Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

The Irish in Oklahoma

THE Irish in Oklahoma


The presence of first-and second-generation Irish and Scots
Irish (progeny of Presbyterian Scottish settlers in Ireland) 
in present Oklahoma can be traced to the federal policy of
relocating American Indians, especially the Five Civilized Tribes.
Many of the mixed-blood members of the groups that moved to 
Indian Territory in the early-to-mid-nineteenth century had an 
Irish parent or spouse. In 1847 the Choctaw Nation raised a 
significant amount of money to provide relief for the Irish famine. 
This gesture not only connected many with their parents' 
forebears, but also showed empathy for a people to whom they 
could relate in suffering. The Choctaws had recently faced 
hardship on their own "trail of tears," when the tribe had been 
forcibly removed to the Indian Territory. In 1995 Ireland's 
president, Mary Robinson, visited Durant to thank the Choctaw 
people for their act of kindness more than a century earlier.
	In the early 1800s a few Irish trappers and traders 
settled in the region. A number of U.S. Army personnel 
stationed in the frontier forts of Indian Territory also had 
Irish ancestry. The next influx in numbers came with the 
railroads. In 1871-72 the Missouri, Kansas and Texas 
Railway Company (MK&T) built through Indian Territory. 
John Scullin's Irish Brigade, the name given to the Irish
born track layers, constituted the majority of the manual 
laborers. Many other early-day railroads used Irish 
employees. Several stayed in the territory, with many 
marrying into the Indian Nations. One of these, Patrick 
Shanahan, profited from his knowledge of the Atlantic 
and Pacific Railroad's plans by improving land along its 
route; the tracks were subsequently laid through the 
territory by the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway. A 
number of MK&T hands located in the Atoka area, and 
Father Michael Smyth (born in Ireland) oversaw the 1872 
construction of Indian Territory's first Roman Catholic 
church, St. Patrick's, to serve them. Since that time a 
great number of Irish Catholic priests have ministered to 
Oklahoma parishes. In the 1950s, as a result of a 
recruitment effort by the Oklahoma church, twenty Irish-
born priests served in the state.
	From the 1870s the territory's first commercial coal 
mines attracted immigrant miners to the Choctaw 
Nation. The Irish, along with English, Welsh, and Scots, 
were among the first to work there. By the 1890s the 
majority of immigrant miners hailed from other parts of 
Europe. Many of the Irish who remained in the coal 
industry had been elevated to jobs as foremen or 
superintendents or had assumed ownership roles. The 
Irish also became leaders in the miners' unions. By 1908 
of the total 3,378 foreign-born miners only 92 Ireland-born 
worked in the Southwest Coal Mining District.  
	A number of Irish participated in the land runs that 
established Oklahoma - Territory (O.T.). In 1890 the U.S. 
Census reported 329 Oklahoma Territory residents that 
claimed to have been born in Ireland. As O.T.'s 
population increased, so did its native Irish population, 
climbing to 1,384 in 1900. Most of the immigrants had 
lived in other states before arriving in Oklahoma. 
Characteristically, most Irish  migrated as a family. The 
settlers' occupations varied; a number were stonecutters 
(in 1893 ­94 nine of these Irish artisans were hired to 
help build the Lynch building, Tulsa's first masonry 
structure). Others were farmers and ranchers. Frank 
Murray (1832-92) serves an example of the latter. Born in 
Ireland, he immigrated to the United States in 1850, 
living in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Texas before 
carrying the mail between Fort Washita and Fort Arbuckle. 
In 1871 he married a Chickasaw woman and became an 
intermarried citizen. In 1872 he located in 
Erin Springs (in present Garvin County), which he 
named for his original country, and engaged in ranching. 
At one time he owned twenty-six thousand head of 
cattle and held eight thousand acres. 
	Although Erin Springs was settled and named by an 
Irishman, the town of Shamrock, Creek County, had no 
sizable Irish population, but it nevertheless capitalized 
on being named for the Emerald Isle. The oil-boom town's 
early newspapers were titled The Brogue and The 
Blarney, and the streets were named Tipperary, Cork, 
Dublin, Ireland, and Killarney. Green became the favorite 
color for residences and businesses.
-	In 1910 the number of Irish born stood at 1,800, and 
4,509 Oklahoma residents had one or both parents from 
Ireland. That year, 202 native Irish lived in Oklahoma City; 
Muskogee had the second largest number, 48. During this 
period Irish or first ­generation Irish Americans played an 
integral role in Oklahoma politics. The Oklahoma Socialist 
Party owed much of its 1910s success to Patrick Nagle's 
organizational skills and leadership. Frank O'Hare and Dan 
Hogan also provided guidance to eastern Oklahoma 
Socialists. Kate Barnard, the state's first commissioner of 
charities and corrections, devoted her life to social reform. 
Republican Dennis Flynn had most of his success prior to 
statehood, serving eight years as territorial delegate to the 
U.S. House of Representatives. After 1907 he held a 
leadership position in the then-unpopular Republican Party 
and in 1908 lost to Thomas P. Gore in a U.S. Senate-seat 
	After it became "the oil capital of the world," in 1930 
Tulsa overtook Oklahoma City for the greatest number of Ireland
born residents, with 155. In 1930 Oklahoma had 972 "green 
isle" natives, but 9,801 residents with one or more Irish 
parents. Two significant Tulsa oil men, William Skelly and 
William Connelly, were of Irish ancestry. Charles O'Connor, 
Timothy Leahy, Michael McNulty, Pat Malloy, Thomas Lyons, 
and Thomas Quinn were Tulsa politicians serving on the local 
and state levels.
	The Irish differ from many of the state's immigrant 
groups in that they rapidly  blended into the population, 
with most marrying Americans. Throughout the rest of 
the twentieth century the number of immigrants and first
generation Irish trended downward. In 1970 the state 
had 491 residents born in Ireland and 2,093 with
one or both parents born there.  In 2000 over 10 percent 
of Oklahomans labeled themselves of Irish ancestry, 
which closely correlated to the percentage of Americans 
who claimed the same.
From the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture