How much Irish is there around here?

By | March 25, 2016

Top of the morning to ya! Last Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day.

Although not exactly observed in these parts, beyond the occasional green shirt in the workplace and green beer in the taverns, Neosho has more reason than most towns in the Ozarks to celebrate Irish heritage: Neosho’s St. Canera Catholic Church is named for an Irish saint, Saint Conaire. franklin, wes mug2

Most of you probably knew that, but I hope you won’t mind the reminder.

Saint Conaire, or Canera, lived and died in what today is County Cork, in the south of Ireland in the fifth and sixth centuries after Christ. Canera lived by choice a totally secluded existence for religious reasons (she is called an anchorite, which is sort of a religious hermit but with very strict rules. If a man, she would be much like a monk except that she lived alone).

Tradition has it — and this is the abridged version — in her old age she had a vision of all the monasteries in Ireland, with a pillar of fire shooting up from each into the sky.

In her vision, the monastery with the highest and straightest fire-pillar, and thus closest to Heaven, was the one at Scattery Island, at the mouth of the River Shannon on the west coast of Ireland. That monastery was ran by a monk, later bishop, named Senan (afterward Saint Senan).

Canera, an old woman, traveled by foot to the monastery at Scattery Island with the idea of being buried there, this “most holiest of islands,” only to be turned away by St. Senan and his brother monks. They believed their vows of chastity would not permit a woman even in their presence.

And so Conaire, or Canera, vowed to stay on the shore of the island until her death and then be buried there. Senan warned her that her grave would be washed away by the tide, but she replied “leave that to God.” Well, she died in 530 AD and her grave was indeed washed away. She is still known as an Irish patron saint of those who sail the sea.

Fast forward roughly 1,340 years to 1871, when the Atlantic Pacific Railway (much later to become part of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway) deeded a half-block of property at the top of south Wood Street and Hill Street to the Catholic archbishop in St. Louis for a future site of a church.

Irish immigrant workers, as well as Catholics from other European countries and from other parts of the U.S., had likely helped bring the railroad to Neosho the year before, and were continuing to move west. Perhaps some decided to stay.

No doubt that the coming of the railroad did for Neosho what it did for every other city in increasing its population. Some of the new arrivals were, of course, Catholic. Unless they chose to travel long distances by train, wagon or horseback for religious services, they relied on infrequent visits from missionary priests from other places.

It wasn’t until 1876, five years after the donation of the land by the railroad, that work was finally started on a Catholic church in Neosho and a foundation laid. However, the building fund was soon exhausted and it wasn’t until 1883 that the project resumed in earnest.

The first church building was finally completed in 1884. In 1889 the church was dedicated to St. Canera, our aforementioned Irish saint. The present church building was built in 1951.

Today, Neosho’s St. Canera parish is the only one of the same name in the world — or so I’m told, and I don’t find any information to the contrary.

According to the latest reported results of the American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.22 percent of responding Neosho residents claimed Irish ancestry. Twelve percent is a fairly high percentage block, if you ask me, and is a point higher than the national percentage.

So remember that our community is a just wee bit more Irish, both in its cultural heritage and in its population makeup, than you may have once thought.

By Wes Franklin

(Wes Franklin can be reached at (417) 658-8443.)

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