Ongoing efforts to restore St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Butte have taken a big leap.
Members of Butte’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, after several years of work on other aspects of the cemetery, have now installed a system to bring in water.
With help from $20,500 in contributions, including large donations from the Town Pump Foundation and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena, the AOH has pipes that tap into the city’s water system and reach different parts of the cemetery.
AOH members put the finishing touches on the pipes and pumping system Monday by covering lines with dirt.
It isn’t a sprinkler system, said John Mulcahy, chairman of the AOH’s Cemetery Committee, and the water won’t yet reach all of the cemetery.
But hoses can be attached to various spots in the system, each distributing water about 600 feet around. Mulcahy says he also has a 250-gallon water tank that can be hauled to other spots where needed and members hope to expand the system in the future.
They can’t afford to water the cemetery regularly — not now, anyway — but they will be able to reach much of it. They want to plant grass in various areas, level and straighten more headstones and do other work, and the water will be a huge help.
“We are going to use the water sparingly,” Mulcahy said. “But now that we have this line in, we have all kinds of projects we want to work on.”
The AOH started seriously restoring the cemetery in early 2015 and put out a public call for help. Simply put, the cemetery was in dire need of work and care.
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Years of neglect had taken a toll on one of the oldest resting places for Butte’s ancestors, many who ventured here from Ireland during the Easter Rising of 1916 and its aftermath.
There were sunken graves, leaning headstones, dead trees, and noxious bushes that split curbings around family plots and enveloped some markers. The car paths were full of ruts, and in the summer, the grass often went unmowed, and weeds flourished.
The Diocese of Helena was supposed to maintain the cemetery but besides replacing and installing some fencing, it had made few investments in recent years before the major restoration project began.
With cash donations and labor and other in-kind help from hundreds of individuals and businesses, great progress was made.
New fencing was installed on the west side, many of the sunken graves were backfilled, dead trees were cut down and their stumps removed. Many headstones have been straightened, the car paths are substantially improved, and new asphalt has been put down in places.
Much of that work was done by August 2016.
“The people in this town are amazing, and this has truly been a community-wide effort,” Jim Sullivan, an AOH member who worked on the project, said at the time.
Mulcahy has worked for years at Highland View Golf Course so he is familiar with large watering systems. He and other AOH members also hold an annual golf tournament to raise money for the cemetery. This year’s tournament was held last Wednesday and raised about $3,300, he said.
Contributions are still coming in, with one of the major donors being the Emigrant Support Program from Ireland. Contributions can still be made through Granite Mountain Bank and Mulcahy says the AOH thanks everyone who has had a part in the cemetery's restoration.