Finding folks at least a little bit Irish is about as easy as spotting green on St. Patrick's Day.
More than 260,000 Nebraskans — 15 percent of the state's population — list an Irish heritage with the U.S. Census. In Iowa, 465,000 folks carry Irish ancestry.
But a much smaller number are the real deal.
About 145 people now living in Nebraska, and 300 in Iowa, were born in Ireland. We asked three to share their stories.
Like those who arrived here nearly 160 years ago because of the Irish potato famine, these modern-day immigrants were drawn by a powerful magnet: opportunity.
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He remembers British Army helicopters thundering overhead. Gunshots ringing out in the middle of the night. Bombings that struck terror.
Dr. Barry Murphy grew up in Cork City in the south of Ireland. But he lived for more than 18 years in Northern Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s, during the height of the violent conflicts over British control.
Murphy feared for the safety of his wife and seven children.
Loyalists attacked his children's Catholic school. He saw teens beaten in the streets by British military patrols in West Belfast. Routine travel meant passing through a string of checkpoints.
"It was tense,'' he said.
Murphy, now 70, also worried that as a widely known Catholic university professor, he would be an attractive target for Protestant paramilitary groups.
In 1970, he had moved with his wife and first child to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a research fellowship and then a faculty position at Queens University.
Concerns about safety — and an opportunity to continue his career — brought him and his family to Omaha and Creighton University in 1988. He formed a new department of biomedical science, retired as chairman three years ago and now is professor emeritus.
His boyhood in Cork City in County Cork was a sharp contrast to life in Northern Ireland.
Murphy grew up the oldest of three children. His father owned a hardware and kitchenware shop and Murphy made deliveries and helped around the store.
He spent hours as a boy playing the Irish sport of hurling, a ball-and-stick game similar to lacrosse. He and his friends would gather in the street for games after school. He jumped into rugby at age 16 and joined the Irish Army Reserve.
His family spent a month each summer on the south coast of Ireland. He poked around the rocks for crabs and fished for mackerel in the choppy waters of the Atlantic.
He still remembers his mother's shepherd's pie filled with minced meat, carrots and onions and smothered in mashed potatoes.
Murphy, who has seven grandchildren and loves sailing on Lake Cunningham, has never lost touch with his Irish roots. He owns an apartment on Ireland's west coast and visits friends and relatives there three or four times a year.
But Omaha, a place that gave his family safety and a strong future, is home.
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When she graduated from high school in 1980, Frances Swanson faced slim opportunities.
Very few young people in her working-class Dublin neighborhood went to college.
Only two out of 120 girls in her high school graduating class did so. It wasn't the expectation. The competition was fierce for Irish university slots and most families couldn't afford it anyway.
Her father was a professional singer and her mother stayed home, raising five children on Dublin's north side.
Despite a high unemployment rate, she landed a civil service job with the Irish Department of Agriculture after high school.
She spent her days filing paperwork and answering phones.
"The stifling environment was killing me,'' she said.
She wanted more, and got her chance.
A cousin had moved to the United States and helped arrange for Swanson to come over.
In 1986, at age 23, Swanson moved to New Jersey and enrolled in college. It was easier to get admitted and tuition was more affordable than it ever would have been in Ireland.
She earned a degree in English and a teaching certificate. But after graduating she had to return to Ireland. Her student visa had expired. She resumed her position in the Irish Civil Service, but after a year took a teaching job in Madrid, Spain.
While in Madrid, she applied for a new U.S. government program that used a lottery system to help foreigners win permanent U.S. residency. On Christmas Eve 1991, she received a letter telling her she had been picked.
She moved to Boston, but soon would be moving a little farther west, to Nebraska.
While in Spain she had met an American named Jim Swanson, an Omaha native on a European trip.
Their friendship turned into a relationship that brought her to Omaha in 1994. She and Jim, a guidance counselor and a soccer coach at Creighton Prep, married a year later and have two sons, Aidan and Dermot, ages 11 and 13.
Swanson, who as a girl back in Dublin thought education was out of reach, is now surrounded by it every day. She is guidance counselor at Duchesne Academy, a Catholic all-girls school that prepares young women for college.
"That's a blessing in my life,'' she said.
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Patrick Houlihan recalls sitting in his family's home in County Mayo on Ireland's west coast, thumbing through magazines filled with pictures of America.
He was struck by the expanse. Acres and acres of farmland. Thick forests and towering mountains.
Compared with Ireland — which is smaller even than Nebraska — America seemed vast.
He was only 12, but knew he wanted to explore the United States someday.
Houlihan, now 76, worked as a bank teller in Ireland after graduating from high school.
His sister moved to Omaha in the early 1950s, giving Houlihan his chance.
In 1957, the 21-year-old Houlihan arrived in Omaha. His intent wasn't just to visit, but to stay.
Houlihan landed a job with an Omaha bank, working first as a teller, then in the loan department. He eventually started his own carpentry business and later a concrete repair service, retiring about 10 years ago.
Houlihan met his wife, Arlene, in Omaha, and they've been married nearly 50 years. They raised their son, Dan, in central Omaha's Morton Meadows neighborhood where they still live in a comfortable brick home.
He never forgot about those pictures in the magazine. Over the years he's visited all but about a dozen states.
Pulling a fifth-wheel trailer behind his diesel Ford F-250 pickup, he drove the 3,000 miles from Omaha to Alaska, stopping at campsites along the way.
He's snaked through the Rocky Mountains, watched the geysers erupt at Yellowstone National Park and looked across the seemingly boundless Grand Canyon. He's explored New Hampshire, Vermont and others parts of New England. He's walked the smooth beaches of Florida.
He hasn't been back to Ireland since 1964, mainly because many family members live in the United States.
He loves Nebraska. Looking back on his decision to move here, Houlihan says it wasn't tough.
"I just knew it was a place," he said, "where anybody could succeed."
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