My first address after my arrival in the United States in 1994 was on Twentieth Street in Rockford, Illinois.

“Twenty goes all the way to the Pacific,” stated the late Roy Talkington who was good enough to provide my family with accommodation.

Twentieth Street was once part of the cross-country Route that went from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon. Now it bypasses Rockford and many other towns.

“Twenty gets really scenic past Stockton,” a guy at a Saint Patrick’s Day party informed me.

One Sunday evening in 1995 I headed off to explore Route Twenty as far as the Mighty Mississippi. The guy at the party was correct – it did get really scenic beyond Stockton. It also got twisty. It got dark by the time I reached the Julien Dubuque Bridge and crossed the famous river I had heard about so many times. There was nothing to do but turn around and head home. A stop for gas and to put on the oversuit to ward off the night chill and I had a wonderful 200-mile ride.

My appetite was whetted and in October I took advantage of a five-day vacation break to explore Route Twenty beyond Dubuque. At Canos Restaurant in Stockton (now demolished) a man broke away from a group of farmers to talk motorcycles. An avid motorcycle tourer he advised me not to continue west as some heavy rain was approaching.  

“Go south to Kentucky,” he advised and suggested some interesting places to visit along the way.

I appreciated his concern but my mind was made up so I stubbornly continued westwards. That night found me staying at my first U.S. motel. It was a reasonably-priced place with clean rooms in the downtown area. The proprietress was an octogenarian and her son was a Harley-Davidson owner. We engaged in conversation before I retired to my room. The country music awards on the television and a pizza from a nearby restaurant completed a perfect day.

I had not gone very far next day when I encountered the forecasted rain. Fortunately, I had acquired an excellent Husky oversuit at the Rider Rally in Kentucky the previous May. I still own it and it is an excellent garment for warding off cold and rain. The rain continued through the day which ended in O’Neill, Nebraska. It did not bother me because the road was relatively traffic-free with a good surface. I made stops at restaurants and gas-stations that were typically American and even found myself riding along beside a freight train for several miles. Magic.

O’Neill was founded by Civil War veteran John O’Neill who is remembered for bringing groups of Irish immigrants to the fertile lands of northern Nebraska in 1875. He realized most of the rural Irish were ending up in crowded cities for which they were not prepared. Unfortunately, he died after bringing a few groups and the scheme died with him. The descendents of those settlers still live and farm in the region. There is a monument in his honor outside the city limits.  

After stopping to view the monument I rode into town. As frequently happens after a long day in the saddle fatigue had taken over and a motel room was my main priority. As I cautiously negotiated the main street of O’Neill I was aware of a police cruiser following me. Had I broken some traffic rule or aroused the suspicion of the police for some other reason? I decided to pull into a Walgreens parking lot before my combined tiredness and nervousness caused me to make a mistake. The police-car did likewise. I was pretty sure its occupant was not picking up a prescription. I had barely switched off my engine when a pleasant policeman was shaking my sodden Frank Thomas glove and welcoming me to his town. He had seen me stopped at the monument and wondered if everything was OK.

“Welcome to the Irish capital of Nebraska,” were his exact words.

We chatted and he told me to contact the police station if I had any problem. I would like to have stayed longer in O’Neill and check out its history but the road beckoned. The Black Hills of South Dakota were within reach and I wanted to visit them. I bid farewell to Route Twenty at Valentine and turned north on Route 83 through the Rosebud Reservation to link up with South Dakota’s Route 18. I forsook the gambling casino close to the state line and continued to Mission where I stopped for gas and coffee. The Rosebud Reservation is said to be one of the poorest places in the United States and there was much evidence of that in the town. The weather cleared as the weather channel had predicted, the bike was running well and the Black Hills beckoned.

That, as they say, is another story.

Views: 478

Tags: Nebraska, O'Neill, Reservation, Rosebud, United States

Comment by Patricia Louise Hughes on November 18, 2014 at 6:03am

I always knew the O'Neill's were a world-famous clan - now I have the proof! Thanks for posting this, P. J. Francis.

Comment by MK Smith on November 18, 2014 at 8:08am

I've lived in Nebraska most of my life and have been to O'Neil many times, but have never been there for their St Pat's celebration. Someday maybe! ☺

Comment by Wendy Newcomb on November 18, 2014 at 9:09am

I lived in O'Neill for about a year when I was in high school and I will never forget that big green shamrock!

Comment by cheryl dale siegel on November 19, 2014 at 7:52am

I guess I'm very narrow minded but there is no place like New York City to really appreciate the wonderful Irish and the many great pubs and of course THE ST. PATRICK'S DAY PARADE.  Brooklyn, where I was born and lived most of my life was the greatest for lovely Irish restaurants with terrific food and very fair prices.  I understand Ireland does not have a St. Patrick's Day Parade.   All the many dogs in Brooklyn all had something green on as did most of the residents, didn't have to be Irish on that day we all were.  Have you ever spent St. Patrick's day in the Big Apple???

Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on November 19, 2014 at 8:00am

There are many Paddy's Day parades throughout Ireland, Cheryl.  

Comment by P.J. Francis on November 19, 2014 at 9:21am

Cheryl, Check out my photos from the 2014 Saint Patrick's Day parades in Fanore and Sixmilebridge, County Clare, Ireland.

Comment by cheryl dale siegel on November 19, 2014 at 2:25pm

Thank you Ryan and P.J.  I know I read it somewhere and thought it very strange.  How could Ireland not have any parades.  I stand corrected........Wish I could be there for the coming one!!!and all future ones on a permanent basis......Cheryl.Thanks again.....


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Comment by Fran Reddy on November 20, 2014 at 5:44pm

My daughter lives in NE.. I just sent her this article : ) We must have passed through O'Neill on one of our trips home from NE as we went straight north of Grand Island!

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