Rifle man has strong ties to the Emerald Isle | PostIndependent.com

Rifle man has strong ties to the Emerald Isle

Amanda Holt Miller
Post Independent Staff
Post independent/Kelley Cox

You wouldn’t guess it by his last name, but Jim Ziegler is Irish. He got married in a kilt and has a wedding photo where he’s posed with a big set of bagpipes.

And, no, neither of those is unique to Scotland.

“I wanted to bring a little bit of my family history into the wedding,” Ziegler said. “I’m a big history buff.”

Ziegler says he’s 70-90 percent Irish. His German last name comes from his paternal grandfather.

“We couldn’t trace our history more than a couple generations past these guys,” Ziegler said, pointing at photos of his great-grandparents John Henry Strong and Ester Jane Strong, who settled in Aspen in the 1880s. “Then I posted a message on a genealogy site, asking about the Strongs.”

That’s when Ziegler got hooked up with his cousin, Philip Strong, who lives in Belfast, Ireland.

Ziegler and Philip communicate through e-mail regularly, and Philip sends Ziegler information about his family history.

Strong might not have the same stereotypical Irish ring to it as a name like O’Leary or McGinnis. And there’s a reason for that, Ziegler said.

“Strong is a Protestant name,” Ziegler said. “We think there are two different ways the Strongs could have gotten to Ireland back in the mid-1600s.”

The first is that the Strongs were soldiers in Oliver Cromwell’s war against the Catholics and received a land grant from Cromwell after the military returned to England or they could have been Germans who went to Ireland to help the people learn to weave.

At any rate, Ziegler has a clan of family in Ireland he can visit and hopes to see soon. In the meantime, he and his wife, Joanna, throw an annual family St. Patrick’s Day party that gets bigger and bigger every year.

There are a lot of Strongs in and around Rifle, where the Zieglers live.

“It’s funny,” Ziegler said. “Here in America, we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day like a party. In Ireland, it’s a really religious holiday. It’s the day St. Patrick died.”

Ziegler’s Irish heritage is two-fold. He’s not only Irish on the Strong side, but his paternal grandmother was a McGinnis.

His McGinnis ancestors came to America long before the famine that brought millions and millions of Irish. Ziegler’s McGinnis ancestors came to the United States and converted from Catholicism to Protestantism.

“That is so amazing to me,” Ziegler said. “The Catholics and the Protestants were so separate in Ireland. I can believe they would convert.”

But Ziegler said he knew that Catholic Irish were treated like second-class citizens and they were shunned. That’s why he suspects they converted.

“The History Channel, all this week, they’ve been showing specials about the Irish,” Ziegler said. “It’s interesting because more than 14 million Irish came here, 5 million just in New York. They were showing signs on TV that said ‘No Irish need apply’ for jobs.”

Ziegler knows that his great grandfather John Henry Strong originally immigrated to Pennsylvania and then moved to Leadville before landing in Aspen.

Ziegler likes to celebrate his heritage on St. Patrick’s Day with family, Guinness and Jameson Whisky ” “some traditional Irish drinks.”

But Ziegler said there’s no green beer at his parties.

“The Irish don’t drink green beer,” Ziegler said. “They don’t drink anything they can see through.”

Contact Amanda Holt Miller: 945-8515, ext. 529


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