By Timothy Walch
For The Catholic Messenger
“Maybe someday I’ll go back again to Ireland.” Those lyrics from a popular tune capture a dream for many Iowans. That dream has been passed down from generation to generation at family events across our diocese.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that many Irish Iowans are curious about their cultural origins. Fortunately they’ll have a fresh opportunity this fall to visit Ireland and scratch that item off their bucket lists! The Catholic Messenger is sponsoring an autumn tour of the natural beauty and historic treasures of the Emerald Isle.
Led by Bishop Thomas Zinkula and Messenger editor Barb Arland-Fye, the tour will take in many of the important religious and monastic sites across the country from Killarney to Galway and on to Dublin and more. It begins on Sept. 23 and concludes on Oct. 1.
Memories of home and concerns for Ireland’s welfare have been popular topics in Iowa for more than 170 years. In fact, one of the earliest mentions of Ireland in our state was a story of tragedy that appeared in the Davenport Gazette in July of 1847.
In a passionate poem entitled “Ireland’s Appeal,” one Mrs. L.H. Sigourney called on her friends and neighbors to respond to the horrible famine in Ireland. “Pale Erin towered her rocky strand,” she began, “in frantic anguish press’d, and shrieks of wild imploring pain burst from her laboring breast.”
The quality of poetics was debatable, but there was no doubting the sincerity of the poet. “Wake! Glorious nation of the West,” she implored America. “Wake to thy sister’s woe. Her earnest hands to thee are spread, thy liberal aid bestow.”
In dramatic fashion, the poem highlighted the bond between the Irish of Southeast Iowa and the land of their heritage. Over the next 173 years, the Irish of Davenport, Melrose, Parnell and Holbrook, among many communities, expressed pride in their heritage and avidly followed news from their homeland.
Not surprisingly, all things Irish have been important features in the pages of the Messenger beginning with the earliest issues. Over the years, there were stories on Irish history, celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, concerns about the independence movement and the welfare of the Irish people and lectures on the beauty of the land and the achievements of the Irish people.
As proud as they were of their heritage, however, the Iowa Irish were grateful to have escaped the terrible poverty of their homeland and worked tirelessly to bring their Irish relatives to America. Witness the advertisement that appeared in the Messenger on May 5, 1883: Ireland to America for only $20! More than a few Iowans have ancestors who sailed on these ships.
Trips back to Ireland — often by senior clergy from the diocese — were also covered in the Messenger. When a bishop or monsignor returned to Iowa from Ireland, he was greeted by an eager audience of lay people wanting to know the state of affairs in the old country.
In recent years, as air travel became economical and convenient, many Irish Iowans have traveled to the “Ould Sod.” The lure of Ireland remains strong and many will want to go back for another visit. The Messenger tour will afford them an opportunity to appreciate Ireland in the company of their bishop! Praise be to God!
Additional information on the tour is available from Susan Stein at (319) 835-9144, Monday through Friday from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. She can also be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Timothy Walch is a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville, a member of the board of directors of The Catholic Messenger, and the author of Irish Iowa, 2019).