By Barb Arland-Fye
Author Timothy Walch, director emeritus of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, will give a public reading of his new book, “Irish Iowa” at Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City on Aug. 11 at 3 p.m.
Although Walch didn’t grow up in Iowa, he is a proud Irishman and historian with a clear love for his adopted home state. A member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville and The Catholic Messenger Board of Directors, Walch uncovered some emerald gems in his research about the tens of thousands of immigrants who took a chance on a future in Iowa.
He suspects that most Irish Iowans know next to nothing about the pioneers and progressives who helped shape the character of our state. Many of us, of course, know about the heroic Sullivan Brothers from Waterloo who sacrificed their lives for our country during World War II. Some of us (like me, the spouse of a retired locomotive engineer) know the story of Kate Shelley, who saved hundreds of people from being injured or killed in a train wreck.
Walch also chose to include the stories of lesser known Irish Iowans, such as the women religious who educated so many Iowa children or ministered as nurses and administrators in hospitals around the state. He pays tribute to the thousands of Irishmen who cut timbers or laid rails on tracks, some of which are still used by railroads today.
Irish journalists, including our own Fred Sharon, who founded what would become The Catholic Messenger, had a lasting impact on Iowa, as Walch reports. Sharon, and other Irish journalists, also used the power of the pen to advocate for social change in their homeland and in their adopted home state.
Kathleen Johnson, event coordinator for Prairie Lights, said local interest in Irish Iowa prompted her to contact the publisher, History Press, about the possibility of Walch giving a public reading. “We had it in stock and people were asking for it,” Johnson said. Dozens of the book have been sold. “There is a lot of interest in Iowa City for regional history,” she added.
Joining Walch for the Prairie Lights event will be his friend and fellow Irishman, Ken Donnelly, to share stories about his extended family on the farmstead in Benton County and the tavern his father established in 1934 in Iowa City. Donnelly provided documentation for Irish Iowa and many photographs. Images from the book and of historic Iowa City will be shown during the reading. All are welcome to the free event.