Tid-bits from the Seattle Area’s Irish History
The Hobans from Lisbaun, near Ballyhaunis, Co. Mayo, describing how so many of the Hobans and their descendents ended up living in the Pacific Northwest. The story was written by James Hoban.
Read the Irish Roots Magazine article about Bridget Mannion, “The Queen of Alaska” in The December, 2009, issue of Irish Roots Magazine. The issue write about Bridget Manion Aylward who was born in Galway in 1865 and who became a Yukon Gold Rush Pioneer. After retiring and living in Seattle for over 40 years, she moved back to Ireland in 1948 and died in Rosmuc, Co. Galway, in 1958.
Read the Seattle Star story on “The Queen of Alaska”
about Bridget Mannion Aylward who was born in Rosmuc, Co. Galway, in 1865. She was housekeeper from 1889-1892 to Seattle Pioneer Henry Yesler. In 1892, she traveled to a remote area of interior Alaska to become housekeeper at a trading post near Forty Mile Creek which catered to miners, trappers, prospectors and Native Americans. As the first single non-native woman ever in that area, she later said that in her first six months there she received ?150 proposals of marriage?. In 1894 in Fortymile in the Yukon, she married Edward Aylward, a successful prospector from Co. Kilkenny, and they became very wealthy mining for gold. While still living in Alaska, in 1896 she visited Seattle on her way to Ireland, and a Seattle newspaper headlined a story about her, “The Queen of Alaska”. The Aylwards later retired to Seattle where Edward died in 1914. On a 1920 trip to Ireland, Bridget brought with her to Seattle her niece Mary Keane (later Mary Tomkins, d. 1994) from Galway, and later, in 1923, a niece of Edward Aylward’s, Nellie Cullen (later Nellie Nolan, d. 2000), came from Co. Kilkenny to join “The Queen”. In 1948, Bridget Aylward moved permanently to Rosmuc, Co. Galway. Even there, she was known as “The Queen” and she died in Rosmuc in 1958.
Photo above courtesy of Bridget Aylward’s Grand-Niece, Kathleen Donahue, and the Seattle Star newspaper article is courtesy of Joanne King.
Click on the photo for the story of Dev’s second visit to Seattle on April 7, 1930, taking a tour of the Seattle Times plant
IRISH SEATTLE, a Pictorial History – Click for more information on IRISH SEATTLE, a pictorial history of the Irish in Seattle.
More Seattle-Area Irish History
When the Great Irish Famine started in 1845, there were only a few non-native settlers in present-day Washington State. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s representative, the Chief Factor, governed ?Oregon Territory?, a huge area covering all of today’s states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and large parts of British Columbia, Wyoming and Montana. In 1846, two years after the first American settlers headed north of the Columbia River, the US and Britain agreed on the 49th parallel as the US-Canada boundary. Seven years later, in 1853, just as Ireland was emerging from the Great Famine, Washington Territory was created. Before the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, it was an arduous journey to travel from the US east coast to today’s Seattle. The options were 8 months by ship around Cape Horn, or 5-6 months via wagon train to Portland and on to Seattle, or 2-3 months via ship to the east coast of Panama, across the Isthmus of Panama, and then another ship to San Francisco and further north. Even in the Seattle area, it was time-consuming and difficult to get around. Nothing was easy and the people who came to this area before 1890 legitimately earned the title Pioneer. Prominent among them were the Irish.
(Above copied from Irish Seattle, a pictorial History of the Irish in the Seattle area, with permission.) Visit www.irish-seattle.com for more information.
According to land claim records, approximately one in 12 land claims in Washington Territory in 1856 were made by an Irish-born settler. The majority of these people came to the United States both before and during the Famine years in Ireland of 1847-1852. After the Famine, many more came to the Northwest, attracted by the need for unskilled laborers in lumber mills and mines. Others came when gold was discovered in the Klondike, and when word spread about fortunes ready to be made. Once these immigrants settled here, their relatives came to join them in increasing numbers, especially during and after the turbulent years of the Irish War of Independence (1916-1921). The Irish in Seattle in the early years of the 1900s were recalled by Nellie Cullen Nolan, who, until her death in 2004 at the age of 99, was the oldest Irish-born member of Seattle’s Irish community. Nellie came to Seattle in 1923 to join her Irish-born aunt, Bridget Mannion Aylward, and another niece of Bridget’s from Ireland, Mary Keane Tomkins. Both nieces worked as servants for their aunt in a house on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. In 1889, Bridget Manion had worked as housekeeper for Seattle Pioneer Henry Yesler. In 1892, she traveled to the Klondike to work as housekeeper at a Yukon River Trading Post. There she met and married a Kerryman named Edward Aylward and they were very successful mining for gold. While traveling through Seattle on her way to Ireland in 1896, a Seattle newspaper story called her ?Queen of Alaska?. She and Edward retired to Seattle and lived on Capitol Hill. Many years after Edward died, Bridget moved back to Ireland in 1935 and died in Galway in 1948.
When Bridget Aylward’s nieces, Nellie Nolan and Mary Keane, arrived in Seattle, there was already a fledgling Irish club here, called the American Association for Recognition of the Irish Republic. The club met regularly for Irish dances and picnics. Although membership waned in the 1930s as the Irish Free State achieved worldwide recognition, there was always an annual Irish picnic. Members took the ferry across Lake Washington to Fortuna Park on Mercer Isalnd, and the picnic always included a game of Gaelic football. From 1889, the Ancient Order of Hibernians also existed in Seattle, with a vibrant Ladies Auxiliary (the AOH organization’s members must be male, of Irish descent, and practicing Catholics), but the AOH gradually faded out of existence in the late 1930s, although the Ladies Auxiliary lasted until the 1950s. In 1999, an attempt was made to once again organize the AOH in Seattle, but those attempts appear to have failed.
These groups were the only organized Irish clubs in Seattle until 1941, when another Irish organization was started called the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. This national organization was originally established before the Revolutionary War and had George Washington as an honorary member. In 1989, in response to repeated requests from “Angry Daughters of St. Brigid?, the all-male Friendly Sons welcomed women as members and changed its name to the Friends of St. Patrick. Still going strong, they hold an annual black-tie affair that mainly attracts members of Seattle’s professional community. The Friends of St. Patrick annual banquet raises funds for charity, funds scholarships to deserving Irish-American students at Seattle University and also supports the Seattle Galway Sister City Association.
The first official visit of an Irish government representative to Seattle occurred when Irish Consul General Charles Whelan traveled from San Francisco to be the guest speaker at the 1965 Friendly Sons of St. Patrick St. Patrick’s Banquet. He was pictured the following day in the Seattle P-I under the caption “British Consul General Visits Seattle”! After World War II, there was another Irish influx. These were mostly young unmarried people who came to the Northwest because they had relatives here. Also, many priests and nuns were brought to Seattle from Ireland by the local Catholic Church to compensate for priest shortages here. Encouraged by several of those priests, the newly arrived Irish organized the Gaelic Club in 1952, which later in 1958 became the Irish-American Club. While membership was open to everyone, in the early years the Club President was required to be Irish-born. This club was very active, organizing monthly meetings, dances, and Gaelic football games; they also sponsored Communion Breakfasts and visits to old folks homes. The monthly Sunday night meetings traditionally ended with a Céilí, an informal party involving music, singing, and dancing.
Though the Irish in Seattle have always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, there was no official St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Seattle until 1972. Before (and after) that first official procession, the late John Doyle Bishop, a flamboyant couturier, dodged police each March 17th to paint a green stripe down 5th Avenue in downtown.
The 1972 parade was initially organized as a solidarity march in response to the killing of 13 civil rights demonstrators in Derry the previous January. A new organization, the Irish Festivities Committee, took over the organizing of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1973 and also organized a Proclamation Luncheon at which local politicians proclaimed March 10-17 as Irish Week.
In 1982, the Consul General from San Francisco, Ms. Thelma Doran, participated in Seattle’s Irish Week celebrations by attending the Proclamation Luncheon. We have now progressed to the point that an Irish Government official regularly attends Seattle’s Irish Week celebrations and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, in addition to official visitors from the Irish Consulate in San Francisco.
Gaelic football was the summertime focus of the Irish in Seattle. This is a distinctively Irish sport combining elements of soccer, Australian football, and rugby. Usually played “15-a-side” with a round ball, the game features high catching, hand and foot passing of the ball, and fast action throughout.
In the late 1950s, Seattle’s Gaelic football team tried to become active in the North American Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which was organized in Cleveland in 1959 to promote Gaelic football competitions in North America. Since most games were held in the Eastern states, however, the cost of travel was prohibitive. The Seattle team members were almost all Irish-born and many of them wereCatholic priests, which also hindered arranging out-of-town games. A few games were held with teams from Vancouver, B.C., and San Francisco, but by 1964, the Gaelic Club football team ceased to exist.
In 1979, yet another GAA club, the Seattle Gaels Gaelic Football Club was organized exclusively to promote Gaelic football. Unlike the Gaelic Club of the 1950s, this new club placed emphasis on building a team around American-born players who were mostly but not always of Irish extraction. In 1980, the club affiliated with the North American GAA and traveled to San Francisco to compete in the North American Gaelic Football Championships. Today, in contrast to the lean times which the old Gaelic Club experienced, the Seattle Gaels teams, both male and female, exchange annual visits with teams from cities such as Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Denver, and San Francisco. The Seattle teams annually travel to the North American Gaelic Football and Hurling Finals and the Men’s team became North American Junior Champions in 1999. A women’s Gaelic Football team started in Seattle in 1997 and annually competes against teams from Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver as well as competing annually at the North American Finals. The women’s team has yet to win a national title.
A Hurling team started in Seattle in 2003 and now annually competes in competitions around the Pacific Northwest as well as at the North American Gaelic Football and Hurling Finals. In 2006, the Seattle Hurling Club became the NACB Junior “C” Champions when they beat the Denver Gaels at the GAA Playoffs in Philadelphia. Among the Irish-born, there was always a need to keep in touch with what was happening back home, and especially to keep up-to-date with what was happening on the “football field” in Ireland. Since 1992, Gaelic Football and Hurling games are telecast live in Seattle on Sunday mornings, usually at 7 AM Seattle time as the game kick-off times in Ireland are usually around 3 PM. Any Sunday morning from May through September, various hardy souls can be seen making the pilgrimage to a local bar to make sue they don’t miss “the big game” from back home.
Besides playing Gaelic football, Irish dancing had been one way that people born in Ireland could pass on a taste of their heritage to their children born here. There are two main kinds of Irish dancing. Stepdancing is performed mainly in exhibition or competition and requires a great deal of skill and practice, and is the style of dancing now more popular than ever because of Riverdance. Céilí dancing requires only an elementary knowledge of some basic steps; in many respects it can be compared to American Square Dancing. Until the 1960s, Irish dancing was practiced in Seattle mainly by those who brought the art with them from Ireland. Since then, however, Stepdancing and Céilí dancing classes have provided a focus for the energies of many Irish-Americans.
At first, Stepdancers had to travel out of state to participate in Irish dance competitions. The first Seattle International FEIS (Irish Dance Festival) was held in March, 1977, and since then there has been at least one FEIS every year in Seattle. Annually, about 200 competitors, mainly from California, Colorado, Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington compete at the Irish Heritage Club’s Seattle FEIS, usually held over two days. Today, there are at least eight Irish dancing schools in the Seattle area, and the numbers involved in both kinds of Irish dancing grow each year.
By 1982, the Irish-American Club, Irish Festivities, and the Seattle Gaels were separate and very active organizations, all going strong, but many times their activities clashed. Because of the cross-membership, in all three organizations, there was much duplication of effort in sponsoring dances and concerts. The three clubs finally decided to combine resources and efforts in 1983 under the new name of the Irish Heritage Club. Membership and interest have skyrocketed since. There are now several hundreds of paying members of the Irish Heritage Club, whereas before the merger, the three clubs had a combined membership of about 100.
The Irish Heritage Club is also much more active than the original three clubs. During 2001, for example, the Irish Heritage Club organized and sponsored more than 50 different events ranging from concerts, to parades, football games, displays, lectures, movies, and all kinds of Irish cultural activities.
In 1983, members of the Irish Heritage Club, the Friends of St. Patrick, and others worked together to form the Seattle Ireland Sister City Association. This new group, required by the city to be a separate organization, was instrumental in the establishment of an official sister-city relationship between Seattle and Galway in 1986. An official Seattle delegation led by former Governor John Spellman traveled to Galway to formally sign the agreement in 1988. In 1993, to further mark the relationship, a monument created by the late Don Scott, a Seattle artist, was unveiled in Galway by Seattle City Council President George Benson.
The large limestone monument carries on a bronze marker the geophysical data of Seattle – its longitude, latitude, distance and time difference, and an arrow pointing in the true direction of Seattle. A similar stone monument was unveiled in Seattle in June, 2001, and it also carries the geophysical data of Galway. That monument is located on the east side of Alaskan Way opposite Pier 66, beside the Bell St. Trolley Stop.
The Mayor of Galway, Councillor Donal Lyons, in March of 2002, is the eleventh Galway Mayor to participate in Seattle’s Irish Week celebrations, and Seattle is also officially represented at Galway’s 2002 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. An annual student-exchange exists between the University of Washington and University College Galway. This and other exchanges annually strengthen the ties which bind us to our Irish Sister-City and to Ireland.
Until a few years ago, the numbers of young Irish-born people annually migrating to Seattle had increased substantially, attracted by its hip reputation and lifestyle as well as the employment opportunities. Because of boom times in Ireland, the numbers of incoming young Irish have since dropped to a trickle, but the number of establishments in Seattle catering to people interested in “things Irish” continues to grow by leaps and bounds.
Most people would agree that the first genuine Irish Pub in Seattle to cater specifically to the young Irish was Murphy’s in the Wallingford district in the late 1970s. The staple Irish drink, Guinness on tap, was first served on the west coast in 1976 at the original Jake O’Shaughnesseys, and for many years there was more Guinness served in Washington State than in all of California. Now, there’s a choice of Guinness, Murphy’s and Beamish Irish Stouts, all signs of the increased Irish influence here. In 2001, there are over a dozen such saloons and eateries which claim the “genuine Irish” title, and more are coming. A listing of such Seattle-Irish watering-holes is provided elsewhere on these pages.
Seattle will never have the huge numbers of Irish establishments that can be found in larger “Irish” cities such as San Francisco, Boston or Chicago. Seattle’s Irish links are not as obvious because of the smaller numbers of Irish-born people here, but this is more than compensated for by the involvement and enthusiasm of those interested in maintaining and strengthening the links that do exist.
Having lived in and visited many different cities in the US with much larger “Irish” populations, I can honestly say that the Irish spirit in Seattle is alive and growing, and there need be very few twinges of anxiety about the future of Seattle’s Irish community.