An Irish heritage

  • 10/26/2003: B1: Frank Doyle, right, president of Santa Rosa's Exchange Bank and leader of efforts to build the Golden Gate Bridge, cuts the chain and opens the bridge to automobiles with other dignitaries.

There is nothing quite so grand as a fine Irish name. America's history and culture is full of them, and they have made a difference.

What would the U.S. have been without the likes of Eugene O'Neill, Grace Kelly, John F. Kennedy and Ed Sullivan? And don't forget Conan O'Brien.

By 1840, the Irish, fleeing poverty and overpopulation, accounted for nearly half of all immigrants entering the U.S. That's before the great potato famine touched off a mass migration in 1845. In 2011, 34.5 million U.S. residents claimed Irish ancestry, more than seven times the population of Ireland itself (4.68 million).

According to census figures for 1870 and 1880, the Irish were the largest single immigrant group in Sonoma County at the time. As of last year, there were more than 63,000 people in the county who reported Irish ancestry, according to a U.S. Census estimate.

Many of those immigrants and their descendants left their mark on Sonoma County. They also left their names on landmarks and buildings scattered around the county.

Sometimes the Irish influence is obvious, as with Doyle Park in Santa Rosa, and other examples are more subtle, like Analy High School in Sebastopol. Some of the names sound more English or Scottish, as in Reed Elementary School in Rohnert Park and the town of Duncans Mills, but those namesakes had Irish backgrounds and ancestry, too.

Here are the stories behind some of the proud Irish of Sonoma County history, just in time for St. Patrick's Day:

Frank Doyle

Frank P. Doyle has left an indelible mark on Santa Rosa. His name appears from Doyle Park and Doyle Elementary School to the Doyle Library building on the Santa Rosa Junior College campus.

Doyle was born in 1863 in Petaluma, but his family eventually moved to Santa Rosa. In 1890, he and his father Manville co-founded the Exchange Bank, and in 1916, Doyle succeeded his father as bank president.

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