Tag Archives: Irish

Noble Patriot and Irishman

Sandwiched between two legendary figures in Clontarf’s history, Father Anatole Oster and Father Patrick Kenny, was a young priest from Ireland who only served the parish for two years (1899-1901). Little attention is paid to Father McDonald in the history of Clontarf, but judging from letters written by Clontarf resident Stephen Owen, I think he deserves a closer look. (I typed the content of the letters just as it appears in the transcriptions…among other issues, Mr. Owens was not a fan of punctuation.)

Father McDonald

St. Malachy Catholic Church – Clontarf, MN

On December 4, 1899 Stephen Owens writes from Clontarf to his niece in Skerries, County Dublin, Ireland:

Dear Niece Celia I will let you know what this Parish of Ours is doing at Present Our Priest the Rev. Father McDonald is holding a three Days fair in the Town Hall. We have a nice one in the Town for the Benefit of 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 two nights and we expect a large attendance tonight. 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…

This is our introduction to Father McDonald through Mr. Owens’ pen. Already we see that he was responsible for building the new church in Clontarf (the one standing today) and was working hard to pay for it by organizing events such as the fair Mr. Owens mentions. Plus, we learn that he was a competitive checkers player!

On March 19, 1900 Mr. Owens describes the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in town (I highlighted this in an earlier post – click here.) He writes that Father McDonald had been rehearsing the play since January with the young people. Mr. Owens writes, “Our Priest is a Noble Patriot and Irishman.”

On April 1, 1902 Mr. Owens has some sad news to share with his niece. He thanks her for the shamrock she sent him for St. Patrick’s Day and said he gave a sprig to the Priest, but it is a new Priest:

…his name is Rev. Patrick Kenny our beloved Father McDonnoll (sic) was Buried last friday in Calvary Cemetery in the City of Saint Paul. I am awfull sorry to have to tell you this news we will never get the like off him again he was so friendly and sociable I will miss him very much we use to Play so much Checkers in our House Lord have mercy on his soul He dies off Consumption he got a Cough and did not doctor for it until it was to Late he left here last September and went out to the State of Arizona the Doctors sent him there it is a fine climate and thought he would come Back Cured of his Complaint but failed to get his Health he was a fine strong healthy young man I never thought he could be taken away so quick…

I hope Mr. Owens gave Father Kenny a chance. By all accounts he was also a very sociable Priest – he was extremely popular with the Irish families in Tara and Clontarf. He visited folks frequently in their homes and was always ready for a game of cards. Not sure if he played checkers, however.


Filed under Letters

She Liked Nice Things

Annie, ca. 1900

Until my mom and I began researching our family history in 2004, this was about all I knew of my great-grandmother Annie Hill Regan – she liked nice things.  And we wouldn’t have learned much more if it wasn’t for Donald and Gerald Regan.  Donald and Gerald are Clontarf natives who grew up across the railroad tracks from Annie, her husband Neil, and my grandpa John.  Over the past seven years, Donald and Gerald have shared their memories of life in Clontarf.  Working as a team, one brother fills in the blanks when the other can’t quite recall a name or detail.  They are really quite remarkable, and their memories are a treasure!

In the August/September 2011 issue of Irish America magazine, I wrote about how we learned about Annie, guided by our chats with Donald and Gerald.  Click here to read the article online.

Here are the two photos I mention in the piece:

Annie Hill and Cornelius Regan, wedding -- 1911

Neil, Annie, and John Regan -- 1915

Perhaps there is a mysterious figure in your family tree?  Sometimes it just takes a little bit of digging, but you can uncover the story behind the mystery.  In our case, talking to people who knew Annie along with researching census returns, church records, newspapers, and other public documents helped us answer questions we thought would remain unanswered forever.  A little luck never hurt, either!


Filed under Clontarf, Family Histories

Happy 70th Anniversary!

Agnes McMahon and John W. Regan Wedding (April 26, 1941)


My grandparents Agnes McMahon and John W. Regan were married seventy years ago today.  While they were married at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Minneapolis, Agnes and John were both born in Tara Township in 1913.  Agnes and her family moved to Benson in 1918, and by 1924 the family was in Minneapolis. John lived in Clontarf until the mid-1930s.

Agnes and John met over a game of cribbage at Tim and Bridget (Bid) Foley’s Minneapolis home in 1939.  Agnes was Tim and Bid’s niece, and John was friends with their son John Foley (best man in the wedding photo above.)  Apparently, Uncle Tim excused himself from the game and asked Agnes to take his place.  From what I have heard of my grandpa and what I know of my grandma’s competitive streak, I imagine it was quite a game!

Agnes McMahon and John Foley were “double cousins” – Tom McMahon married Mary Foley and Tom’s sister Bridget McMahon married Mary’s brother Tim Foley.  The McMahon family were early settlers of Tara Township, Francis McMahon filed his homestead claim in 1876.  The Foleys settled about a mile away from the McMahons in Tara in 1879.  I have written about the Foley-Regan connectio…click here to read about it. 

My grandma was young when she left Clontarf (not yet six-years-old), but her memories and family stories are the foundation of my interest in the history of the town and community of Clontarf.  My grandma was proud of her Irish roots and her pioneer grandparents, and she passed that spirit on to her children and grandchildren.

Not only is this my grandparents’ 70th wedding anniversary, my grandma’s funeral was seven years ago today.  I miss our chats about the family and listening to her stories about the “old days”, but I consider myself very lucky to have had many years with her, soaking it all in. 

By the way, the bridal party consisted of Margaret McMahon Nelson (Agnes’ sister), John Foley, and Dody Fuchs (Agnes’ niece who grew up in Benson.)

Note to Margo: Still haven’t found a link between your Bridget McMahon and my relativess, but I am still digging.

Exciting News!!!!

The drawing is back! The more comments you leave, the greater your chances of winning an official Clontarf Prairie Pub T-Shirt!

Anne rescued the last of the discontinued style…limited sizes available, but these are collector’s items!

Drawings will be held each month, the next one to be at the end of April.

Comment away!


Filed under Clontarf

They Didn’t Need Facebook to Connect

One name stood out to me in the St. Malachy’s record books – it definitely wasn’t Irish and I didn’t think it was French, so I wondered what could be the origin of Birhanzel.  For a good chunk of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries there was a Birhanzel baptism, first communion, or confirmation on nearly every page of the record books. Read the Birhanzel family history (from the 1978 history booklet) to learn more…

Charles Birhanzel Family Story

Charles Birhanzel was born in Czechoslovakia in 1873.  While crossing the Atlantic during the immigration period he met Patrick McCarthy of Ireland.  Years later after Charles had moved to Clontarf Township he happened to stop in at Pat McCarthy’s blacksmith shop in Clontarf and the two shipmates reunited.

Charles settled in Iowa after arriving in the United States and he married Mary Rose Slemenda.  He and Mary Rose moved to the Clontarf area where they raised eleven children: Joseph, Alvina Ann (Hamann), Matilda (Franzmeier), Thomas, Anastasis, Fred (married Adele Hamann), Charles Jr. (Isabelle Palmer), Emma (Michael Zinda), Emily, Rose (Silas Tilotson, and Mary (Walter Wallace).

Descendants that are still living in this area are (in 1978): Joseph in Clontarf, and Mrs. Fred and Mrs. Charles Birhanzel living in Benson.

Would Patrick McCarthy be “Crackers” McCarthy?  Anything to add about the Birhanzel and McCarthy families?



Filed under Clontarf, Family Histories

Another Corner of Section 10 (plus Mystery Photo #5)

Section 10 in Tara Township figures prominently in my research of the Irish settlers in the Clontarf area.  Personally, I can make several connections to occupants of this single square-mile of land.

The southwest quarter of section 10 was owned by Timothy Galvin on the 1886 plat map.  Mr. Galvin came to Tara Township from County Cork, via Illinois.  A Timothy Galvin appears on the ship manifest on a 1864 sailing from Queenstown, Ireland, and his name appears right next to Patrick Foley and John Regan.  There is a very good chance this is the same Timothy Galvin and he went to Illinois while Foley and Regan headed to New Hampshire.  Coincidence or not, they then met up in Tara Township about fifteen years after arriving in America.

Timothy Galvin’s name appears until 1912 when it is replaced by D.H. Lawler.  But by March 1913, John Regan buys the 160 acres for his son Jerry.  By 1913, my great-great-grandfather John Regan was an old man and had sold his farm in section 7.  The house John had built on the land served as his home until his death in 1924.

Jerry Regan Home Tara Township

Jerry Regan died in 1933, leaving his wife Agnes and six children.  The family moved from the farm the following year.

Jerry wasn’t the only Regan to live in section 10.  Next time we will look at the history of 80 acres in the northwest quarter.

If you grew up in Tara, do you have any memories of this house?

I will leave you with a mystery photo.  If you get this one, you will deserve a special prize!  The real mystery might be…whose finger is that?

Mystery Photo #5


Filed under Family Histories, Mystery Photo, Tara Township

The Hughes Family

A reader of the blog asked what we knew of the William Hughes family.  What follows is the entry in the 100th anniversary booklet from 1978:

William Hughes-Margaret Campbell Family History

Great Grandfather Paul Hughes and his wife, the former Mary Martin, lived in County Tyrone, Ireland.  They had 9 sons and 2 daughters.  Paul Hughes was a blacksmith and was killed by a horse and buried at Pomeroy, Ireland.  Later his widow married John Hamilton, a widower.  Her brother,  James Martin, was a poet and song writer who had left Ireland and gone to America.  He was employed by a steamship company to encourage people to emigrate to Canada and the United States.

He wrote “The Good Ship Caledonia” and “Farewell to Erin” and other ballads.  The older members of Great Grandmother’s family settled in Quebec, Canada, and later she and her husband, John Hamilton and Grandfather William Hughes, who was then 10 years of age, followed them to Quebec.  One of Grandfather William’s older brothers was drowned in the St. Lawrence River.

Grandfather William Hughes married Margaret Campbell in the Province of Quebec, Canada.  They had 9 children, 4 daughters and 5 sons when they left Canada to come to the United States.  The 2 oldest sons died of cholera en route – Henry on the Great Lakes, and Daniel in Chicago.

The family then came down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River and traveled up the Mississippi River to St. Paul on the immigrant steamer, The War Eagle.  They were urged to come to St. Paul by Grandfather William’s uncle James Martin, the poet and song writer who then lived in St. Paul.  Betsy, the oldest daughter, died at Greer’s Cabin in Dakota County before the family moved into their home in 1854.  They settled at Pig’s Eye and also lived at Pine Bend.

Ann Hughes married Ed McGinley and they had no children.  Ed McGinley served in the Civil War with the Union Army and was acquainted with the Minnesota area so he and his wife homesteaded in the township of Tara.  They encouraged Grandfather and Grandmother William Hughes and their son, John, to take homesteads in Tara, also.  Grandfather William Hughes and John each homesteaded 80 acres of land.  By building a house partially on each homestead, they were able to occupy the same home.  Grandmother William Hughes died in 1895 and Grandfather William Hughes died in 1903.  They are buried in St. Malachy’s Cemetery.

I find stories like this fascinating because you don’t come across detailed immigrant accounts like this very often.

Part II will continue with John Hughes and his family.  Check back tomorrow.


Filed under Family Histories, Tara Township

The Young Americans

The Young Americans

This photo appeared in the December 2008/January 2009 issue of Irish America Magazine.  Looking back at the text, there is more I have learned about the families and there is much more to tell about their lives in Clontarf and Tara Township.  We will hopefully be able to cover the details here in upcoming posts.

Here’s the text that accompanied the photo:

In March 1864, boyhood friends John Regan and Patrick Foley from Macroom, County Cork, arrived in New York port on the City of Baltimore sailing from Cobh.  They took to life in America quickly and in 1870 both were married.  John Regan married Mary Quinn and they had four sons and two daughters: Cornelius (Neil) , Ellen, John, Patrick, Jeremiah (Jerry), and Mary.  Patrick Foley married Mary Crowley and the couple had four children: Margaret, Timothy, Mary, and John.  After 15 years at work in the mills and machine shops of Fisherville, New Hampshire both families seized the opportunity to move west, own their own land, and raise their families in an Irish Catholic community.  By 1880, the Regan and Foley families were established in Tara Township near Clontarf, Minnesota – active in township government, members of St. Malachy Catholic Church, and proud farmers on land they owned.

This photograph of the sons of John Regan and Patrick Foley – four first generation Americans – captures one of those moments in American history when anything seemed possible.  It is the turn of the twentiesth century and Neil, Jack, and Jerry Regan and John Foley look poised to take on what the world had to offer.  Their confidence is palpable and represents the optimism shared by many Americans at the time.

Over the years, confidence waned as youth faded and the realities of life took hold.  This included falling crop prices, farm failures, personal hardships, and economic depression, but on the day this photograph was taken, with cigars pursed in their lips and hats perched jauntily on their heads, these four young men look as if the world is their oyster.

The Regans and the Foleys came together again in the next generation –  Mary Foley  was my grandmother’s mother and Cornelius (Neil) Regan was my grandfather’s father.

(Submitted by Aine C. McCormack, Saint Paul, Minnesota)


Filed under Irish