In honor of St. Patrick's Day, we dug into the Montana Standard archives for these stories about Irish in Butte.
We hope you enjoy.
The mines brought them to Butte
Dozens of mines in Ireland were closing, and by 1880, mining would bring immigrants to Butte.
Thanks, in part, to Copper King Marcus Daly, a County Cavan native, the number of Irish miners in Butte continued to grow. By 1900, it was estimated that 25 percent of Butte's population was Irish.
An excerpt from the 1998 PBS documentary, "The Irish in America: Long Journey Home," noted that "Butte, Montana belonged to the Irish in a way that Salt Lake City belonged to the Mormons and Boston to the Puritans … It was the ferocious communal will of the Irish that built the town, sustained it and gave it its character, and it was in this unlikely spot 5,000 miles from their homeland that these wandering immigrants found a last stop."
A modern immigration story
It’s grand, listening to Celine Maloney relate how she, a girl born and raised on a small island off the coast of Ireland, wound up making a life in Montana.
Her story is filled with happenstance, starting with a chance encounter with the music of Bruce Springsteen that put America on her mind, and told in an Irish accent she never left behind.
“I thought, ‘What is that?’ ” Maloney says. “ ‘I’ve never heard anything as exciting sounding before. Where did he come from?’ How come I haven’t heard about him before?'"
The Irish beat goes on
Butte, of course, was born in the late 1800s from mining and the manpower it demanded. In just a few decades, it became one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the West.
There were Germans and Finns and Chinese and Polish and Egyptians and Spanish and Austrians and Serbians and Italians and more. But, man, there were a lot of Irish.
Today, Sullivans still outnumber Smiths in the phone book.
Home is both shores
Whether they’re on the rocky shores of Ireland or the in the Rockies overlooking Butte, Jim Sullivan and Steve Maloney are dually recognized citizens.
It speaks to their ancestors, their relatives past and present. It speaks to the luscious green land of their origins 4,284 miles away from their hometown of Butte, America. And this isn’t just any old place to have Irish heritage.
It really is a small world
Stewart Norris lives in Moville, Donegal, Ireland, where he operates a general store. Moville lies less than 20 miles from Derry and is home to about 1,500 people.
When Norris told his friend and fellow Moville resident Patrick Farren he planned to visit Butte, Farren knew exactly where he was going.
“He said, 'That's where my grandfather was buried and we never could find his grave,' " Norris said.
"Everyone in Beara had some connection with Butte”
There's one place in the world that might be more fascinated with Butte history than Butte itself — Ireland's Beara Peninsula.
Much of Butte's Irish heritage originated in Beara, one of five fingers on the southwestern end of Ireland deserted by thousands of immigrants who were looking for a better life in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Many of those fortune-seekers came to Butte.
Fewer Montanans have Irish roots
Eighty years after immigrants to the state created the highest Irish concentration in the United States aside from New York City and Boston, only 15 percent of Montanans claim to be at least part-Irish. In 1980, that figure was 20 percent.
But historians say the dwindling numbers can't hide the overwhelming influence the Irish have had in Montana, beginning with the indomitable Thomas Meagher, former Civil War general and acting governor of the territory.
Treasured Irish heritage
Whitehall's Patrick Durnin places great stock in his Irish heritage.
He's risen to the rank of northwest regional chieftain in the Clan Cian and he and his wife Patricia, also a chieftain, travel to Celtic and Highlands games and events in a 10-state region each year. They also help enroll other clan members into the organization, help with family research and offer advice on traveling to Ireland.
So getting his own officially sanctioned coat of arms was the logical step for Durnin.
"We love, we laugh, we live"
The decor on the front door is a dead giveaway that a family of Irish descent lives there.
Walk into the house and you'll find a curio cabinet filled with Irish china and knick-knacks. On the wall is a green telephone in the shape of Ireland, in the kitchen, green canis ters sit atop the counters, and a framed Irish flag graces the wall. But even more memorable are the family photos and funny notes strewn around the refrigerator, and the love and laughter shared among these Maloneys of Butte.
The 'new' Butte Irish, Mick Nee
Mick Nee, a dashing gentleman-type from Galway, Ireland, is one of the four final heavyweights part of local promoter Bob LeCoure's documentary film project, "Butte — The Making of a Heavyweight Contender."
But the 29-year-old has a bit of a different story from the other fighters involved in the film.
Not only is Nee a fighter in the ring, he's also a fighter right down to the heart and soul, having grown up "dirt poor" in a tough city of western Ireland, one of seven children in a single-mother household.
When Ireland's president visited
In 2006, Ireland’s President Mary McAleese visited the Mining City. She could not say “thank you” enough to the people of Butte.
“I came to say thank you and to refreshen very old ties of kinship, for this state welcomed the Irish when they had no means of support at home. The Irish were completely beaten. They were feisty and deeply intelligent, but they had to leave Ireland.
Limericks from our readers
Limericks came to us from many o’ mile
We read each one,
critiqued their style
Many were witty and bawdy
Some a bit too naughty
But most of them made us smile
In 2013, we published limericks from our readers. Here they are.