7 Irish influences in the Crossroads
March 16, 2011 at 9 p.m.
Updated March 15, 2011 at 10:16 p.m.
In case you need an extra reason to celebrate St. Patrick's Day this year, here are a few ways the Irish have had a local influence. From fighting for independence to beating out deadly diseases, the Irish have made and continue to make a mark in the Crossroads.
Influence in Texas independence
As many as 25 Irishmen are thought to have signed the Goliad Declaration of Independence, and 100 were listed as fighting in the Battle of San Jacinto, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Of those, Victoria Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said his Irish ancestor, Thomas O'Connor, was one of the youngest soldiers to fight in that battle. According to other sources, he was 16 at the time.
Four Irishmen signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, 14 Irishmen were killed at the Goliad Massacre, and 11 died at the battle of the Alamo, according to the historical association.
Power and Hewetson Colony
Irishmen James Power and James Hewetson were the first Irishmen to receive empresario contracts to settle the Texas coast with Irish Catholic and Mexican families, according to the historical association. By 1831, and after a few conflicts with other empresarios, the partners settled with lands extending from Coleto Creek to the mouth of the Nueces River. This land was divided into 200 titles, and several families settled in what is now Refugio County before the Congress of the Republic of Texas declared them state property, according to the association.
Pilgrimage to South Texas
Nearly half of the colonists who attempted the trip to South Texas may have died from cholera along the way. After gaining contracts on the land, Power traveled back to Ireland in 1833 to recruit settlers with the promise of land, according to the historical association. He returned with about 350 people from Ballygarrett Parish, on the southeast coast of Ireland.
The immigrants came in two waves, the first 100 staying in New Orleans a month before the next wave. In New Orleans, as many as 150 colonists contracted cholera and died, according to the historical association. Of those who reached Port Aransas, several were stricken with cholera, while others fled to the abandoned Refugio Mission.
Empresario land remains through generations
Land acquired from the contracts attained by Power is still held by several of his descendents. Power was the uncle of Thomas O'Connor, who Power convinced to journey to South Texas at the age of 14.
Victoria County Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said boys who weren't the firstborn were often expected to develop lives outside the family farm, which his ancestor did by moving to Texas.
"It's interesting the family still retains ownership of properties that were originally acquired from the first Thomas O'Connor," the sheriff said. "The value of stewardship was very emphasized to every generation, of being good stewards of not only land, but of the people."
A 70,000-acre Alligator Head Ranch, formerly owned by Thomas M. O'Connor, would become Port O'Connor in 1909, according to the historical association. Thomas M. O'Connor was Sheriff O'Connor's great-grandfather, making the sheriff the fifth generation with the same name. "We've not been very creative on the male side, as far as names," the sheriff joked. But he gave due credit to his great-grandfather, who the sheriff said was the most entrepreneurial of all generations. Thomas M. O'Connor was instrumental in bringing the railroad to the area, which helped the port progress as a center of commerce and tourism before being plagued by a hurricanes.
Pilgrimage back to Ireland
In 1996, a delegation from Refugio returned to Ballygarrett Parish to visit the village of their ancestors, said Rosemary Kelley, co-director at the Refugio County Museum. Thirty-two people took part in a commemoration of ancestors who left the village 160 earlier, Kelley said. Maxine Reilly, a descendent of a family from Balleygarrett, presented a local parish with the Mexican flag, while Louise O'Connor presented them a Texas flag.
Sheriff O'Connor said several of his family members have maintained relationships with relatives in Ireland, who still reside on the original family property from the 1700s. He said he and his son hope to visit the land in County Cork next year.
St. Patty's Coincidence
Refugio and San Patricio counties, those who were settled by the first Irish empresarios, were some of the initial counties to be established after the Texas Revolution. They were established on March 17, 1836 - St. Patrick's Day, according to the historical association.