CELEBRATING IRISH: Mines brought them to Butte
THE ORIGINAL St. Mary's, a predominantly Irish Catholic church, was located at 713 N. Wyoming. Very few photos of the church's interior have been found. The church was destroyed by fire Aug. 31, 1931. This photograph was taken around 1920. Note the ornate angels atop the altar.

From 1845 to 1849, black rot would cover acres upon acres of Irish farmland that was once rich in potato crops. Referred to as the Great Potato Famine, nearly one million Irish men, women and children died of hunger and disease. The famine would spur an immigration never before seen. Nearly 3 million Irish made their way to America between 1846 and 1921. Some of those immigrants are pictured here.

Dozens of mines in Ireland were closing, and by 1880, mining would bring immigrants (more often than not from County Cork) 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."

The 1900 Butte City Directory corroborated that statement. For instance, the mayor was Jeremiah McCarthy, police judge was James Sullivan, and the building inspector was W.J. Kennedy. John Lavelle served as Butte's police chief and Silver Bow's police chief was Patrick Regan. His undersheriff and deputy were Jeremiah Murphy and Dennis O'Neill.

Hundreds of Irish people were listed in the 1900 directory with surnames such as Brennan, Flynn, Foley, Hannifan, Healy, Hennessy, Kane, Kearney, Leary, Lowney, McCarthy, McCormick, Monahan, O'Brien, O'Neill, Ryan, Torpey, and the list went on and on. The Irish surnames that appeared the most included Sullivan, Murphy, Harrington, Shea and Lynch. Approximately 440 Sullivans, 265 Murphys and 200 Harringtons were listed in the directory, along with more than 110 Sheas and nearly 100 Lynches. Many of them lived in the Irish neighborhoods of Dublin Gulch and Corktown.

While many of Butte's Irishmen worked in the mines, a significant number were business proprietors. Daniel Hennessy owned and operated Hennessy's Department Store, Donald Kennedy was the proprietor of the Kennedy Furniture Co., and Patrick J. Brophy ran P.J. Brophy & Co., a large grocery and liquor store. Dozens of saloons were run by such men as John Leary, Dan Driscoll, James Malloy, Patrick Hurley, Lawrence O'Toole and Cornelius Kelly.

Butte hotels included the Duggan House in Dublin Gulch, the Mullin House on Main Street, Morgan House on Front, and the Torpey House on Broadway. Several Irish physicians are also listed. Among them were Thomas Sullivan, William O'Neill, John McIntyre, Thomas Murray and Albert O'Leary. Lawyers included Jeremiah J. Lynch, Emmett Callahan, Miles Cavanaugh, James Healy and Cornelius Drennen.

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Irish women also made significant contributions to Butte's growth. Many ran boarding houses, like Mary Harrington, Cassie and Maggie McMillen, and Mary Dunn. Bakeries were run by Maggie Boyle, May Daly, Mollie Geagan, and Kate Harrington. Some even ran saloons, including Margaret O'Brien, whose bar was located at 319 N. Main.

According to Ellen Crain of the Butte-Silver Bow Archives, these women had successfully run businesses, boarding houses and most of all, were politically active. "They also lobbied for legislation on behalf of women and children," said Crain.

In the years following 1900, these men and women would continue to contribute, schools, churches and businesses would multiply, and mining would expand.

One of the strongest leaders among the Irish women was Bridget Shea, who went on to head the Women's Protective Union, the first union in America organized to protect women workers.

Much has changed since 1900. Butte's population has dwindled and at present, mining is nonexistent. However, Irish pride has prevailed. St. Patrick's Day has grown to be one of Montana's largest celebrations, both children and adults now attend Irish language and dance classes, and although Notre Dame University is located hundreds of miles away, the Fighting Irish is one of the Mining City's favorite college football teams.

Better yet, today concludes the Montana Irish Festival - An Ri Ra - and there is hope that Butte will become home to an Irish Cultural Center. How appropriate that a town built, in part, with the blood, sweat and tears of Irish immigrants now celebrates their accomplishments.

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