Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Holy Alliance: How a Bishop and a Railroad Teamed Up to Found Clontarf, MN

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Holy Alliance: How a Bishop and a Railroad Teamed Up to Found Clontarf, MN

Article excerpt

Clontarf, a railroad town in Swift County, was established by Bishop John Ireland of St. Paul in 1877 as a Catholic colony on the prairie. Early arrivals named Clontarf for the site of the eleventh- century victory of the Irish king Brian Boru over Viking invaders.

The St. Paul and Pacific Railroad extended its track west from St. Paul to the Dakota Territory border at Breckinridge in 1871. About 140 miles west from St. Paul, a siding and a section house called Randall Station were built near present-day Clontarf. The sandy soil surrounding Randall Station was not attractive to farmers, leaving much of the land unsold and uncultivated. Railroads needed farms and communities along their tracks to make the lines sustainable.

In January 1876, Bishop Ireland announced the creation of the Catholic Colonization Bureau. The Bureau would act as agent for the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad to sell the 117,000 acres of unsold railroad land grants in Swift County. Much of the available railroad land was sold within two years. In 1878, James J. Hill and partners acquired the bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, renamed it the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba, and began to extend the line to Puget Sound. In Clontarf, families arrived on Hill's trains nearly every day to begin their new lives.

On the East Coast, Irish immigrant families, working in mines, mills, stone quarries, and factories, heard Bishop Ireland's promise of affordable land, a Catholic church with a resident priest, and a community of Irish Americans. There, they hoped, they would be free from the immigrant bias that existed in their towns and cities. They came from Concord, New Hampshire; Salem, Massachusetts; and Southington, Connecticut. Irish families from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and other states joined them in the farmlands surrounding Clontarf.

The Catholic Church was fundamental to the Clontarf colony. Father Anatole Oster was assigned as the first priest in 1878 and he named the parish St. Malachy for an Irish saint. Father Oster was a native of France, which pleased the French-Canadian members of the parish who had farms north of Clontarf. In accordance with Ireland's vision, Father Oster attended to both the spiritual and practical needs of the Clontarf residents. …

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