Monthly Archives: May 2012

No Place for Gentlemen

Last St. Patrick’s Day I posted a clipping from the Swift County Monitor which provided the slate of events for Clontarf’s celebration in 1899 – click here to read the article.

Clontarf resident Stephen Owens provides a first-hand account of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities the next year in a letter dated March 19, 1900 to his niece Celia Grimes of Skerries, County Dublin, Ireland. After thanking Celia for the shamrock she sent, Mr. Owens begins to tell Celia of “the grand time we had in the Parish this St. Patrick’s Day”:

First thing in the Morning all the Hibernians mett in their Hall at ten O clock in the morning Put on there Badges and marched in a Body to the Church…the Stars and Stripes on one side of the men and the Harp in the middle off the Green Flag off Ireland on the other side…the Band of Musick in the front as they Marched in to the Church, the Band Played Patrick’s Day in Style. Our Priest is a Noble Patriot and Irishman, at 5 O Clock in the evening we had a grand Oration on the life of St. Patrick in our Town Hall by a Lawyer from St. Paul a City in Minnesota Capitol of the State his name was McDermot very smart orator…

Mr. Owens then goes on to describe the evening’s entertainment. The play sounds like the same one from the year before – I believe the title mentioned in the newspaper was Shaun Aroon:

After that we all went to Supper…we went to the Hall it was then we had the time there was a Grand Irish Play by the young Local Talent, of the Parish…called itShan Rue in Seven Acts it was just splended the Priest was Training the young folks since the middle of January the Hall was crowded with Irish, and some Americans and Norwegians I bet youse did not Celebrate like that in Skerries. We are all Irish to the Back bone out here…

In the last part of the letter, Mr. Owens talks farming, explaining to his niece when farmers in the area will start putting crops in and when they will be harvested. Mr. Owens describes the kind of work that is available in towns such as Clontarf:

…there is no work here only in Summer and Harvest time and Thrashing in the Fall there is months in winter there is no work in summer a man gets one Dollar and a half per day and Board…in harvest time a Man gets from one seventy five and Board to 2 Dollars per day…this is not a good Place for a Labouring man Only for men that is Able to buy a farm and work it himself it is a good Country…for any one that wants to Play Gentleman, it is no place for him…

Good advice from old Uncle Stephen!

It’s hard to believe that Memorial Day Weekend is nearly upon us. Will there be a program at the Clontarf cemetery this year? What are your memories from Memorial Days of the past? Share your thoughts…leave a comment!

excerpts taken from a letter from the Stephen Owens collection at the Swift County Historical Society


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The Little Town of Clontarf

Have you ever wondered what life was really like in Clontarf around the turn of the last century? Apart from time travel, the  best way to learn about daily life would be from a diary kept by a local resident. I bet many Clontarfians wrote in a diary , unfortunately these items don’t often survive. Sometimes they are intentionally destroyed, and other times they simply get “lost in the shuffle” of a move or a death.

Another way to find out about life in a town such as Clontarf would be to refer to the newspaper. Clontarf never had a newspaper of its own, so we must rely on the intermittent columns in other area papers which refer to the Clontarf vicinity. Even if there had been a newspaper, that would only provide us with the editor’s perspective of Clontarf, complete with political and social bias, not that of an “ordinary” resident.

So how then are we to learn about the day-to-day happenings of Clontarf? Why letters, of course! Letters written by Clontarf residents to their friends and family all over the United States and the world! But, locating these letters presents a major challenge, which makes the Stephen Owens Collection of letters at the Swift County Historical Society truly a treasure for anyone researching the history of Clontarf during the years 1899-1903.

This small collection of letters made their way back to Swift County when Professor Kirby Miller forwarded them to the museum while he was researching Irish immigration. He had obtained the letters from the Old Skerries Historical Society in County Dublin, Ireland. Swift County has photocopies of the transcribed letters from Stephen Owens to his niece Celia Grimes who lives in Skerries.

In a letter from December 4, 1899 Mr. Owens begins by sharing his thoughts on getting older:

26th of this month I will be 70 years of Age and I am Pretty Smart on the foot yet thanks to God. Your Aunt don’t hear so well as I do, She is Pretty Old Looking She is Able yet to do our Cooking and washing. We had to give up farming we were to Old to work the farm any Longer So I sold it and moved to the Little Town of Clontarf near the Church. About 10 Perches from the Church…we are as comfortable as Old People Can Be. We can go to Mass nearly every Day in the Week…

I guess Mr. Owens is able to forgive his wife’s diminished looks and hearing as long as she is still able to do all the cooking and cleaning! Mr. Owens goes on to tell his niece about an event at St. Malachy’s:

Our Priest the Rev. Father McDonald is holding a three Days fair in the Town Hall We have a nice one in this Town…Our Church it is a New One and there is sixteen Hundred Dollars of a Debt on it so he expects to realize About 5 or 6 Hundred Dollars at this fair and then About two more years would wipe out the Debt on the Church I think his fair will be a success there is great crowds here those Last to Nights and we Expect a Large Attendance to Night.

I have never been able to find any information on Father McDonald, only that he served St. Malachy’s for a couple of years and died of TB. Mr. Owens sheds a bit of light on Father McDonald in the letter:

Our Priest is a Kilkenny Man about 30 years of Age, a fine Man I like him very much he does come see us quite often I and him does have great times nights Playing Checkers he likes to get all the Games he don’t like me to Beat him at all…

Father McDonald

Mr. Owens mentions the weather (“Winter is Just Begin the thermometer goes as far as 35 below Zero”), before asking his niece to pass on his greetings to people he used to know in Skerries. This section is particularly poignant because you can tell that he still misses his friends and family in Ireland, even though he has been in the United States for almost fifty years:

Remember me to John Baulf and to James Russel the Shoemaker and his Brother Mathew…All my  Old School Mates I suppose are nearly all Dead, if I landed in Skerries now I would hardley no one Person in the Town…I won’t forget you night & morning in my Poor Prayers…I hope you won’t forget your Old Uncle…

Next time we will look at a letter from March 1900 where Mr. Owens describes the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Clontarf.


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Anne Says: An April Round-Up

I want to make certain everyone sees Anne’s great comments, so from time to time I will compile her thoughts in a new feature…”Anne Says”.

On April 8th, Anne checked in with some local news. I bet the cake was wonderful:

Beth with one of her fabulous creations - visit http://www.beth'

Mary (Reardon) Langan ordered a cake from Beth for her coffee party Tues. March 13, 2012, and Beth made it that morning and delivered it to Mary in Benson at noon, and it was cut and served by 3 pm. Red velvet cake with white frosting and a shamrock in green on it! Mary’s guests were Mary (Manney) Chamberlain, Geneva (Ascheman) Cameron, Donna (Ascheman) Chevalier, Gert (Collins) Bouta, Donna (Fennell) Gode, Cele (Becker) Kent, Clara (Bouta) Brandt, Bonnie (Benham) Smith, and “yours truely”…. Thanks Mary L. We all enjoyed the afternoon. See Pg 3 of the Swift County Monitor this week! (April 4, 2012)
P.S. Bonnie & Ray have a new grandson from their son Justin and wife Lindsay. Nolan Thomas Smith was born Sat. March 24 at RIce Hospital in Willmar. (Justin has an older brother, Thomas). Bonnie’s mother, Bernice (Fennell) Benham lives in Benson. Ray’s mother, Laverne Bouta Smith, passed away just a few years ago.

Also on April 8th, Anne shared a bit about the priests of Clontarf and promises more in the future:

Fr. King was priest at St. Malachy in Clontarf for 33 years. I’ll find his obit and photo for June, okay? Fr. Cooney had grandparents buried at Clontarf so when he was assigned here, he got into the genealogy aspect of things and started planning our 90th celebration (1968) and then the 100th anniversary celebration (1978). Both priests are buried here at Clontarf.

In response to my post on the Reardon family (click here for original entry):

Great idea! More people/families should have their photo taken with the church in the background! I love it! Even after a baptism!….Speaking of babies, Ryan James Beyer was born recently and his mommie’s dad is the son of Marge (Reardon) Klucas.

And lastly, Anne’s reply to a question as to the age of the Clontarf depot. (View the original post here):

Clontarf Depot

Good question! You will see a shadow of a tall structure cast onto the depot…that was another elevator just to the south of the depot! Wayne Klucas answered my question about the two elevators when he said Peavey Elevator (the shadow caster) bought out the other (Cargill or Northwestern by name) and had it moved closer and attached to the Peavey. When the Elevator had spontaneous combustion occur, and the Elevator burned to the ground Sept. 28, 1948, it was a huge fire since it was actually two structures on fire. It was never rebuilt… Marge (Reardon) Klucas, Mel’s wife, told me there was a third smaller elevator to the north of the crossing at Clontarf and it was called the Monarch Elevator. I’m hoping to come across some documentation somewhere sometime that validates this.. Wayne didn’t give me a year when the two elevators were joined, but he remembered watching it, I believe. Wayne just passed away 3 yrs. ago or so. I’ll ask around to see if someone can answer your question. When we were gathering pictures for the 125th celebration here in 2003, we found a picture of the two elevators from the opposite angle(!) in Anna Shinnick’s collection (loaned to us by Tom Connolly’s family).We also have an aerial shot of the town of Clontarf from an airplane(!) and we can see the cattle pen where cattle were held till the train came to take them to market.. May I ask who were your relatives?

Thanks Anne!

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