IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co.
updated 04/16/2012

Immaculate Conception,
Wexford Catholic Church

Lafayette twp. Allamakee county, Iowa

Wexford Church
recent photo of Wexford Church

Wexford Church
~contributed by Jerry Brennan

Immaculate Conception church - Wexford, Iowa
Immaculate Conception church - Wexford, Iowa
undated photo postcard
~contributed by Betty Palmer

View of Wexford church & cemetery
View of Wexford church & cemetery, c1900
~contributed by Jerry Brennan


By Bud Stickler

The unusual and picturesquely-located church at Wexford marks the arrival in Iowa of its first large group of Irish immigrants in 1851 when the weary remnants of a band from Ireland’s County Wexford set tled in Allamakee County. Their road had been a long and tragic one marked by an arduous voyage, deception by promoters, pestilence, uncertainty, and the graves of their loved ones.

The decision to leave their homeland was not lightly made. But the potato famines that began in 1848 were the final blow to these people. They had already suffered under a tenancy system that had reduced farming to a kind of weary serfdom through its "rack rents.”

Most of the farmers and villagers who made up the emigrants were from Parish Annacura and Kilaveny in County Wexford—there were originally twelve-hundred in the group. Their leader and pastor, Father Thomas Hore, had lived for a while in America. He had finished his studies for the priesthood in Virginia and had been ordained there.

In 1850 they sailed from Liverpool, England, in "coffin ships" bound for New Orleans. The emigrants had split into groups of families, and Father Hore had seventy-five families under his immediate care. Land promoters had assured them that Arkansas would be their new haven. In fact, there were supposed to be other Irish immigrants in that vicinity who would be their neighbors.

As soon as they landed, however, about a third of the party split from the others and hastened to Refugio, Texas—probably induced by speculators and sharpers with talk of cheap land and easy fortunes waiting for them. But the majority headed determinedly for their original goal—a settlement near Little Rock, Arkansas.

During their first few months death was a constant companion. A cholera-like epidemic struck the settlers and many perished. Discouraged, the little band fled the scene of its sorrow and scattered. Some moved to Little Rock and Fort Smith, while others journeyed to St. Louis. None of the families remained in their original home. They were no longer a tight little band, but only immigrants scattered across an unknown land.

In the meantime, Father Hore was trying to regroup his people and find them a new home. With only faith and determination to guide him, he sailed up the Mississippi River to Dubuque, where he conferred with Bishop Mathias Loras and with the Trappist monks of nearby New Melleray about the need of a suitable location for his families. After learning all he could from his sympathetic friends, Father Hore set out with a surveyor to comb the area north of Dubuque. He selected a site in Allamakee County with plenty of springs and timber.

Returning to Dubuque, Father Hore obtained title to twelve hundred acres of government land from the land office. He then hurried to St. Louis with the news. Eighteen of the original families from County Wexford decided once again to cast their lot with their priest and trekked up the Mississippi to begin a new Wexford.

While the settlers were buckling down to the hard work of wresting farms from the forest, Father Hore began building a log church for his people. When it was finished, the rustic structure was dedicated in honor of St. George, the warrior saint. In 1856 a larger frame church was erected, and in 1868 the present church was built of Niagara limestone with the parishioners donating their labor. The stone was quarried from nearby hillsides and hauled to the site by teams of oxen.

Father Hore remained to see his community off to a steady start—by 1868 there were one hundred families in the parish—and returned to his home in Ireland. A Father Walsh then assumed the pastor’s duties. At the present time, Father A.P. White is the country church’s pastor, and the church is now named Immaculate Conception.

Although the Wexford countryside is ruggedly beautiful, the sudden hills, dense hardwood forests, and flowing creeks make farming difficult. Some say the Irish must have stayed because of plain cussedness. But stay they did. These stubborn Irishmen had traveled far enough. So they cleared the woods where they could, and Wexford’s agriculture began.

In some ways the Wexford community of today is much the same as it was one hundred years ago. For it never did become a town. It consists of individual farms scattered in the hills and hollows around the church. And, although there are now a few farmers of German descent in the area, most of the names on the mail boxes are pure Gaelic. The brogues may be gone, but you can still hear the Irish in the voices of these folk.

~The Iowan June-July 1957
~contributed by Errin Wilker


Wexford Church, interior
Inside Wexford Church
photo postcard, early 1900's
~contributed by Jerry Brennan

Interior of Wexford church
Interior of Wexford church
~contributed by Georgia Nuehring Bruns


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