The Irish Connection | October 24, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Cover Story - October 24, 2012

The Irish Connection

Local leaders say they will work to establish sister-city connection with founders' hometown

by Barbara Wood

Gerry Hanley, a life-long resident of Galway, on Ireland's west coast, has for decades wanted to visit Menlo Park, California.

On Oct. 16, he had a chance to make that visit — and to explain to delighted city officials and history buffs, in a lilting Irish brogue of course, why he had long harbored the desire to visit their city.

The story involves a Starbucks coffee shop on El Camino Real, a crumbling castle in Ireland, an empty lot quite near Mr. Hanley's Irish home, and a visit to Galway nearly 25 years ago by a former Menlo Park mayor.

It starts with the empty lot. In 1984, Mr. Hanley told his hosts, he built his family's home in Menlo, a small village within the city of Galway, in a neighborhood known as Menlo Park. Nearby was an empty lot where once stood the cottage of a local boy who'd made good: Dennis J. Oliver, who had left for America during the great Irish famine of 1845 -1849.

Menlo is one of the more historic parts of Galway, Mr. Hanley says. "In the 70s they realized there's a lot of history in old Menlo," he said, and regulations barring commercial development from the area were passed.

"It's got no shops, it's got no supermarket — it's got no pub," he said.

Mr. Hanley's research told him that Mr. Oliver, he of the empty lot, and his brother-in-law, D.C. McGlynn, arrived in what is now Menlo Park in 1853. There, probably in fond remembrance of home, they erected a fancy arched gate that mimicked the stone gates to Galway's grand Menlo Castle, adding foot-tall letters spelling out "Menlo Park."

Soon the nearby railroad stop was called Menlo Park, and eventually, the town that grew up around it.

Galway locals are so proud of the connection that historic photos of early Menlo Park, California, are featured in at least one Galway history book. The Menlo Park Hotel in Galway for years called its restaurant Oliver & McGlynn after the men who built the Menlo Park gates, and bragged about them on its menus.

Meanwhile, in Menlo Park, California, the late Peg Gunn, then a Menlo Park council member and a former mayor, shared Mr. Hanley's interest in this history, and in her own Irish heritage. She visited Galway several times, and during a 1988 visit by Ms. Gunn, Mr. Hanley tagged along with Galway officials to meet her.

He became determined to visit Ms. Gunn's home, his neighborhood's namesake. "I always just wanted to visit it and find out if there was any interest here in the connections," he said. But life, including raising three daughters and work as a civil engineer, got in the way.

Recently, with children grown and work slowed down, a brother to visit in Boston and a chance to indulge in his interest in Irish music in the Bay Area, Mr. Hanley decided the time to make the visit had arrived. (He is, by the way, a talented accordion player who once was named the Irish national champion on the instrument.)

Mr. Hanley found the website of the Menlo Park Historical Association and got in touch. "If there's people interested in history, they're the people to talk to," he said.

In Menlo Park he found lots of people to talk to about their city's Irish connections, including Mayor Kirsten Keith and Mayor Pro Tem Peter Ohtaki, both of whom promised to work on developing a formal sister city relationship with Galway.

Members of the historical association showed Mr. Hanley around Menlo Park, with stops at the train station, the Civic Center, St. Patrick's Seminary, the SLAC research center, and a side trip to Stanford University. More than a dozen people joined him for lunch, including Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman and Chamber of Commerce president Fran Dehn, who also promised to work on a sister city agreement.

Also joining Mr. Hanley at lunch was an old friend who graduated with him from University College Galway (now the National University of Ireland, Galway). Moyra Malone, it turns out, works at SRI in Menlo Park and lives in Redwood City.

What about the Starbucks? It seems that the coffee shop at 863 El Camino Real is one of the most historically significant spots in Menlo Park. A plaque on the wall outside the side entrance explains that the Menlo Park gates erected by Mr. Oliver and Mr. McGlynn stood at that spot, until they were knocked down by an errant motorist in 1922. However, they lasted 12 years after Menlo Castle was destroyed in a fire, leaving only its ruins behind.

Barbara Wood is a freelance writer from Woodside, who on her honeymoon in 1983 visited Galway and had dinner with Peg Gunn, then the Menlo Park mayor, and met Galway city officials.


Posted by Ladera Cyclist, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 29, 2012 at 11:33 am

Wonderful story about the origin of the "Menlo Park" name! Thanks for sharing it.