Irish in St. Louis

St. Louis awoke to an Irish morning this St. Patrick’s Day with temperatures in the low sixties, a heavy fog and dew drenching the grass and daffodils. Except for the absence of salt in the air we might have been in Galway or Antrim, Dublin or Kerry.

Wishful thinking! The fog burned off into a beautiful afternoon. That is until the thermometer soared and storms arrived big time, breaking the record for the amount of rainfall on a March 17th in St. Louis.

But it was sunny and bright for both of The Lou’s St. Patrick’s Day Parades and the crowds that turned out to see them were huge – Downtown and in Dogtown; past competition and slights having been laid to rest when the organizers of the two parades agreed in January 2012 to work together so that participants and celebrants could enjoy both if they wished.

Public celebration of one’s Irish roots is a long tradition in St. Louis, dating from 1819, when the newly formed Ireland Benevolent Society held a public procession* that evolved into the St. Patrick’s Day Parades we know today.

Robert Campbell, whose elegant townhouse at 1508 Locust Street remains hospitably open to visitors nearly one hundred and fifty years after his passing, had not yet left Ireland. He was still living in his family’s home near Plumbridge, County Tyrone. That house, Aghalane, is preserved in the Ulster-American Folk Park.

After clerking for John O’Fallon (an Irish American and nephew of William Clark, for whom O’Fallon Park and O’Fallon Street are named in St. Louis), Campbell signed onto a fur trading expedition led by Jedediah Smith and spent the next decade trapping and trading in the Rocky Mountains.

He would become a highly successful businessman and entrepreneur after setting up shop in St. Louis. The gazebo at the Campbell House Museum  is crowned with shamrocks.

Architect Louis Sullivan never lived in St. Louis but he left an indelible mark on the city with the skyscraper he designed for local beer magnate, Ellis Wainwright. The simple, running ellipse, the bold Celtic swirls that Sullivan employed, along with a powerful rhythm alternating smooth, vertical brick lines with elaborate, horizontal friezes reflected Sullivan’s ethnic background.

The son of a Swiss mother and an Irish dance master, Louis Sullivan impacted St. Louis architecture for decades with what remains not only the city’s most famous structure after the Gateway Arch but the prototype, world-wide for the modern skyscraper.

The Wainwright Building, like the Celtic Cross in front of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Church that celebrates the impact of Irish immigrants on the City of St. Louis, stands along Chestnut Street but they are clearly visible from Market Street, where the area’s largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes place.

Why Irish parades have survived in the U.S. when so many other ethnic parades have not is anybody’s guess for the Irish have as successfully assimilated as any other nationality. Irish immigrants left a very small and incredibly beautiful island because of political, religious and cultural oppression bringing with them the kinds of intangibles that couldn’t be taken away from them – music, faith, tenacity, humor and an oral tradition of lyricism and storytelling that stretches long before the written word.

These they passed on to their children and grandchildren who commemorate them every St. Patrick’s Day. A sea of people in green swelled either side of Market Street Saturday before they headed off to a favorite Irish pub – McGurk’s in Soulard, O’Connell’s on Shaw Avenue, the Dubliner downtown, Brennan’s in the Central West End, Seamus McDaniel’s in Dogtown, O’Malley’s on Cherokee Street – or home to celebrate at dinner.

Last St. Patrick’s Day I blogged about such traditions in a post titled, Songs Our Dads and Grandads Sang ( https://stltourguide.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/songs-our-dads-and-grandads-sang/). To my surprise and delight this proved to be one of my most widely read posts and gained responses from Ireland to Australia. Lost Kavanaugh cousins in Pennsylvania found it as well as unknown O’Connor cousins in County Kerry.

My cousin, Paddy Stack, recently sent me the above image, which he captured from the top of Slieve Mish in Kerry, Ireland, of the place where our shared O’Connor Great-Grandparents raised his Grandmother Bridget and my Grandfather Michael.

The new-found capabilities of the internet and social networks such as Facebook for family research and international communication are stunning.

Whatever ethnic origins you celebrate – whether you are Irish in St. Louis or not – I hope you will be able to find the kinds of treasures I am discovering!

* The St. Louis Irish – Barnaby Faherty, SJ., The Missouri Historical Society Press, 2001.

Image Sources: Ring of Kerry-Scenic View of Southwest – attributed to the author, Dl Florian Fuchs – at wikipedia.com;  Keaveney Family Photo, Englishtown, Glenamaddy, County Galway Ireland – collection of Thomas and Maureen Kavanaugh, Robert Campbell – used with the kind permission of Andy Hahn, Director of the Campbell House Museum, St. Louis, MO; Paddy Stack – used with the kind permission of Paddy Stack as well as the image of the part of County Kerry from which our shared O’Connor ancestors hale. Thank you, Paddy!

All other photos – Maureen O’Connor Kavanaugh, author of this blog.

Special thanks to Madeline Burns of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Catholic Church, St. Louis, MO for allowing me to take photos inside St. John’s, including this lovely image of St. Brigid of Ireland.

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About stltourguide

I am a walking tour and narrated coach tour guide in St. Louis, Missouri specializing in the history of the area.
This entry was posted in Happenings, History, Irish, St. Louis and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Irish in St. Louis

  1. Dirk Killen says:

    I am an instructor of Irish and Irish American literature at Washington University; I am curious–do you offer tours for university students of Irish St. Louis? And if so, could you send me more details?

    Many thanks,

    Dirk Killen

    • stltourguide says:

      Hi, Dirk,

      I have constructed and given tours of Irish St. Louis tho’ not specifically for university students. However I would be happy to construct one for your students if you like.

      It would include more literary references than the others I’ve done which were geared primarily to people with Irish ancestors who settled in St. Louis and the neighborhoods in which they lived.

      The tour would include a basic history of Irish who emigrated to St. Louis, as well as Irish-Americans who settled or were born here, and impacted the city’s evolution from Patrick Lee, to the John Mullanphy Family, Jeremiah Connor, John O’Fallon, Robert Campbell, Kate Chopin, William Marion Reedy, Dr. Tom Dooley, Fr. Timothy Dempsey, architect Thomas Waring Walsh and artist Bob Cassilly.

      Sites visited could include Old North St. Louis and the Kerry Patch, the Clemens Mansion/Ruin on Cass Avenue, Washington Avenue platted by Jeremiah Connor, the Campbell House Museum, the Celtic Cross in front of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Church on Chestnut Street, Mike Shannon’s on Market Street, John D. McGurk’s in Soulard, and Dogtown, among others.

      I would also include information on Irish St. Louisans during the Civil War.

      Please, let me know if You’d be interested.

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