My Grandfather Michael J. O'Sullivan was born in Inchinteskin Townland , Eyeries Parish, Beara Peninsula, West Cork, Ireland in June 1873.
Mike emigrated to the mining camp of Butte, Montana in the late 19th Century, as had many of our relations. Mike wasn't without company. There were 1,268 Sullivans, all relations and nearly as many Harringtons (also relations) in Butte at that time. Many more were scattered about the Rocky Mountain mining camps in Montana, Colorado and Utah; and the desert mining camps of Nevada.
Mike was a tall man (6'3'') lean and hardy. He worked as a hammer and drill man in the hard rock mines, wielding a sledge hammer to drive the drill held by a partner. Terrible working conditions in the mines. Poor ventilation, no santitation, dangerous work far below the surface. In winter when temperatures dip to 30 or 40 below zero in Butte, Mike and his mates had to endure temperatures of 100 degrees, or more, above zero- a mile deep driving mine shafts. When they came off a 12 hour shift, the were soaked with sweat. As they emerged into the far below zero winter air, my father recalled seeing the men disappear in a vapor, before they tossed their uneaten lunches to the children on the Anaconda Road.
St Patrick's Cemetery, Butte ,is full of young Beara miners, row after a row, who died from fires, explosions, rock cave-ins and other mine accidents in their 20's and 30's. One old Beara miner, who returned to West Cork, said that men where cheaper than timbers in those Western mining camps.
The Beara boys did not live long lives like their relations back home. Quartz crystals from the mine dust shredded their lungs resulting in a premature, hard death from the "Miner's Con". The air was heavy with the fumes of lead and arsenic from the smelters.
Mike met, and married my Grandmother, Julia Harrington, in St Patrick's Church, Butte. Julia was from the Western (Allihies Parish) Beara. She had emigrated to Butte with her father Sean (A Buaile) (Sean of the Field) a reference to an infamous field in Kilcatherine , Eyeries where the Harringtons and O Sullivans fought a battle over turf in the Famine times. Julia's brother's Jeremiah, Daniel, Timothy and John went to Butte.
Her sister Mary and younger brother, Den, remained in the Western Parish. Den was raised on the Killaugh farm of my Grandmother's Uncle Paddy O'Sullivan (Sounish). There so many branches of the O'Sullivan Clan in Beara (23 in Eyeries Parish alone ) that they had nicknames to sort them out. Sounish is Gaelic for "The Peaceful" . That nickname refers to our Ancester Owen who treatied with the English in the late 1500's and kept his lands.
The rest of the Clan fought the English and, most, were either killed or scattered to foreign lands after the fall of Dunboy castle (Castletownbere) in 1602. Some were transported to Barbados where they became slaves on the English sugar planations. Others were sailors, sea captains or mercenaries in the armies of France, Austria and England. Some even showed up in Northern New York in the French and Indian Wars.
Back to Michael J. - After they were married in Butte, they went to the Cripple Creek Gold mining district 10, 000 feet up behind Pike's Peak in Colorado.
Their first born John and Mary Anne died as infants in an influenza epidemic. Uncles Rob, George and my father, Joe were born in Colorado. Rob in Cripple Creek, my father and George in Denver.
They were all caught up in the labor violence of the Cripple Creek mine wars. My Grandfather, Mike was an organizer for the Western Federation of Miners, who sought safer working conditions in the mines. The mine owners brought in scabs. Explosions and shootings followed. Army troops were brought in to restore order. Mike, and a 104 other Irish miners were rounded up and deported. Julia and the children went to Denver.
In 1907, Mike and family showed up in the Nevada gold camps of Tonopah and Goldfield. Aunt Liz was born there. I still have her birth certificate -a handwritten scrap of paper. She lived to 95, I knew her well.
More labor strife and violence in the mines. The Irish miners has to strip when they came off shift. The mine owners wanted to make sure that the miners weren't highgrading gold ore anywhere on or in their bodies. Needless the say, the Irish lads didn't stand for this. More strikes, explosions and shootings. More troops were called in to restore order.
This day in 1908, Mike died, at age 34, in the desert mining camp of Rhyolite, Nevada, at the edge of Death Valley where temperatures, this time of year hover well at 100 degrees or above.
Grandmother Julia was down with Typhoid, as were the children. My father, Joe, had Scarlet Fever. They weren't expected to live, but did.
My Grandfather's brother, Black Jim, who ran a saloon on the Anaconda Road, Butte,and Julia's brother,John, made the trek to Nevada. They brought Mike's body, Julia and the children back to Butte.
No welfare or social services or childcare programs then. People took care of their own!
Mike wasburied in St Patrick's Cemetery, ironically, the same week as Sean A Buaile (Julia's father and my GreatGrandfather). Sean died of the miner's con at 67 -rather old for a miners, because he had emigrated at age 50.
Julia ran a boarding house for Irish miners, on the Anaconda Rd, a few doors down from Black Jim's saloon. Terrible air pollution from the mine stacks and smelters - a constant smog of lead and arsenic with copper dust.
The working conditions in the mines were still horrible. The young Irish miners were exploited by the mine owners.
My father told me there was a bottle under the bed of every young miner - a drop of the craether to help them rise up and do their work and to fall back to sleep when the shift was over.
Grandmother Julia decided enough was enough. Butte was not a place where a widow could raise three sons and a daughter. In 1913, she took the family back to Beara. She, Rob, George and Liz went to Killaugh to live on the farm of her Uncle Paddy Sounish.
Grandmother Julia became a nurse. She delivered most of the babies born in the Allihies Parish in the 1920's and 30's. No hospital. Julia would go to her patient's homes on a pony and trap. She is still fondly recalled by oldtimers, there, as Julia "the Big Nurse".
Paddy Sounish's farm is still there. Den's son Brendan, my cousin, raises dry stock on the same fields overlooking the wild Atlantic. that have been farmed by our family for centuries.
My father was sent to work the Inchinteskin farm of his aging Grandparents, (Mike's parents) because Mike and his six brothers had all emigrated.
My father's Grandparents were a pair. John was a very tall man, over 6'5''. Johanna (O'Sullivan (Shearhig)) was a hearty woman who dug potatoes with the men in the fields. Johanna came from Coulagh Ard (The High Field) just up Mishkish Mountain above Inchinteskin.
My father told me those were the best years of his life - even if his Grandmother was no one to cross, One day, when he was about 15, he drank about six bottles of stout and fell off the stone wall on his back. He heard his Grandmother calling him, but he couldn't rise. Suddenly, she appeared standing over him with a fireplace poker in his hand. He got the poker across his shin and bore the scar til they day he died. But, he never disobeyed his Grandmother agae
Black Jim brought his family back from Butte to the Inchinteskin farm. He built a fine house, but didn't live long after. Black Jim died in a Black and Tan raid. THey were the prisioners let out by the English to terrorize the Irish country people in the 1920's
So, here I am in Albany, with my thoughts. Grandfather Mike lies in a marked grave in St Patrick's Cemetery, Butte, along with two of Black Jim's infants - John and Alice. Greatgrandfather Sean A Buiale lies nearby in an unmarked grave along with his sons Dan and Jerry. Dan's wife, and a cousin John Murphy - the latter 4 all died in their 20's.
They have plenty of company, lots of relations there. Our Lady of the Rockies , a huge statute erected on a nearby mountain, looks down on St Patrick's and Butte.
So, here I am in Albany today, with these thoughts. I am proud of my Irish heritage and my Ancestors. They helped build America and they are the reason I am here, An American, today.
I am who and what I am because of them.