Tucson’s Irish Influence – A Wee Bit of History

It’s St. Patrick’s Day! Are you envisioning Ireland? Not easy as Tucson is pretty different from the Emerald Isle. You won’t find rolling hills of lush green grass or fairies under a four leaf clover!  And it’s not a place that you would think has a huge Irish influence, either. But hold onto your leprechaun darlin’ for I’m about to tell you a tale of an Irishman who was amazingly important to Tucson.

No, this is not Tucson LOL

The founding father of Tucson, the red-haired, Hugh O’Connor, was born in 1732 in Dublin, Ireland, into the Gaelic-Irish aristocratic O’Conor family. When he was 18 years old—like many other Irish aristocrats—O’Conor left his homeland and moved to Spain where his cousins were serving as officers in the Spanish Royal Army.
After marching across the northern expanse of New Spain (the Americas) evaluating the presidios (forts) for King Charles III of Spain, O’Conor arrived at the presidio of Tubac in the summer of 1775.
Silver had been discovered 60 miles southwest of Nogales in 1736. The resulting rush of prospectors led to the establishment of Tubac Presidio for protection in 1752. O’Conor felt the location of the Tubac presidio was not acceptable and he set off to find a better site. He traveled north to the mission of San Xavier del Bac where he contacted Franciscan priest Francisco Garces, asking for his assistance in choosing a new site.

Tucson Presidio

The location chosen was known by the Pima Indians as “shook-shon” or “chukeson,” meaning “spring at the foot of the black mountain,” referring to the volcanic peak to the west of the site. On Aug. 20, 1775, O’Conor issued a proclamation declaring the establishment of “San Augustin del Toixon as the new site of the Presidio.” The proclamation was drawn up and signed at San Xavier del Bac and contains the signatures of O’Conor, Father Francisco Garces and Lieut. Juan de Carmona. After several different spellings, the site became known as Tucson. In 1776, the Spanish forces moved from Tubac to Tucson.

The presidio gate in downtown Tucson

The order that founded the fort at what is now Tucson read:
San Xavier del Bac.

August 20, 1775

“I, Hugo O’Conor, knight of the order of Calatrava, colonel of infantry in His Majesty’s armies and commandant inspector of the frontier posts of New Spain

Certify that having conducted the exploration prescribed in Article three of the New Royal Regulation of Presidios issued by His Majesty on the tenth of September 1772 for the moving of the company of San Ignacio de Tubac in the Province of Sonora, I selected and marked out in the presence of Father Francisco Garces and Lieutenant Juan de Carmona a place known as San Agustin del Tucson as the new site of the Presidio. It is situated at a distance of eighteen leagues from Tubac, fulfills the requirements of water, pasture, and wood and effectively closes the Apache frontier. The designation of the New Presidio becomes official with the signatures of myself, Father Francisco Garces, and Lieutenant Juan de Carmona, at this mission of San Xavier del Bac, on this twentieth day of August of the year 1775.”

This little bit of local history makes St. Patrick’s Day all the more special! So, enjoy your corned beef and cabbage and toast a green beer to Hugh O’Conor.

Statue of Hugh O’Conor – note his red hair

Carol Fenn 3-2017