Saint Paul’s Irish History

Saint Paul’s Irish History

A mini-history lesson on Saint Paul's Irish roots.

Ever wondered why Saint Paul gets so into St. Patrick’s Day festivities like LuckyPalooza on West 7th and the colossal St. Patrick’s Day Parade downtown? (Not to mention, hosting the nation’s largest free Irish Fair in the summer). Well, wonder no more, here’s a quick look at Saint Paul’s Irish connections.

  • Downtown Saint Paul’s first settlers were Irish soldiers from Fort Snelling. Lake Phalen is named after one of these settlers, Edward Phelan (we're not entirely sure why they flipped the A and the E).

  • The most prominent Irish community in the 1880s was Connemara Patch, a shanty town near Dayton’s Bluff on the East Side. The town formed in the wake of Archbishop John Ireland’s failed social-engineering experiment, an attempt to turn 300 Irish paupers from the region of Connemara into Western-Minnesota farmers. After being unable to farm in subzero temperatures without sufficient food and heat, the Irish people migrated east to Saint Paul for railroad work and established Connemara Patch.

  • Minnesota’s first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was held in Saint Paul in 1851.

  • Saint Paul’s Chief of Police John O’Conner (of Irish descent) created the O’Connor System in 1900, which enabled known criminals to reside in the city so long as they obeyed local laws. This allowance brought many famous criminals to Saint Paul, such as notorious Irish gangster Machine Gun Kelly and mob-boss “Dapper” Danny Hogan.

  • Despite being outnumbered by the German population, nine out of ten Saint Paul mayors were Irish between 1932 and 1972. The city’s previous two mayors, Randy Kelly and Chris Coleman, are both Irish.

  • The Irish Fair of Minnesota, the nation’s largest free event of its kind, began in 1980 and moved to Saint Paul’s Harriet Island in 2001. It draws in upwards of 100,000 people each year.

  • Saint Paul has at least 11 establishments that identify themselves as “Irish Pubs”—Cork’s, Liffey, O’Gara’s, Shamrocks, The Nook, Emmett’s Public House, McGovern’s, Dubliner, Halftime Rec and Kelly’s Depot. There’s also two Irish coffee joints—Claddagh and Wee Claddagh

  • Irish on Grand is the oldest Irish store in the Twin Cities and is a local hub for all things Irish, ranging from updates on upcoming events to Irish-made clothing and jewelry. 

If you want to take a deeper dive into Saint Paul's history with Emerald Isle, we recommend checking out the book Irish in Minnesota by Ann Regan. You can also learn more about Saint Paul's current Irish establishments in our Irish Saint Paul blog post.

For a full listing of St. Patrick's Week festivities, keep tabs on our Green Around Town page. And, don't forget to share your green with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #MYSAINTPAUL!