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Clare has strong Irish roots

Locals can trace their roots to the Old Sod in a town that takes its name from a county on the Emerald Isle

March 11, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, Messenger staff writer , Messenger News

CLARE A little slice of Ireland is tucked away in the northwest corner of Webster County, at least in name. The town of Clare was named after County Clare in Ireland, and in its early years it was populated heavily by Irish settlers.

Clare native Nicole Coppinger can trace her family back to those early settlers.

"On my dad's side, my family has been in the Clare area since 1856," she said. "One hundred years ago this August, my father's dad came here from Ireland."

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Terry Rial pours a Pepsi at the Antlers Pub N Grill in Clare. Rial’s great-great grandfather was Con Rial, one of the original Irish settlers in Clare.

Coppinger said she started researching her father's ancestors when she had to spend some time at home resting due to an illness.

She found that her paternal grandmother was a Lawler, and her great-grandmother was a Condon, names found in early records of settlers to the Clare and Lizard Creek area. Her great-great-grandmother was a McCabe, daughter of one of the two Patrick McCabes who settled in the area. Patrick's father, Murtagh McCabe, the first person buried in St. Pats on the Lizard Cemetery, is Coppinger's fourth great-grandfather.

"It's amazing how it's all intertwined," Coppinger said. "There's still descendents living in the area."

Clare is located in Jackson Township. According to a history of Clare provided by the Webster County Historical Society, the early settlers of the area around 1855 were Irish immigrants. They came to America fleeing the potato famine in Ireland, and kept moving west to escape anti-Irish discrimination on the East Coast.

Traveling by covered wagon, these settlers came to the banks of Lizard Creek, west of modern-day Clare. They bought land under the Pre-emption Act, which offered land for $1.25 per acre out on the frontier.

By comparison, compensation for eight hours of road construction labor and the use of an ox team was $1.

One historical document identifies Hugh Collins as the first settler in the Lizard Settlement.

Another states that in 1860 James Donahoe was the first to purchase a farm in the area.

In 1863, the first frame home in the township was built by Michael Donovan.

In 1870, railroad service reached Fort Dodge, and the settlement in Jackson Township rapidly increased.

The family of Thomas Hood was the first to settle in what is now Clare.

By 1882, the railroad line extended to the burgeoning settlement, and Father Brazil of Des Moines was asked to give the town a name. A number of settlers were from County Clare, Ireland, so that name was used.

In the early days, the frontier town had three grocery stores, run by Donahoe and Hood, Conway and O'Boyle, and Collins and Rial. A Donahoe store was still open in 1974.

Today, Clare is less Irish than it once was. A traveler is as likely to meet German descendents in the pub at any given mealtime. And, of course, not everyone knows their family history in such great detail.

On the other hand, Terry and Lori Rial can tell you that Terry Rial's great-great-grandfather, Con Rial, came to America from County Clare, Ireland, more than 150 years ago.

An online list of settlers states that Con Rial was born in County Limerick, Ireland, in 1828. He and his wife were married in Illinois and moved to a homestead three miles south of Clare in 1856. They are identified as one of the earliest couples in the area.

A page from the Historical Research Center hangs in the Rials' business, Antlers Pub N Grill, explaining the origin of the name. Rial is an anglicized form of O'Raghaill.

Lori Rial also has Irish roots; her maiden name was Kelly - and, long ago, the family name was O'Kelly. The Kellys are also listed as very early settlers.

"The first house I lived in was three miles south of Clare, on the original homestead purchased by Con Rial," Lori Rial said. She and Terry didn't even know each other at the time, she said.

The pub is one of the oldest buildings in town, she said, located in what was once Klapka Hardware.

Lori Rial explained why she has done research to find their ancestors.

"It's interesting to me because that's your family; it's where you came from," she said.

It's also why they chose to open a store in Clare and not move to a bigger town.

"We're from Clare. We want to stay here. It's our heritage."

For St. Patrick's Day, Lori Rial said they would be serving the traditional corned beef and cabbage, red potatoes, and "not green beer, but beer in a green can."

Despite all the Irish history, there is no big townwide St. Paddy's Day celebration in Clare.

"Emmetsburg is so close, and they have a big celebration," said Mark Schultz, a Clare area farmer who admits he's not Irish. "I think that's where Irish people go to celebrate."

Coppinger used to do just that, but this year will be a little different, she said. She'll be spending the day with her older brother and his family, including his six kids.

"They adopted five children," she said. "On one boy's birthday, they asked him, What kind of cake do you want? He said, Now I'm adopted and I'm a Coppinger, that means I'm Irish, right? I want a green cake.

"I can't wait to spend time with them. We'll make fun little crafts like leprechauns."

Contact Joe Sutter at (515) 573-2141 or



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