St. Patrick's Day and Utah's Irish heritage

(Source: McClatchy Tribune) The Carolina Kudzu Queens wave to festival goers during a St. Patrick's Day parade in Columbia, S.C., Saturday, March 15, 2014. The wild redheads have raised money for women's charities since 2004 and participate in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
(Source: McClatchy Tribune) The Carolina Kudzu Queens wave to festival-goers during a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Columbia, S.C., on March 15. The group has raised money for women’s charities since 2004 and participates in the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

By Teryn Lyman

Weber State University’s campus did not get swarmed in shades of green on Monday, possibly because students are unaware of how much the Irish heritage is woven into the state they live in.

In Ogden alone, the percentage of people of Irish ancestry is more than 9,050 people, according to

The holiday fell on a Monday this year, so there wasn’t much recognition of it. Gerald McDonough, an Irish historian, said there are a few different possible reasons for the snub.

“Irish immigrants were mostly Catholic in a predominantly LDS state and often were in the Army and mining towns, both of which were disliked by LDS leaders,” McDonough said. “Initially the Irish came as outsiders. They came with groups that were sent to put down the ‘Mormon Rebellion’, or with mines and the railroad. They’ve often been viewed as outsiders — much like the way people view Hispanics today.”

The impact the Irish heritage has had on this state may be more than some recognize.

The Irish who settled in Utah established the Keith O’Brien Building, Gallivan Plaza, the Kearns Building, Hogle Zoo, and many of the oldest banks and law firms.

Trapper Thomas Fitzpatrick, an Irish immigrant, was with Jim Bridger when he discovered the pass into the valley.

Elizabeth Steel, the first white baby born in Utah, was Irish, and she was the first person in the Donner-Reed Party to die. Close to 40 percent of the soldiers who fought for Utah with Mexico were Irish, and some of the most notable Mormon pioneers were as well.

The Irish were part of the Transcontinental Railroad, laying track alongside the Chinese from California. They also helped establish Park City, Silver Reef and Bingham in Utah. Irishmen aided in the surveying and completion of transcontinental telegraph lines.

Howard Egan, born in Ireland, was one of Utah’s earliest pioneers and Pony Express riders. He set up some of the first post offices in the territory and was the first to carry the mail from the Pony Express into Salt Lake City.

James Dwyer, another Irish immigrant, opened Utah’s first bookstore in Salt Lake City, and his reading room has been called the first library west of the Missouri River.

The Irish were fundamental in establishing Utah’s Catholic community. Donations from Irish miners helped build St. Mary’s of the Assumption in Park City, one of the oldest Catholic churches in Utah.

Even today, several of the valley’s clergy were born in Ireland, including Father Patrick Carley, who helped organize and is president of the Hibernian Society in Utah. The Hibernian Society is a nonprofit organization formed 30 years ago to help promote and preserve the Irish history, culture and traditions in Utah, and is the main reason the St. Patrick’s Day parade and other events have been so successful.

Students on campus said they think the reason for the lack of St. Patrick’s Day pride is a mix of forgetfulness and disinterest.

Margaret Gritten, a senior of philosophy, said she didn’t realize it was St. Patrick’s Day until she got here and “saw everyone wearing green.” She said she would have worn green even though she isn’t Irish.

Samuel May, a junior at WSU, said he isn’t sure if he has Irish ancestry, but he did know it was St. Patrick’s Day and did wear green. Stephanie Ence, who works in the admissions office, also knew it was the green holiday and wore a little bit of it.