The headline above appeared in a 1902 issue of the St Paul Globe over a story about a “group of quaint Irish families” at the “foot of Dayton’s Bluff.” The article is one of the few extensive descriptions of the area known as “Connemara Patch.”
The history of this community can be traced to the arrival of a sizeable group of immigrants from the Connemara area of Ireland. They had been persuaded to come to Minnesota in the 1880’s by Archbishop John Ireland and were initially located on farms in the western part of the state. For a variety of reasons, the experiment was a failure and many of the settlers came to St. Paul and settled along the banks of Phalen Creek between Third and Seventh Streets below Dayton’s Bluff.
The area was haphazardly laid out, with irregular roads, containing small homes, referred to as “huts or shacks” by one reporter. While other groups lived there, the Irish were the predominant group of residents. People spoke with rich accents and retained many of their old world customs, such as the production of fine Irish point lace. The community was generally poor, but some of the men found jobs with various railroads.
And it was railroad construction that heralded the disappearance of Connemara Patch. In 1908, most of the homes between Sixth and Seventh Streets were wiped out as new tracks were laid. A small cluster of homes under the Third Street Bridge and along Commercial Street remained, some of them until the 1950’s. By then, Mexican Americans had become the predominant population in the remnants of the old Irish settlement.
There is one known remnant of the historic Connemara Patch. You can find it at a not-too-distant location at 671 Conway where it was moved around 1881. The homes and grocery stores, saloons and boarding houses have disappeared from the area below the bluff, and now only fading memories remain.
Some of those memories were shared one August day in the 1980’s when Matthew McDonough stood by the site of his old home in Connemara Patch and reminisced in a newspaper article. ”It was an Irish settlement,” he said, “although there were a few people of other ethnic backgrounds.” Matthew was brought into the world in 1900 by a midwife who came to the family house at 267 Commercial Street. In the Patch, he recalled, “I don’t remember there ever being much trouble…. Nobody had anything, but we all seemed to get along.”