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St. Patrick’s Day 2014: An Irish Immigration Story

by Mike Connealy on 03.17.2014

According to Connealy family records, 200 years ago my great-great grandfather Patrick Connealy was born in Cork, Ireland in January of 1814. He came to the USA with two of his brothers (James and John) in the late 1830’s and gained employment in New York state helping to build the Erie Canal. 

He married 18 year old Catherine Cogan in 1843 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Hers is a story of quiet courage having left her beloved native land (born in Sligo in 1825) at the age of 16 to seek a better life in the USA. 

The couple left New York for Illinois hoping to engage in farming and otherwise take care of their growing family. The 1860 census in the vicinity of Peoria, Illinois listed Patrick, Catherine and a growing household of children including James Martin Connealy my great grandfather, born in Radner township in November of 1858. Family stories are vague on farming activity during their many years in Illinois, it is nearly certain that Patrick was also employed as a coal miner.  

The record further shows that Patrick took the oath of US Citizenship in November of 1865 – a red letter date, no doubt, for the native of Ireland. 

In the fall of 1869, the family moved to Burt County, Nebraska – four miles southwest of the pioneer settlement of Decatur. Nebraska had been admitted as a state in 1867 and the draw of the Homestead Act was perhaps in their thoughts as they moved some 500 miles to the west across both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.  Here is a link to a copy of the official Homestead document issued to Patrick in 1882 and attesting to his ownership of 165 acres in Burt County, Nebraska. The fact is that despite the romantic aura of today, The Emerald Isle in the 1800’s was a harsh life and not nearly as prosperous for the Irish as “the green fields of America”. 

Mike Connealy Waylon Photo from Mike's Blog: An Irish Immigrant StoryThe family put down deep roots in Eastern Nebraska – Patrick (1814-1890) and Catherine (1825-1909) are both buried in Holy Family Cemetery in Decatur along with literally dozens of relatives. 

So, while many celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today with parades and libations, it serves as a reminder to me that it was a real longshot that the likes of Patrick and Catherine would survive the boat ride across the Atlantic and end up with a rich family legacy well beyond their comprehension. My grandson Waylon (featured photo to the left) represents the sixth Connealy male generation (James, Ted, Neil, Michael, Clinton, and Waylon) of the family fortunate to have been born in the USA , thanks to the courage and luck o’ our original  Irish ancestors (Patrick and Catherine).  

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!





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