General John O’Neill emigrated from Co Monaghan to the US, where he eventually led groups of people to settle in the prairies of Nebraska
A group of Irish Americans is seeking to raise funds for a new bronze statue to memorialize their small Nebraska town’s namesake, Irish man General John O’Neill.
After emigrating to the US from his native Co Monaghan as a teen in 1848, John O’Neill went on to serve in the US Army before joining up with the Fenian Brotherhood in the US who launched an attack on the British in Canada in 1866.
According to biographer Christopher Klein, O’Neill once wrote: “We could build up a young Ireland on the virgin prairies of Nebraska and there rear a monument more lasting than granite or marble to the Irish race in America.”
Indeed, O’Neill led people, many of them Irish immigrants like himself, away from the more populated areas of the eastern US to settle in the prairies of Nebraska.
When he died at 43-years-old, O’Neill was buried in those prairies under a marker that reads “God Save Ireland.”
Among the groups of people that followed O’Neill to the prairies of Nebraska was current O’Neill resident Natalie Butterfiled’s great-great-grandfather.
Butterfield, who is amongst a group crowdfunding for the General O’Neill memorial, told IrishCentral how O’Neill’s Irish influence is still felt in her Nebraska hometown and was revived thanks to the efforts of her own father.
“In the 1960s, my father and some of his friends noted that the town's Irish identity was passing away. He formed a ‘Modern Fenian Army’ and ran a 2-page feature in the local newspaper, a reprint of a scholarly article on the Fenian Invasions of Canada.
“I will say, that I believe, that if it weren't for the efforts of my dad and his friends,I don't think the word "Fenian" would even be recognized on the streets of the town today. "
The Irish influence is still palpable in O'Neill, Nebraska, which is nicknamed "The Irish Capital of Nebraska." The small city hosts St. Patrick's Day celebrations every year, is twinned with Blessington in Co Wicklow, is home to the world's largest permanent shamrock, and is planning to host a gathering of O'Neill clan members in 2021.
Butterfield says that when she returned to her home of O'Neill in 1991 after living away for a few years, she joined up with some friends and relatives to organize as "O'Neill's Fenian Army" who helped revive the tradition of Fenians marching in the annual St. Patrick's Day parade.
The charitable arm of O'Neill's Fenian Army, the Fenian Women's Auxiliary, is at the forefront of fundraising for a General John O'Neill Memorial statue on the lawn of the town's courthouse.
Supporters can purchase and personalize one of 500 bricks that will be used to craft a plaza surrounding the life-style statue, that is being commissioned by renowned Western artist Herby Mignery.
Organizers hope to “commemorate those groups and individuals known to follow the General and his causes, either in battle or as settlers.”
You can learn more about the General John O’Neill Memorial project and find out how to support it on the group’s fundraising page.