When people from Ireland began populating Texas, they arrived packing courage, toughness, and resilience as a result of previous persecutions and domination by England. The newcomers encountered similar difficulties under Spanish colonial rule, yet they persevered and ultimately helped Texas win its independence.
“The first Irish settlers came in the eighteenth century,” says Joan Moody of San Antonio’s Harp & Shamrock Society of Texas, which celebrates Irish culture and contributions to the Lone Star State. “A major figure was Hugo Oconor (O’Connor), who was interim governor of Texas and who laid the cornerstone of Mission San José in San Antonio in 1758.”
Irish families settled throughout Texas in the days before the Texas Revolution, but a large percentage congregated in San Patricio and Refugio counties north and northeast of Corpus Christi. In honor of Ireland’s patron saint, surveyor William O’Docharty laid out the community of Villa de San Patricio de Hibernia, which was known simply as San Patricio. The Mexican government viewed the predominantly Catholic Irish as a neutralizer for the difficult-to-deal-with Anglo colonists, according to the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC), which includes an Irish exhibit among displays spotlighting contributions by nationalities that settled Texas.
Today, the 1855 McGloin Homestead, along the river north of Corpus Christi, stands as the only remaining empresario home. The Ed Rachal Foundation, the new owners of the property, in cooperation with the Corpus Christi Area Heritage Society, are developing plans to give periodic tours.
Contrary to the hopes of the Mexican government, the Irish ultimately joined other settlers in Texas’ struggle for independence. Eleven Irishmen died defending the Alamo in 1836, and approximately a hundred fought at the Battle of San Jacinto to secure Texas’ independence from Mexico. In the decades that followed, more Irish escaped to Texas to avoid economic woes and famine in their homeland. Recent Census information indicates more than half a million Texans claim to have Irish ancestry.
“Irish culture is celebrated statewide, primarily on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17,” Moody says, “and there are Irish dance classes, music groups, Gaelic language groups and sports groups under the auspices of the Gaelic Athletic Association.”
Festivities and frolics around the Lone Star State
In San Antonio, the Harp & Shamrock Society dyes the San Antonio River green and transforms the waterway into the River Shannon for a Saint Paddy’s Day parade, with floats that actually float. The Central Texas community of Dublin, proclaimed by the state legislature in 2005 as the “Irish Capital of Texas,” stages a celebration the Saturday before Saint Patrick’s Day. Festivities include a parade with Irish-themed floats and bands playing Irish music, an Irish stew cook-off, and a banquet with “Lucky to Live in Dublin” as the theme. And Austin hosts a music-and-dance-centric celebration with authentic brews and bagpipes — but lacking in leprechauns.
Houston, home of the University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies, hosts one of the nation’s largest Irish parades, and since 1983, Dallas has held the North Texas Irish Festival, with emphasis on Irish music and dance. In the Panhandle community of Shamrock, the state’s official Saint Patrick’s Day Celebration includes a beard contest and the crowning of Miss Irish Rose. The Texas Folklife Festival in June at the ITC in San Antonio’s HemisFair Park also spotlights various elements of Irish culture.
“In 2014, Irish activities in Texas got a boost when the government of Ireland established a consulate in Austin,” Moody says. “Austin was chosen as site for the consulate because it’s the state capital and also the location of the University of Texas, a major player in the global computer industry.”
Today, Texas continues to admire and celebrate the determination to succeed that was imported by Emerald Islanders almost three centuries ago. Call it the pluck of the Irish.
Dallas | North Texas Irish Festival
Fair Park, Dallas
Fri.–Sun., March 6–8, 2020
Houston St. Patrick’s Day Festival
Luck of the Irish Pub Crawl
Sat., March 14, 2020
Shamrock | Texas Saint
Patrick’s Day Celebration
Fri.–Sun., March 13–15, 2020
A festive parade starting at the intersection of Route 66 and U.S. Highway 83 winds downtown to the tallest historic water tower in Texas, as part of a weekend with games, beauty pageant, art and crafts, rodeo, car show, music, and more in this celebration first staged in 1938.
Dublin’s St. Patrick’s Celebration
Downtown Dublin, Dublin Airport, Lucky Vines Vineyard and Winery
Sat., March 14, 2020
“The Future is Bright in 2020 – Dublin Shines!” as the community’s St. Patrick Day festivities include a parade, Celtic entertainment, festive food, contests, classic cars, museum tours, “Day of Dub Pub,” Dublin airport activities, and a carnival—as well as happy hour at Lucky Vines Vineyard & Winery.
San Antonio | Dyeing of the River Walk
Sat.–Sun., March 14–15, 2020, 1–3 pm
Two-and-a-half mile route along downtown River Walk
Each year since 1968 the River Walk is magically transformed into the River Shannon in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. A bagpiper plays on a barge as the river is transformed—and for those who can’t make it in person, the event is captured on Facebook Live.
St. Patrick’s Day Austin
Sun., March 15, 2020, noon to 6 pm
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr.
Austin, TX 78754
The Celtic Cultural Center of Texas invites visitors to their annual display of Irish culture and pride, with music, dancing, and family fun.
University of St. Thomas Houston
Center for Irish Studies
Harp & Shamrock Society
Bob lives near Camp Verde and frequently contributes to regional and national magazines. He’s also communications director for Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, the world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals of all ages in mind.