St. Patrick’s Day

(Deb) [Laughs] I love St. Patrick’s Day. I just love it. (Frank) Yeah. (Deb) That is so becoming. That hat is so you Frank. (Frank) Well, I have this one too. (Deb) It’s obvious you have an Irish background. Doesn’t he wear that well? (Frank) So, anyway, yea I mean of course the Irish were not exactly welcome to the shores of the U.S. of A. when they came. You do remember that? (Deb) This is true, this is true. If you want to see a great movie about that- Gangs of New York. (Frank) Oh yea. (Deb) During the Civil War, so the Irish are getting off and enlisting. They’ve got the coffins coming back from the south and the Irish are signing up to be citizens and soldiers, and they’re sending them south to fight. It’s a great scene. (Frank) And then they became the police force, the coppers and… (Deb) The firemen. Service jobs. (Frank) Firemen and everything. But anyway they began to move west and of course that’s what the story is about. And the immigration of the Irish into this part of the country. (Deb) Which is pretty significant. And here in Topeka some of my favorite folks are the Foxs, who of course have the Celtic Fox, the Irish pub here downtown. I can’t imagine this town without them. (Frank) Yea. And you know one of the longest running radio shows in Topeka is the Merle Blair Sunday Show. (Deb) Oh sure. (Frank) And of course, Merle is really Irish and so last Sunday he played all kinds of Irish music for his four hours on the air. He’s done that for I don’t know, 50 some years now. (Deb) Absolutely and he’s got the head of hair to prove he’s Irish, doesn’t he? That thick silver wavy hair. That’s right. He’s something. (Frank) Anyway, we’re going to talk about the immigration of Irish people into Kansas. (Deb) And we are so glad you came. (Frank) In 1870 the majority of immigrants to Kansas came from the British Isles, and particularly Ireland. In 1871 Thomas Butler, an Irish priest in Leavenworth, wrote this pamphlet encouraging Irish people to move to Kansas. The Irish have always immigrated to the U.S. to escape extreme poverty and a lack of opportunity. Irish immigration exponentially increased, however, as a result of the Great Potato Famine between 1845 and 1849. Catholic churches in the state increased from three in 1854 to forty-five in 1871. In his pamphlet Butler appeals largely to the practical reasons to move to Kansas. Butler writes a favorable description of Kansas and emphasizes its economic, health, and cultural opportunities. He details how immigrants can acquire land and describes life on the prairie. He also describes the health benefits of Kansas’ climate, and comforts prospective immigrants with descriptions of well-established Irish communities in Kansas-particularly those in Leavenworth. Although Father Butler’s pamphlet focuses on the Irish in Kansas, it also provides a snapshot of the state in 1871. Butler’s pamphlet can be read at Kansasmemory.com. Throughout Kansas, remnants of this Irish immigration may be found in Catholic Churches with the statues of St. Patrick, the Island’s patron saint who drove out the snakes, or in the Celtic crosses that dot cemeteries. But mostly, that legacy lives on in the red hair and freckles of many Kansans. On St Patrick’s Day, the wearing of the green transforms our largest cities with parades and celebrations and some smaller towns join the party as well. So let us mark the day with an Irish blessing: May your blessings outnumber the shamrocks that grow, and may trouble avoid you wherever you go. Happy St Paddy’s Day!

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