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Butte: Montana’s Irish Mining Town

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The Irish Cultural Centre of New England, in conjunction with the Eire Society of Boston, is pleased to present a special exhibit and lecture telling the story of the Irish miners who made Butte, Montana “the richest hill on earth” and America’s most Irish 19th century city. The event will take place on Saturday, March 2, 2013 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mike Dwyer, founder and president of the Beara Society, longtime member of the ICC, and current board member of the Eire Society of Boston will take us through the 19th century odyssey of Butte, Montana from a desolate place in the U.S. Rockies to a thriving 20th century town whose Irish inhabitants helped shape the success of agriculture, industry, railroad transportation and education across the state of Montana.

Hailing from West Cork, Mike Dwyer is deeply familiar with the emigration story of his grandfather, who had left Ireland and settled in Butte just when the copper in the hills was in demand as a result of the improvements Thomas Edison made in conductivity of transmission waves. Copper wire was the “new gold”, to ensure the speedy implementation of telephone communication across the country. As Dwyer explains, “at the height of the Irish mining industry in Butte, 10,000 Irish miners such as the likes of my grandfather worked the 60 mines 24 hours a day to harvest the rich copper resource.” He is collecting resource material with the help of former Eire Society President John McGuire and board member Seamus Mulligan.

The content of Dwyer’s presentation is based on the eight panel exhibit of photographs, journal entries, and transcripts designed by an exhibit team from the University College Cork (UCC); the University of Montana; the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives; and ‘The Gathering’: Collected Oral Stories of the Irish in Montana.

The exhibit made its way across Ireland this past summer. A delegation from UCC visited the University of Montana in May of 2012 to continue discussion regarding the significance of Irish mining families. The exhibit will be on display in the Main Floor Function Room of the Irish Cultural Centre of New England during the month of March 2013.

The display panels are organized around four themes: The Journey, Work & Labor, Women & Children, and Church & Club. Each element is described on the UCC web site as “both independently strong and interrelated. The arrangement itself reflects the Irish experience in Montana and how the emigrants integrated themselves into a new Irish American community.” Recognizing the depth of information and cultural history captured in the words and photographs of the exhibit, Dwyer quickly communicated with members of the creative team to request that a copy of the exhibit be made available for display at the ICCNE through a cooperative effort with the ICCNE, Eire Society of Boston and the Beara Society. There will also be a rendition of a selection of Irish mining songs integral to the lives of the men who made a new life for their families by giving their lives to the mines of Montana’s Rocky Mountains.

Both Mary McTigue, Executive Director of the Irish Cultural Centre of New England, and Cate McGrail, President of the Eire Society, are delighted that members of their respective organizations are working together in support of the Beara Society’s and Dwyer’s dream to tell the Butte: Montana’s Irish Mining Town story to as many individuals as possible. For Cate McGrail, “this type of programming is what the Eire Society strives to do: keep people in touch with their Irish roots.” Mary McTigue summarized her enthusiasm for the event when she said “this is such a wonderful event, and it’s a great way to ring in the month of March at the ICCNE to celebrate the remarkable stories of Irish men, women and children who literally carved a life out of America with their ingenuity, convictions, hopes and faith.”

To purchase tickets for the Saturday, March 2, 2013 Butte: Montana’s Irish Mining Town – a Dinner, Lecture, and Performance, please visit www.irishculture.org , call 781-821-8291 or e-mail info@irishculture.org. Tickets are $25 per person for ICC, Eire Society and Beara Society Members | $30 per person General Admission. Advance ticket purchase is recommended. The ICC is located at 200 New Boston Drive, Canton, MA 02021. Please park in the Main Lot and walk across the footbridge to the Centre. The Centre has parking for the physically challenged and convenient front door access. Please call for details.

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