Mukilteo man preserves area’s rich Irish heritage

At an Everett cafe, John Keane opens a book titled “Irish Seattle.” In a lovely and lilting accent, he begins to read.

“I once more take the opportunity of addressing ye a few lines from the far and distant shores of Puget Sound. … To speak in truth, my last thought going to bed at night and first arising in the morning are of home.”

Those words are from a letter John F. Costello wrote in 1883 to loved ones in his homeland of Ireland. Working his way out of poverty, the Irishman came to the Seattle area in 1880. With his wife, Bridget, Costello raised 11 children on a dairy farm in King County.

Across more than a century, Costello’s wistful letter speaks for many. It’s included, with dozens of other documents and historical photographs, in “Irish Seattle,” a new pictorial book chronicling the contribution of Irish immigrants and their descendants to the Puget Sound region.

Keane, who lives in Mukilteo, is both a subject of the book and its author. He spent a year gathering photos, researching stories, and writing captions that tell of this region’s early Irish settlers and its current “Movers and Shakers,” as one chapter is called.

A native of County Westmeath in central Ireland – “you could balance a map of Ireland with your finger on Westmeath,” he said – Keane left his family of eight boys in 1967.

“I was 24. I came for the same reason most people leave Ireland, to get a job here,” said Keane, 64. He settled in Detroit, where he had a cousin. There, he met his wife, Maureen. They have a grown son.

He worked for Bell Telephone, and came to Seattle in 1977. He became a U.S. citizen a year later. Like many with similar stories, Keane left a piece of his heart in Ireland.

Through years of involvement in the Seattle-based Irish Heritage Club, Keane has built bridges between his ancestral home and his adopted one.

He is pictured in “Irish Seattle” with the Seattle Galway Sister City Association and as a player on a Seattle Gaelic Football team.

He served as president of the Irish Heritage Club. This year, he is chairman of the group’s Irish Week activities, among them Everett’s Irish Cabaret, at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the New Everett Theatre, 2911 Colby Ave.

“Irish Seattle” was published last month by Arcadia Publishing, which focuses on regional history books. Keane used photographs from many sources, from the Everett Public Library’s Northwest Room and University of Washington collections to private contributions from families and the Irish heritage group Friends of St. Patrick.

As a men’s group, the organization used to be known as the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. Keane said the late Archbishop Thomas Murphy, of Seattle, joked that the name change was in response to “the angry daughters of St. Bridget.”

Keane’s book includes a picture from early Marysville, dated “around 1913.” A caption explains that the town is named for Maria Comeford, wife of James Comeford. The Irish-born couple came to the Tulalip Indian Reservation in 1872 and bought nearby land in 1878.

There are also pictures of young Irish women who came west as “Mercer Girls,” recruited by early Seattleite Asa Mercer to relocate from back east as prospective brides. The women’s stories became the basis of the 1960s television show “Here Come the Brides.”

Before writing the book, Keane thought he knew nearly all there was to know about Irish people in the area. He discovered more to learn. A stained glass window of St. Patrick in Seattle’s St. James Cathedral was donated by the Ancient Order of Hibernians, a group that worked against anti-Catholic bias in the early 1900s.

“I’d been in St. James many times, and had never seen the window,” Keane said.

With St. Patrick’s Day coming, this week may be the busiest all year for Keane. But it may not be the high point.

With five brothers still in Ireland, he’s hoping for a trip home.

Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or

Mukilteo author John Keane will be at the finish line of the St. Patrick Day Dash from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. today outside Safeco Field in Seattle to sign copies of his book “Irish Seattle.”

Other book events will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Shawn O’Donnell’s American Grill &Irish Pub, 122 128th St. SE, Everett; and from 3 to 5 p.m. March 17 and 18 at the Irish Festival at the Center House at Seattle Center.

For information about the Irish Heritage Club’s Irish Week activities:

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

A view of a 6 parcel, 4.4 acre piece of land in Edmonds, south of Edmonds-Woodway High School on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Housing authority seeks more property in Edmonds

The Housing Authority of Snohomish County doesn’t have specific plans for land near 80th Avenue West, if its offer is accepted.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

Cash is used for a purchase at Molly Moon's Ice Cream in Edmonds, Washington on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
County Council delays vote on requiring businesses to take cash

Concerns over information and enforcement postponed the council’s scheduled vote on the ordinance Wednesday in Snohomish County.

A girl walks her dog along a path lined with dandelions at Willis D. Tucker Community Park on Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Spraying in Willis Tucker Park resurfaces debate over herbicides

Park staff treated about 11,000 square feet with glyphosate and 2,4-D. When applied correctly, staff said they aren’t harmful.

One of Snohomish County PUD’s new smart readers is installed at a single family home Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023, in Mill Creek, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
PUD program seeks to make energy grid smarter for 380K customers

The public utility’s ConnectUp program will update 380,000 electric meters and 23,000 water meters in the next few years.

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

Most Read