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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.

Doyle was president of the bank when the earthquake of 1906 hit and leveled much of Santa Rosa. The banker was instrumental in getting area leaders to create the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce to help rebuild the city.

But Doyle's reach went beyond the city limits. He was instrumental in mustering interest for the creation of the Golden Gate Bridge. His interest was twofold. He wanted to help farmers sell their goods to a bigger market and he also wanted to bolster tourist traffic. Because of his efforts, he became known as "The Father of the Golden Gate Bridge."

Doyle was the first civilian to drive across the bridge by car when it opened in 1937, and he participated on the ribbon-cutting ceremony that day. To honor Doyle for helping make the bridge a reality, the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District named the access road on the San Francisco side of the bridge Doyle Drive.

Doyle is one of the 20 most common surnames in Ireland, and because of his deeds, the ambitious, civic-minded banker has also made the Irish name quite familiar in Northern California.

— Peg Melnik

Jasper O'Farrell

Jasper O'Farrell, born in Ireland's County Wexford and educated as a civil engineer, left his native land in 1841 on a surveying expedition to the Pacific coast of South America.

He arrived in Northern California in 1843 and, as one of the earliest surveyors in the area, was sought out by John Sutter of Gold Rush fame for work on his Sacramento Valley empire.

O'Farrell also surveyed and mapped the original street pattern for the city of San Francisco. His payment was a Mexican government land grant — Rancho Nicasio in Marin, which he exchanged for the Jonive Rancho in western Sonoma County.

In 1847, he bought the Rancho Estero Americano, including land between the present-day towns of Freestone and Valley Ford.

By 1850, O'Farrell was considered the richest man in the county and named his township Analy, after his family's estate in Ireland. The name lives on at Analy High School in Sebastopol.

After California won statehood that year, O'Farrell sold acreage from his extensive holdings, and went on to serve Sonoma and Mendocino counties as a state senator.

In 1862, he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and was appointed State Harbor Commissioner for San Francisco. He died in 1875.

O'Farrell family members lived on his Freestone Valley ranch through the first half of the 20th century. O'Farrell Hill, topped by Jonive Road, still bears the family name.

And his name is still evident elsewhere around town, whether he had a hand in it or not. Now you know why the Irish pub in downtown Sebastopol is called Jasper O'Farrell's.

— Dan Taylor

John Reed

Irishman John Thomas Reed is believed to be the first Anglo-Saxon settler to hang his hat in Sonoma County, although he did not stay very long.

Born in 1805 in Dublin, Ireland, Reed went to sea with an uncle when he was 15 and lived in Acapulco, Mexico, for six years.

According to the Mill Valley Historical Society, he sailed north to San Francisco (known as Yerba Buena at the time) in 1826 and applied for a land grant near the shores of Sausalito.

When he was turned down, the soldiers at the Presidio suggested he claim land north of the Mission San Rafael. He took their advice, and at age 22, staked his claim on the east side on the Cotati plain, seven years before General Mariano Vallejo established a pueblo in Sonoma.

There, Reed built a shack and planted a corn crop. But he never got to harvest it, because the Cotate Indians burned it down. He retreated back to Marin County, never to set foot in hostile Sonoma again.

The intrepid settler's memory lives on, however, at John Reed Elementary School, a K-6 school nestled in the A section of Rohnert Park.

The visionary Irishman never gave up on his dream. In 1834, Reed received the first Mexican land grant north of the Bay on the condition that he build a saw mill and cut wood for the Presidio.

At Rancho Corte Madera, a large swath of land reaching from Tiburon to Mill Valley, Reed set up a lumber operation and built an adobe home for his wife, Hilaria San Sanchez, with whom he had four children.

According to John Declercq's "A History of Rohnert Park," Reed died of a fever at age 38, leaving 7,845 acres and more than 20,000 head of cattle to his young family.

— Diane Peterson

Duncan brothers

They bore a name more closely associated with the Scots. But the lumbermen for whom the tiny Russian River village of Duncans Mills was named hailed from County Tyrone in the north of Ireland.

According to an 1880 History of Sonoma County, Alexander Duncan set off for New York 1840, five years before the potato famine would ravage his homeland. He drifted first to New Orleans then headed west, where he was joined by his brother Samuel M. Duncan, two years younger.

The Duncan brothers married the Irish Holliday sisters Ann Jane and Frances, who came from their hometown of Strabane.

The pair were among the first sawmill operators on the coast, providing logs to build the prospering San Francisco. They first located a few miles east of Freestone, then set up the first steam sawmill in the county at Salt Point.

The Duncans Mills Lumber Co. ran a thriving mill town from 1862 to 1877, advertising it as an appealing stop for fishing, boating and hunting. But when Alexander was approached by the North Pacific Coast Railroad with the prospect of relocating the mill inland, he saw an opportunity, according to a historical resources report by architectural historian Diana Painter.

Alexander moved the town, lock, stock and mill, three miles upstream in 1877 to a sunny clearing on the north side of the Russian River, where it remains today.

Sam Duncan died at 52 in 1875. But Alexander built a "prestigious lumber empire," according to a short history of the settlement written by the late Alfhild Wallen, who, with her husband, Arnold, bought Duncans Mills more than 40 years ago and restored it to its present collection of shops, galleries and eateries.

Wallen wrote that when the U.S. Patent Office was established, Alexander went to Washington, D.C., to take out one of the first patents on a log-jack device he invented.

"His simple but explicit drawing of the tool appears in the archive in the same volume of records as Levi Strauss' outline sketch of the bibbed denim overall," she said.

The enterprising Irishman died in Duncans Mills in the spring of 1901 and was buried near his brother at Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland.

— Meg McConahey

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