Descendants of the neighborhoods that surrounded St. Mary’s Parish will gather next weekend for the first-ever “Gathering of the Gaels” reunion at the Original Mine.
By 1890, Irish immigrants were flocking to Butte, the majority of the men coming to work in the mines. Amidst this industrial landscape, the neighborhoods of Dublin Gulch, Corktown, Muckerville, Anaconda Road, Hungry Hill and Sunnyside quickly cropped up and soon a church and school were built, reflecting the growing population.
Sitting atop Wyoming Street, the original St. Mary’s Church, along with the school, would become the focal point for the majority of its residents. The school’s nickname became the Gaels, which means speakers of the Gaelic language. Fire destroyed the original church 83 years ago today, and was replaced with the edifice now at 440 N. Main St. In 1952, a more modern school was completed. It, too, was located on Main Street.
Three of the dozen-and-one reunion planners, Maureen Yelenich, Debbie Shea and Tom Satterthwaite recently sat down to discuss what made the neighborhoods so special.
Yelenich grew up at a time when the area was bursting with homes.
“You couldn’t put a toothpick between the houses, there were so many,” she said.
Satterthwaite laughingly agreed: “You had to get along with everyone because the houses were so close together,” he said.
Reflecting back, Shea felt the neighborhoods were special and unique.
“Many grew up in homes that their parents grew up in,” she said, “so there was all of that history and familiarity.”
Some people would think that growing up with mines literally in your backyard would definitely belong in the negative column. Not so, says this trio. The working-class neighborhoods were indeed void of playgrounds, so the mine yards were the next best thing.
“It was our own gigantic amusement park,” said Satterthwaite of the mines.
In addition, skating rinks were part of winter fun, and in summer, the vacant lots made for a perfect baseball field.
Shea recalled how each neighborhood had its own grocery store and, of course, a bar or two.
She also reminisced about the camaraderie.
“People were not nervous about where their kids were, because everyone looked out for one another.”
Yelenich felt the same way. “The neighborhood was your family.”
Yelenich acknowledged that although it was a simple life, everyone benefited. “Who now knows everyone in their neighborhood?,” she asked.
St. Mary’s School closed its doors in 1969; the church in 1986. Many of the homes and businesses disappeared from the landscape. However, the love for the area remains.
“You may have moved to a nicer home,” Shea said, “but the trade off was the kinship and the real sense of belonging.”
Shea continued, “I loved my childhood and I am so happy my formative years were spent on the hill.”
And some things never change.
“I feel a real kinship to those who grew up around St. Mary’s,” Satterthwaite said. “It’s hard to explain, but, even after all these years, there is a bond.”