the whole of Minnesota. He was responsible for the building of the Cathedral of St. Paul as well as the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Cathedral of St. PaulCathedral of St. Paul by Ryan Claussen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Basilica Minneapolis
Basilica of St. Mary by Bobak Ha’Eri is licensed under CC-By-SA-3.0.

He was also responsible for starting the University of St. Thomas, one of the finest universities in a state rich with them. These are all beautiful places, and well worth a visit.

Archbishop Ireland also headed an ambitious program of Irish Catholic colonies around Minnesota, with the goals of increasing the state’s Catholic population and offering a new life to his fellow countrymen suffering the ravages of famine and civil unrest in Ireland. This included setting up a community of farms, with houses, seed, equipment, and household goods available at good rates and on credit to give them a good start. Also provided was instruction on how to farm the prairie sod, which would have been very different from farming in Ireland, if the new colonists had been farmers at all.

For the most part, this was very successful, but there were occasional failures, as with the Connemara group of Graceville in 1880. They were fishermen back home who not only seemed to have no desire to be farmers, but also had to contend with the unbelievably harsh winter of 1880-1 (immortalized in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter). Most of them were eventually resettled in St. Paul in the Connemara Patch, cheek by jowl with the more notorious Swede Hollow in Dayton’s Bluff, where they stayed until the railroad came through and moved them out in 1908. Here’s a tour brochure of Dayton’s Bluff that includes the Connemara Patch, as well as other beautiful and historic landmarks.

Swede Hollow 1910
Swede Hollow looking north, c.1910. Minnesota Historical Society

James J. Hill, a man of Irish heritage, came to St. Paul in 1856 with nothing, and through hard work and business acumen attained vast wealth as a railroad baron. A great believer in philanthropy, on both the small and large scale, he worked with Ireland on a number of projects, helping fund what Ireland envisioned. Although not Catholic himself, his wife, Mary, was, and she gave a great deal of money to the building of St. Paul’s glorious new cathedral.

James J. Hill. 1902. Pach Brothers. Mary Mehegan Hill, c.1910. Minnesota Historical Society

He built a series of houses in the swankiest parts of town, ending with his magnificent mansion on Summit Avenue, complete with pipe organ, art gallery, and boiler from a train engine for heating and hot water. It’s well worth a tour, and it’s only a couple of blocks from the Cathedral, and within walking distance from the B&B.

James J. Hill House 2013
James J. Hill House, 2013
by McGhiever is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

When you visit us, take the opportunity to check out some of these landmarks which help document the importance of Irish people in the history of St. Paul.

 

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