From Allihies to Leadville, Another ‘Trail of Tears’.

Leadville Miner Memorial, (J Goltz),

Today as one descends into the community from the high Castletownbere road, the beauty of Ballydonegan Bay and Allihies village on the Beara peninsula in West Cork remains stunning to the eye. Alive with tourists, music and life in the summertime, it slumbers gently during the wild winter months. The hills all around are dotted with the remains of mine sites, there is a busy Copper Mine Museum providing a focus point for information, study and relaxation in the linear village. One can walk the Allihies Copper Mine Trail, in the footsteps of the miners. The village’s past is bound up with the local mines and their impact, its future is to tell the miner’s story.

Mining began here in 1812 at Dooneen, established by John Puxley, the local landlord, followed in 1813 by the Mountain Mine and in 1818 by the Caminches Mine. Mines opened and closed, Dooneen in 1838, Caminches in the 1840s.  Eventually mine shafts pockmarked the hills rising to the north of the village. By 1842, upwards of 1600 men and boys, some from Cornwall, worked underground and across the hilly landscape. The large Kealogue mine opened.

Working conditions were brutal, many died, and strikes were smashed in a ruthless manner. As the great Famine devastated West Cork (1845-1852), food was brought in by the Puxleys to keep the mines in operation. The emigration of some miners and their families began. The miners especially at the Kealogue mine were concerned by safety issues and went on strike in 1861.

Later in 1864, there was a confrontation with the local Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) when they marched on the Mountain Mine to demand better pay and conditions. Further strikes followed over low wages and resentment grew as the mine owners constructed extravagant additions to their Puxley Manor at nearby Dunboy Castle. Emigration continued as workforce was reduced, the mines were sold and finally closed in 1884. Sporadic attempts to reopen mines, including some exploration for base metals and uranium have taken place in the 1970s, but the old mines remain a silent testament to a difficult past.   

Many miners and their families journeyed to the USA, using the infamous coffin ships, facing disease and exploitation and upon arrival, they remained always transient, for ever journeying westwards to the copper mines of Butte, Montana and to Michigan, to Pennsylvania, and onwards to Leadville, high in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Prospector Abe Lee struck gold at California Gulch in Colorado about 1860. Will Stevens followed around 1875 and when he discovered the silver-bearing carbonate of lead in the old diggings at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the miners quickly renamed the old town. Leadville immediately became a magnet for the silver rush of the mobile mining workforce arriving in the New World. 

Originally a mining camp, Leadville prospered in the bonanza and developed a notorious reputation for gambling, brothels and drinking saloons as vividly described by the local Daily Chronicle newspaper. However, it was not that unlike nearby mining towns such as Cripple Creek, or indeed Deadwood, or Butte. By 1890, Leadville had a population of 25,000 and six churches. And by 1896, Leadville was so wealthy that in a display of ostentatious civic pride it was able to construct an Ice Palace, costing $20,000 and covering some 5 acres. Also, in 1896 there began a nine-month strike by the Cloud City Miners’ Union (local of the Western Federation of Miners WFM). The miners were seeking just $3 a day. They were defeated and at least six miners died in the conflict.

Colorado National Guard protecting mines during the Leadville Union Strike of 1896 (Denver Public Library).

Hundreds of Irish miners joined the rush to the tiny town. Research by Assistant Professor, James Walsh at the University of Colorado in Denver has identified hundreds of graves at the Catholic and paupers’ graveyards at Evergreen Cemetery in the town. Many contain remains of young Irish miners and their families, some from West Cork.

James Walsh estimates from his research in the Catholic parish records that 1400 people are buried in unmarked graves in the paupers’ section and up to 70% of them have Irish names. Their average age is just 23 years and half of them were children under 12. There could be up to 2500 Irish immigrants buried in the wider cemetery. A significant number can be linked back to Allihies.

Their brief lives underground were filled with dangers, sickness and back breaking work for very little money. The journey from Allihies to Leadville in many ways represents a further “trail of tears” * for the mining population of the Beara peninsula who now lie in often unmarked graves among the woods of the town.

Experiences of underground miners were captured by photographer, Timothy O’Sullivan, a young veteran of the American Civil War whose work down in the pits has preserved for ever this hell-like subterranean prison of the mining life. His images of ghostly and gaunt men with far away expressions working deep underground are matched in the work of Tom McGuinness, miner and artist who painted remarkable images of the silent and lonely coalminers in the mining tunnels of the North East of England almost a century later.

For those who have never mined in the mineral veins of the earth, it is hard to imagine the oppressive heat, the dirt and filth and the sheer loneliness of men and boys who rarely saw the daylight of the magnificent Rocky Mountains. It was the new world of many Irish and some did not survive for long in the horrific and dangerous working conditions of this snowbound town. 

Some Irish prospered. In 1880, Thomas Francis Walsh, from Tipperary discovered a vein of quartz bearing silver at Leadville and made a huge fortune. James Doyle, James Burns and John Harnan made a fortune at Cripple Creek. The “Silver Kings” of Cornstock were four Irishmen, John Mackay, James Fair, James Flood and William O’Brien. Once more as miners and their families starved, the “Kings” flaunted their riches, building gigantic mansions, erecting marble columns, and commissioning pure silver candelabras.  

The silver rush continued into the 1890s when most local mines closed, the remaining miners headed to Denver and the Colorado coalmines of John D. Rockefeller where they and their descendants’ joined unions at the urging of Cork born Mother Jones, and the United Mine Workers Union under John Mitchell in the early 1900s. Others later took part in the bitter West Virginia/Colorado Coal Wars of 1913/14, which culminated in the Ludlow Massacre.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in September 2022, Alan Grourke, President of the Irish Network in Colorado introduced a series of speakers to a crowd which had gathered to witness the emotional unveiling of a memorial to the Irish miners and their families who lie buried alongside. The memorial depicts “Liam” the miner as he sits, facing back to Ireland some 7000 kms. to Allihies with his miners pick and an Irish harp.

Liam the Miner faces Ireland (J. Goltz).

James Walsh speaking to Denver 7, a local TV station said as he walked near the unmarked graves among the trees stated.

“This is what class looks like in America, they were forgotten……instead of honouring the monarchy, we are honouring the poorest of the poor and that’s a radical thing to do, it changes perspectives, it changes dynamics and by honouring nineteen century workers, we honour 21st century immigrant workers too.”

Irish Consul, Micheal Smith, representing the Irish government which contributed financially paid tribute to the organising committee for their dedication to erecting the memorial, while the Mayor of Leadville, Greg Labbe provided an account of the harsh lives of the miners. Historian Kathleen Fitzsimmons pointed to the rounded stones forming the memorial and the pathway as a symbol of the spiral and urged people to visit this “sacred space” and leave the world better for their children. The Irish Miners’ Memorial is expected to be completed in 2023.

A blessing of the memorial then took place by Native American Cassandra Atencio, member of the Southern Ute Tribe on whose native lands the graveyard and memorial lies. The blessing provided further historical and symmetrical symbolic connections between the indigenous people of North America and the Irish.

The Choctaw Nation contributed funds to the town of Midleton in Co Cork during the Famine in 1847, despite being forced on their own ‘Trail of Tears’ during the ethnic cleansings of 1831-1833. Several thousand tribal members died on those marches.

Monument to the Choctaw at Midleton, Co. Cork.

The Ute people always lived in harmony with their wild environment and took care of Mother Earth.

An Ute prayer for the planet.

May the Earth teach you stillness as the grasses are stilled with light
May the Earth teach you suffering as old stone suffer with memory
May the Earth teach you humility as blossoms are humble with beginning

May the Earth teach you caring as the mother who serves her young
May the Earth teach you courage as the tree which stands you all alone
May the Earth teach you limitation as the ant which crawls on the ground.

May the Earth teach you freedom as the eagle which sores in the sky
May the Earth teach you resignation as the leaves which die in the fall
May the Earth teach you regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.

May the Earth teach you to forget yourself as the melted snow forgets its life
May the Earth teach you to remember kindness as dry field weep with rain.

An appropriate monument and a fitting blessing for all those who lie in soil of Leadville.

*During the harsh winter of 1602/3 following defeat of the Irish at the Battle of Kinsale, Beara Chieftain, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare had led a thousand people from his peninsula clan and home on a 500 kms. March north to Co. Leitrim to escape the English attacks…after a trail of tears……. just thirty-five reached safety among the O’Rourke clan in Leitrim!

Visit Allihies Copper Mine Museum, http://www.acmm.ie,

Visit INCO Irish Network Colorado, http://www.irishnetworkco.com.

American Events and Updates

There are many activities and ongoing events in the USA with connections to Mother Jones and the Irish emigrant diaspora.

Some wonderful news is that the Chicago Monuments Commission has issued a report and among the projects which it has decided to fund is the Chicago Statue/Sculpture Campaign which seeks to erect a monument to Mother Jones in a prominent location in Chicago. This additional $50,000 funding from the Commission gives the campaign a fantastic boost and it is hoped to announce the location of the monument very soon. Fundraising continues and the latest trade union contribution of $5000 from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Crafts was also most welcome. The Committee’s cherished dream of a lasting and permanent monument to the Cork woman looks like being realised shortly.

Image of Proposed Mother Jones Statue in Chicago


The Mother Jones Heritage Project has also received news that its application for the erection of a road marker in southern Indiana to Mother Jones has been approved. It will be placed in Evansville, a city with a rich Labour and coal miners heritage where Mother Jones rallied striking textile workers in 1901 and later in 1916 when she addressed a crowd of some ten thousand at a Labor Day picnic. A former coal miner and local historian Steve Bottoms worked with the Indiana authorities and with fundraising to make this memorial to Mother Jones happen.

The Mother Jones Heritage exhibition, Dangerous Women, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones and Francis “Fannie” Sellins, at the St. Louis Public Library’s Carnegie Room continues until January 7, 2023. The exhibit was funded in part by an Emigrant Support Grant of the Irish Government through the Chicago Consulate. Fannie Sellins was born Fannie Mooney and this union activist also had deep Irish emigrant roots.

Finally the Mother Jones Heritage Project invites everyone to join them on Saturday September 3rd in Chicago as Mother Jones leads the Labor day Parade. So come out and honour Mother Jones. For details visit  www.motherjonesmuseum.org  

Meanwhile down in Leadville in Colorado the construction of a monument is underway to remember the many Irish immigrants, over 1300, many of them young miners and their families from Allihies in West Cork who lie buried in unmarked graves in the Evergreen Cemetery.

Old Copper Mine in Ailihies, West Cork.

The local Colorado committee under Professor James Walsh expects to have Phase 1 of the memorial completed this year and there will be a celebratory event in Leadville on Saturday September 17th 2022 to mark this achievement. The full unveiling of the spectacular monument will be held in 2023 when the glass panels with the names of those who lie buried there will be on display. Fundraising is continuing and donations towards the completion of the monument are most welcome.

Proposed Immigrant Memorial in Leadville, Colorado.

For details.    https://www.irishnetworkco.com/celebration-of-the-completion-of-phase-1-of-the-leadville-memorial/

Mount Olive Cemetery to honour the family of Mother Jones.

A commemorative bench honouring the memory of the family of Mother Jones will be unveiled on May Day 2022 at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive.

The grave of Mary Harris/Mother Jones lies in this unique cemetery, her memory forever immortalised in the large grave monument erected in 1936 to her memory.

Loretta Williams at the Mother Jones Monument.

During the forthcoming Mt. Olive International Mother Jones Festival 2022, the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Association along with the Illinois AFL-CIO and the UMWA Local 1613 will dedicate a memorial bench to her often forgotten husband George Jones and her children, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine and Terence who died in Memphis during the Yellow Fever epidemic of September 1867.

Entrance to Mt. Olive Cemetery courtesy of Pat Schmeder.

To hear directly from the Mayor of Mt Olive John Skertich and Nelson Grman, a member of the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Committee, long-time union activist and promoter of Mother Jones please click on the following link. 

https://youtu.be/6wGmP2e5ZGk

Why did Mother Jones wish to be buried at Mount Olive?

Every wonder why Mother Jones wished to be buried near “her boys”  at the town of Mount Olive, in Southern Illinois in the Union Miners Cemetery, which is located near Route 66 midway between Springfield and St. Louis?


Mother Jones had earlier written to the Miners of Mount Olive on November 12th 1923, seeking 

“a resting place in the same clay that shelters the miners who gave up their lives in the hills of Virden, Illinois on the morning of October 12th 1898, for their heroic sacrifice for their fellow men”.

Extract from Mother Jones and the Union Miners Cemetery Mount Olive, Illinois by the Illinois Labor History Society.

Her request was granted.

Grave of Mother Jones, Mount Olive.

 
The Battle of Virden claimed the lives of four Mount Olive miners and since 1899, October 12th has been celebrated as Miners Day in Illinois at the Union Miners Cemetery.


During the battle, seven miners were killed and forty were wounded. Five mine guards died and four were wounded. The youngest miner killed was Edward Long, just 19 years old from Mount Olive.

Virden Monument. Mother Jones rear centre.

Many activists from the Progressive Miners of America are buried at Mount Olive. Recently the remains of labour singer Anne Feeney, were placed in the cemetery.

To listen to the story of the Battle of Virden, the following is an interesting interview with local resident and historian John Alexander, an Illinois bookstore owner.
https://https://youtu.be/8qcBLQL2beg
www.buzzsprout.com/1856440/

Our thanks to JASE Media Services in Mount Olive for their kind permission to share this podcast.

Mother Jones Portraits Unveiled in Washington and Chicago.

On Saturday May 1st 2021, the Irish Embassy in Washington and the Irish Consulate in Chicago unveiled two beautiful portraits of Mother Jones. Commissioned by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and painted by artist Lindsay Hand, they represent a fitting tribute to this great Cork born woman, trade union and labour activist. This was part of “If Walls Could Talk” initiative by the Irish Consulate.

Irish Ambassador to America, Daniel Mulhall unveiled the portrait at the embassy where it will hang proudly alongside the portrait of the late civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis.

Kevin Byrne, the Irish Consul General in Chicago conducted an interesting discussion with Lindsay Hand, the artist and a series of Illinois based trade union leaders who explained what Mother Jones means to them. The trade union leaders who participated in the discussion included Sheila Gainer, UniteHere union organiser, Pat Meade of the Illinois Nurses Association and Deborah Cosey-Lane of the Amalgamated Transit Union.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vu2bRaFN2Yg
https://www.motherjonesmuseum.org/post/lindsay-hand-s-art-brings-fannie-sellins-spirit-to-life

To read the media reports of the Mother Jones portraits, click below.

Portraits of Shandon-born woman unveiled in Washington and Chicago (echolive.ie)

Irish born activist Mother Jones remains ‘an inspiration’ (irishtimes.com)

Mother Jones by Lindsay Hand
Mother Jones by Lindsay Hand