Astoria's Irish homesteaders keep tradition aliveThe Finns lived in Union Town. The Swedes and the Norwegians lived in Upper Town. And to get back and forth people had to pass through Irish territory.

Though Astoria is known for its large Scandinavian population through history, some of the earliest settlers and community officials were Irish.

Tom Dealy, a veteran of the Civil War, journeyed to Astoria and became a prominent member of the community. He held a position on the Astoria City Council, and worked as the county's customs inspector and as the director of the school district.

William O'Brian, another earlier Irish community member, worked on the construction of the Flavel House. In the early 1900s, three-quarters of the congregation at St. Mary's Catholic Church was Irish.

Evelyn Leahy-Hankel, historian and former editor of the Clatsop County Historical Society's magazine, Cumtux, is a descendant from one of the earliest Irish families.

Angela Egan, of Dublin, Ireland, recently wrote to congratulate the Leahy-Hankel family on their 125th anniversary of arriving in Astoria from Ireland. Leahy-Hankel and 125 other Leahys from all over the United States celebrated the anniversary this summer at the original homestead that Leahy-Hankel's grandfather built 125 years ago on Green Mountain, near Olney.

How it all beganLeahy-Hankel's grandfather, John Leahy, arrived in Astoria 36 years after the first Irish settler, John McClure. McClure arrived by canoe on Christmas Day 1843. He was among the first five settlers to reach Astoria, and when they platted out the town McClure added the area by the Flavel House.

It was known for many decades as "The McClure Addition." McClure eventually married a Chinook princess and sold much of his land. One of the transactions he made was with Cyrus Olney, who later moved out to the land he bought - what is today Olney.

In 1865, John Leahy and his brother James sailed from Tipperary, Ireland, to New York. From there they traveled to San Francisco where they worked as carpenters. Meanwhile, John kept thinking of a lass he knew back in Ireland: Joanna Noonan. He started to write her, and then asked her to come to America and marry him. Joanna sailed from Ireland in 1875 and stayed in Connecticut for a while, where she had a brother.

Her brother tried to talk her out of going to the "Wild West" but Joanna had promised to marry John and she would keep that promise. She boarded a ship to Panama, rode a train across the isthmus (the canal hadn't been built yet) then took another ship up to San Francisco. They were married that year and had two children.

John and James' youngest brother, Michael, sailed to New York soon after his brothers, but didn't have enough money to get to California. He joined the U.S. Army when he was 18 and eventually made his way to Astoria, where he heard there was plenty of free land.

Michael met Cyrus Olney, who told him that there was land on Green Mountain. He homesteaded on 160 acres for six months and at the end of that time, because of the Homestead Act, the land was his. He wrote to John and James in California and told them that there was land for free on Green Mountain and that "it looks just like home."

They both moved there soon after.

Eventually, both Michael, James and their families moved to Portland to find better jobs, but John remained and raised his family. His grandchildren, including Evelyn Leahy-Hankel, grew up nearby, and until recently, the original homestead was in Hankel's possession and care. She passed it on to her daughter and son-in-law.

"They're going to be the future Leahys in the area," Hankel said. "But I'm the clan leader."


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.