The Kerry Patch’s origin dates back to the 1840s, when a group of Irish immigrants arrived in St. Louis, from County Kerry, hence the name. Being poor but not wanting to live in crowded, dank houses, they settled on a stretch of open land north of downtown. For all intents and purposes they were squatters on the land, which was owned by the Mullanphy’s, who chose to ignore their new squatters. The Mullanphy’s were originally Irish Immigrants also but from much earlier, John Mullanphy was said to have been the richest man in the Mississippi Valley at the time of his death in 1833. The Mullanphys were notable for their contributions to the Irish population and community in general, they became the first Irish millionaires in St. Louis. The Mullanphy’s helped fund immigration from Ireland to the USA, as well as, many other numerous charities. They furthermore, established a house; called “The Mullanphy House” on the corner of Howard and N.14th in the “Kerry Patch” to help newly arriving Irish immigrants get the help needed to establish a place in society.
The boundaries of the Kerry Patch were generally Biddle St. from the South, Mullanphy St. from the North. N.9th St. from the East. And finally, N. 20th St. from the West As the number of residents grew, tenements were built to house them, St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters wrote articles describing tenements, streets and slums with nicknames like Thunder Alley, Wild Cat Chute, Battle Row, Poverty Pocket and Fort Sumpter.
The residents of the Kerry Patch were lacking in choices of employment and usually took jobs that were dangerous, dirty and socially frowned upon, servants, bricklayers, unskilled laborers, etc. Some joined the priesthood and became nuns. Many were able to get hired on the City’s police and fire departments. They were often paid less than a dollar a week.
The Kerry Patch even had a series of elected “kings,” including Dennis Sheehan, James Cullinane, and eventually Dennis’ son, Jack Sheehan, who was crowned in 1873, at the age of 21. A huge party was held at his inauguration with a neighborhood-wide torchlit procession. Jack Sheehan who was the last king of the Patch, paid rent for people who could not, helped mitigate legal disputes, and organized an annual Fourth of July fireworks show.
Some of the famous or infamous residents of the Kerry Patch were Phelim O’Toole who was born in County Wicklow, Ireland. He arrived in St Louis in 1866 and took residence in Kerry Patch he became a firefighter. He became a hero the night of April 11, 1877, the night of the tragic Southern Hotel fire. O’Toole tragically lost his life July 6, 1880 when responded to put out a fire and the fire extinguisher he was using exploded on his chest.
The Kinneys. Thomas “Snake” Kinney was another (in)famous resident of the Kerry Patch, he was co-founder of the Ashley Street Gang, which would become Egans Rats who dominated bootlegging and other crime in the city for decades. “Snake” Kinney would go on to become a State Senator and Representative, with help at election time from his old gangster friends.
Michael Kinney was “Snake” Kinneys brother, he took over from his brother who died in 1912. Michael Kinney served 50 years in the Missouri State Senate, at the time he was the longest serving Senator in the State.
Thomas Egan, co founder of the Ashley Street Gang along with his friend Thomas “Snake” Kinney. Egan was feared and ruthless and no one betrayed him and his gang as long as he was in charge. Thomas Egan was also “Snake” Kinneys brother in law as Kinney had married Egans Sister.
There are traces of the Kerry Patch left today but in the whole the Patch has been slowly fading away since the end of the first world war.