It’s no secret that Irish immigrants flocked to Butte before the turn of the last century. They, just like all immigrants, wanted a better life for themselves and their families. They worked hard, they played hard, and for the majority, life got better, because they earned it.
Therefore, on St. Patrick’s Day, we not only celebrate our heritage, we salute that Butte Irish tenacity. It has become integral part of our genetic makeup.
Speaking of tenacity -- almost from its infancy, Butte benefited from its Irish residents. Here are some facts about some of those early-day Irish immigrants who helped to shape our town:
Before there was An Ri Ra, Butte hosted the annual Feis Ceoil music festival. Patrons would head to such theaters as the Broadway to listen to orations, harp solos, classical and Irish tunes, and tap their feet as they watched a reel or jig.
'Let them be Irish through and through'
In 1910, an Irish priest, Father Michael Hannan gave an impassioned speech to Butte’s Irish parents on raising children in America. He pleaded “Teach them to love the land of their fathers even as their fathers love it … Let them be Irish through and through because I believe that there never was a true Irishman who is not a good American.”
Promoting the Irish language in Butte
In 1906, Patrick Conlon was the first president of the newly-formed Butte branch of the Gaelic League, which promoted the Irish language. The Gaelic League was unique because it accepted men and women, as well, into the organization.
Friendly Sons of St. Patrick
Butte’s Friendly Sons of St. Patrick was founded in 1908 by Judge Jeremiah Lynch, John O’Meara and Maurice English.
Butte’s Ancient Order of Hibernians
The founders of Butte’s Ancient Order of Hibernians included Thomas McDonough, Jerry D. Murphy, D.J. Hennessy, and P.J. Sullivan.
An inaugural meeting
In 1893, the Ladies' Ancient Order of the Hibernians was formed in Butte. Approximately 120 women attended the club’s inaugural meeting and its first president was Mrs. John O’Leary.
Commemorating the Easter Rising
For several years following the 1916 Easter Rising, hundreds of Butte’s Irish immigrants commemorated the event with a parade that included school bands from St. Mary’s School and representation from a number of Irish groups, including the Pearse-Connolly and Friends of Irish Freedom. The historic event that took place across the sea nearly 100 years ago lasted six days and was an unsuccessful attempt by Irish republicans to end British rule.
A department store dynasty
One of Butte’s most successful businessmen was Daniel Hennessy, whose department store was considered the best in the Northwest. Hennessy died in 1908, and it was reported that approximately 6,000 Butte residents attended his funeral. His Butte store would gradually branch out and become a department store dynasty.
A Butte success
Robert O’Brien graduated from Butte High in 1920, and went on to become president and CEO of one of the biggest film studios, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. O’Brien was the 1964 keynote speaker at Butte’s Friendly Sons of St. Patrick banquet.