From Aughfad to the United States Congress


HILARY MURPHY

Every parish, indeed every county and country, takes a special pride in the notable distinctions attained or achieved by one of its own. See how proud we are at Wexford having produced such men of history as Commodore John Barry and President John F. Kennedy.

The parish of Taghmon has its heroes too on the wider stage. It is quite surprising, however, that so little has been heard or heralded of one Taghmon man and his son who made their mark in a big way in America. They were Nicholas Sinnott from Aughfad and his son of the same name, both of whom attained immense prominence in the north- west State of Oregon, Nicholas senior as a hotelier and Nicholas junior in the political field.

The Sinnott family have been established on their Aughfad farm for many generations. Nicholas senior was born there in August 1831, his father, also Nicholas, his mother, formerly Mary Byrne. He had two older brothers, John, born in 1827 and Patrick, in 1829.

When he was just twenty years old, Nicholas, with his brother, Patrick emigrated to America, leaving at home younger brothers James, Robert and Edward, and sisters Marian and Johanna. Nicholas went first to Peoria in Illinois where he found work in a hotel, a business that he was to follow for the remainder of his life.

Leaving Peoria, he went to St. Louis to work, in the Planter's House, in those days the greatest hotel in that city. In 1861 he returned to Peoria to meet his brother Patrick, who had arrived there from California, and together, they started westwards for Oregon on the Pacific coast. Reaching Portland in March, 1862, they leased the old Columbia Hotel which they conducted for about one year, when the building was torn down. He then worked in the mines for a year or so.

The entrepreneuring Taghmon man eventually settled for good at The Dalles in Wasco county, Oregon. He formed a partnership with a man named Dennis Handley, and they leased the old Umatilla hotel. In 1879 they built an entirely new hotel, but before it was opened the building was destroyed by fire. Undaunted, they replaced it as quickly as possible.

Nicholas Sinnott attained such a high profile in the life of his adopted town and county that he became known as 'Colonel' Byrne- Sinnott - using his mother's maiden name. For a quarter of a century he was an active factor in republican politics in Oregon, attending every party conference. While he never aspired to office himself, he was always advancing the interests of his political friends, and wielded a great influence in Wasco county.

It is recorded that Abraham Lincoln was his early political teacher in Illinois.

During the Bannock Indian war in 1878, he was frequently consulted by General Howard of the US army and it is acknowledged that the defeat of the Indians was due to his advice on strategy.

Nicholas Sinnott's death in October 1897 was publicly and deeply mourned. The Dalles Times reported... In the death of Colonel Sinnott, The Dalles has suffered an irretrievable loss and a vacancy has been created that cannot be filled. He will be missed by all, though his memory will remain fresh with those whose privilege it was to know and number him as a friend.

So many and fulsome were the tributes paid to him that all the newspaper reports at the time were printed in book form. Mrs. Mai Sinnott, the present occupier of the old home at Aughfad, kindly lent me her copy of this collection as a valuable source for this article.

This notable Taghmon exile was succeeded by his two sons, Nicholas and Roger Sinnott. Nicholas, born in 1870, qualified as a lawyer after attending Notre Dame University in Indiana. Inheriting his late father's commitment to republican politics, he was duly elected to the Oregon State Senate, where he played a leading role in the introduction of several historic pieces of reforming legislation.

His political prowess saw him elected to the House of Representatives in Washington where he was chairman, in the 1920s, of the Committee on Public Lands. In 1923 he wrote to his cousin Nicholas Sinnott in Augfad saying he would like to come on a visit, but decided it would he better to wait until matters are more settled there, referring to the Civil War then engulfing the country.

Nicholas J.Sinnott (b.1870), Oregon State Senator

Mrs. Sinnott, whose husband John died a few years ago, has had correspondence in recent times from John Sinnott of Wisconsin, grandson of Patrick who emigrated from Aughfad with his brother Nicholas. This John's brothers, Bob and Roger, came to Wexford many years ago. She remembers being told that there is a monument to one of the Nicholas Sinnotts somewhere in Oregon. In a letter to John and Mai Sinnott in 1986, John recalls memories of Congressman Nicholas Sinnott. 'we remember Uncle Nick, as we called him, being an upstanding man and rather awe-inspiring though he did have a good sense of humour'.

The late John Sinnott and Mrs. Mai Sinnott of Aughfad have three children. Mary Sinnott (now Mary Dinan), was one of the greatest all round sports women ever produced in Wexford She was a star camogie player, winning an All-Ireland senior medal with Wexford in 1968 and featured on the Leinster camogie team from 1961-1968. It was in badminton, however, that she really hit the headlines, winning over eighty Irish international caps and becoming the player of her generation. She was also a tennis player of above average ability. She won two Wexford Power Sports awards. The favourite Sinnott family Christian name is being continued by a son, Nicholas, who is a property developer based in London and Germany. The third member of the family, Sean, is involved in the licensed trade.

I am indebted to Mrs. Mai Sinnott for her help with information for this article and for her warm hospitality on my visits to her home.

Mary Dinan (nee Sinnott)

FOOTNOTES

  1. From 'A Profile of Mary Dinan' by Dominic Williams in The Taghmon Parish Journal 1980 Journal of The Taghmon Historical Society