An exhibit illustrating Irish immigration to Montana opened this month at the University of College Cork in Ireland, with nearly 200 people in attendance.
University of College Cork president Michael Murphy, Cork Deputy Mayor John Collins and Irish native Bernadette Sweeney, an assistant professor of theater and dance at the University of Montana were at the opening.
The event marks the celebration of immigration in Montana.
It is also part of a wider project, “The Gathering,” which looks to collect and archive the oral histories of Irish Americans living in Montana.
“Those who use The Gathering collection can listen to the voices of each participant, hear their inflections, accents and idioms,” Sweeney said. “Our ultimate aim is to make these voices and stories available worldwide throughout the internet.”
The idea for the exhibit, “From Rocky Shores to the Rocky Mountains: The Irish in Montana,” started in 2009.
That is when Traolach O’Riordain, the current director of the Irish Studies at UM and former director Katie Kane, met with the Irish Consul General to discuss the history of Irish America and the need to preserve it.
Clare native, Sweeney got involved when she moved to Montana. The Gathering Project was formed and Sweeney and her team started out in search of stories.
“A lot of our interest comes from Anaconda and Butte, but we’ve gotten interest from across Montana, including Hardin and West Yellowstone,” Sweeney said. “We’ve also gotten interviews in Ireland.”
The team has collected more than 100 such interviews so far, plus 40 on video.
They contain accounts of different people from various places across Ireland who immigrated for all kinds of reasons.
“In 100 years time, it’ll be really remarkable to the people who listen to these stories,” Sweeney told the Missoulian.
Many of the interviews have shared memories of the individuals Irish parents and grandparents who came to work in Montana.
“The main story is just sheer determination in the face of real hardship,” Sweeney added.
Most countries across Ireland are represented in The Gathering, but the most part came from West Cork.
The project is funded by the Irish government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and UM, along with Butte Silver-Bow Archive, the Montana Historical Society, Humanities Montana and others.