August September 2010 Issue – Irish America Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Jul 2019 14:56:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 82361074 The Vision of Bob McCann Sun, 01 Aug 2010 12:00:24 +0000 Read more..]]> It’s been said that the role of a leader in the new economy is to create a vision for your organization and make that vision a reality. Bob McCann of UBS talks about life, the importance of community and family, and what his vision for the future holds.

Sitting with Bob McCann in his impressive office in Weehawken, New Jersey, facing a panoramic view of the Hudson and the New York skyline, it’s hard to argue with this statement. The chief executive officer of UBS Wealth Management Americas (WMA) and a member of the group executive board of UBS AG, McCann has a résumé that would intimidate many established professionals, not to mention a recent college graduate with a ballpoint pen and a Dictaphone.

This considered, I’m amazed at how down-to-earth Bob McCann is. When he walks into a room, you’re put at ease. Our photographer, Kit DeFever, mentioned his surprise when McCann greeted a security guard by name, and the guard called him Bob. He’s straightforward and open when discussing his views, political or philosophical, and downright tender when he talks about his two daughters, 20 and 22, and their hopes for the future. He is deeply committed to his philanthropic work and speaks passionately about his focus on education.

Before taking his current post at UBS, McCann spent twenty-six years at Merrill Lynch, where he was most recently vice chairman of Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., and president of Global Wealth Management. When I speak with him on July 6, it’s the 28th anniversary of when he began working on Wall Street. “It was a Tuesday in 1982,” McCann remembers. “When I came to New York, I started to hear more about the Irish community, started having more interest … A couple of my aunts have indicated that we were a family that didn’t talk a lot about our Irish heritage. When I pressed [family members] on that, it seems to be the conclusion that it was a family where it was thought, ‘We’re now American.’ So I can tell you that growing up, my Irish ancestry wasn’t mentioned a lot or talked much about.

“My involvement in Ireland didn’t really start until 1997, 1998, and it started for the most New York of all reasons. It was about business. A friend of mine [and fellow Wall Street 50 honoree] Kip Condron asked me to buy a table at The American Ireland Fund dinner in New York, and I did because he was a friend and a good client. But through that, I started to develop friendships in the Irish-American community, with Loretta Brennan Glucksman and [Ambassador] Dan Rooney, who’s from my hometown of Pittsburgh.”

McCann’s great-great-grandfather came to Scotland from outside of Belfast around 1850. Family research suggests that he heard of work in Western Pennsylvania when mills were being built in Pittsburgh, and immigrated to America. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that McCann visited Ireland on a golfing trip. “I remember it perfectly. It sounds like it’s out of a travelogue or something, but what I remember first is just how green it was. It really does strike you. I had no idea. From the sky, I remember wanting to understand all the walls that were up and what they represented. I couldn’t get over the value, in a host of ways, an Irishman puts on owning property.”

Through his involvement in The American Ireland Fund since 1998, McCann has found an excellent outlet for his philanthropic focus on education and intercultural communication. “At one board meeting for the Ireland Fund, they made a comment that religious prejudice shows up in people as young as six. It became clear to me after I did a little bit more research that we have to get the kids young. So one year that I was the honoree at The American Ireland Fund dinner in New York, I wanted the proceeds of the dinner to go towards educational activities. It was great; it was the biggest dinner we ever had and we raised $4 million. We built a grade school in the North dedicated to integrated education. I’m just fascinated with the topic of integrated education because to me, it hits on all the things I care about. It touches on education and it also touches on understanding differences and learning to appreciate differences.

“Through another contact that I had at another time of my life, I met Gary Knell, the president and CEO of the Sesame Workshop. Having two children, I remember Sesame Street being on TV in our house all the time, and I found out through Gary that it’s a lot more than just keeping your kids entertained; it’s about education. Sesame Street had been in about 106 different countries but they never could crack Northern Ireland. So I introduced Gary to Loretta Brennan Glucksman [Chairman of AIF] and we thought that that could be a good project. We filmed 20 episodes of Sesame Street in Northern Ireland. They created two Muppets in addition to the ones that are more well-known, a Catholic and a Protestant Muppet, and they tell stories of understanding and respect and forgiveness through the Muppets to the kids. It’s good stuff.”

A member of the executive committee of the board of directors of The American Ireland Fund, McCann is also involved with the Northern Ireland Mentorship Programme, along with U.S. Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly. The Programme aims to develop Northern Ireland’s promising future business leaders and entrepreneurs while strengthening the links between Northern Ireland and U.S. business. “I have a lot of respect for Declan. He’s likeable, he’s smart, he’s energetic. He and Dan Rooney, and [President] Mary McAleese’s husband, Martin, started talking about the need for programs that would give people focus, show people that the world is a big place and there’s a way to be – I don’t want to say a way out, because that sounds like the only alternative is to leave, but the world’s a big place and there are opportunities out there, and you can go off and learn and then come back to Ireland. Although I’ve spent more of my time in the last year or so working on issues in the North, I care about all of Ireland. I kind of sit silent when people from the North position themselves as a better place for business than the South. I don’t disagree, but they know how I feel and how I feel is that I want to see all of Ireland succeed. I thought that we could create an opportunity for successful young people who have shown potential to come to the U.S. and work for a great company with the idea and commitment that they would go back, whether they start their own company or work at a big one. And I also think that if we pick the right 30 people, they’ll all touch other people’s lives.”

McCann’s philanthropic work in America is similarly focused on empowering young people to thrive. “I always say the two things that really have allowed me to succeed were that I came from a great family and I had education,” he says. “I can’t do anything about somebody’s family, but I can try to make it possible for them to access education.” At his own alma mater, Bethany College, McCann has founded the McCann Learning Center and the McCann Investment Fund, as well as serving as vice chairman of the board of trustees and as chair of the college’s investment committee. The learning center provides support for students with learning disabilities or other difficulties, and the investment fund is based on a course that McCann took in graduate school, at Texas Christian University, which involved managing actual money in the stock market.

He is also a member of the advisory board of the No Greater Sacrifice Foundation, which funds the education of children of military personnel who have been wounded or killed. “I was never in the military, but I’ve come to develop a very healthy respect for military people and the sacrifices that they make. To me it’s not about politics, it’s not a statement about how I feel about this war or any other.”

With the amount of time Bob McCann spends on philanthropic pursuits, it’s stunning to recall that he expends the majority of his energy heading a top investment company in what is still a trying economic time for our nation. “The economy is better than it was a year ago, but I think it’s still fragile,” he says. “I think it’s going to be a long, slow recovery and there are going to be fits and starts in this recovery. The last three years have been very hard on people in all kinds of ways and I think their confidence has been shaken. Their confidence in the U.S. economy, their confidence in our place in the world, how they invest and where they invest.” McCann, a self-described pragmatist, exercises a delicate balance of optimism and specific criticism in most of his views. “I think we’re going to come through it; I still believe in this country powerfully. The very same things that have allowed us to succeed for the two hundred and thirty-four years we’ve been here; those qualities are still in place but we’re being tested in a way that we haven’t been in quite some time, at the same time that we’re fighting two wars, so the country is being challenged in a host of different ways.

“I think financial regulatory reform was necessary; it was appropriate. The process to get here at times has been too politically charged. I don’t like to see people trying to divide and conquer; you can’t have financial regulation that’s driven by popular politics at the time. … I think it’s also important to note that in the end, regulatory reform will always have gaps. What fills the gaps is leadership. It comes down to running the companies, running the institutions in the United States, behaving and leading in the right way. Regulation will tell you what you can and can’t do, but leadership answers the question of what you should do. And what we need right now in the industry that I’m in, I would argue in big business period, we need leaders that are going to step up and lead in an honorable way. We have to earn back the trust of our clients, of our employees, of our shareholders, because, let’s face it, we let some people down. We have to earn that back. And I think the firms that do earn it back will be the firms that will have a competitive advantage into the next 10-20 years. Because it’s a challenging time, but progress is being made and there’s more to be made in the future.”

It’s clear that McCann refuses to see institutions, from Wall Street to the American government to the Catholic Church, as faceless and uncontrollable beings to be blamed for America’s challenges. He believes that good leadership by individuals in positions of power can overcome the most daunting of issues on large and small scales. Some of this philosophy comes from his two years under the mentorship of David Komansky, former chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch who grew up in a family of Russian Jewish immigrants and Irish Catholics. “There was a time in my life when I was trying to decide what direction to go. I was 33 years old. I’d been a trader up until that point in my life, and I loved it, I loved the action, I loved the markets. I had taken on some management responsibilities. I was a producing manager, and my definition of managing at the time was that I yelled louder than other people on the trading floor. Komansky worked with me over a two-year period and he helped me cross the bridge from being a producer, but one largely responsible for myself, to being a leader and an executive and being responsible for other people, and the joy and frustration that can come from that… I lost my temper on the trading floor, and he said, ‘Leadership is a privilege, not your right.’ I think all of us have to remember that people don’t have to follow, so we need to treat people in a way that they want to follow, and to create a vision for them to want to follow. Then we also need to explain to them where they tie into that.

“One thing that we have to fix, and we have to fix this quickly: big institutions have failed us. It isn’t just companies. Government leaders have failed, sports stars have failed. I’m Roman Catholic; the Catholic Church has failed people. Wall Street, big banks – organizations that are an important part of the cultural fabric –  have failed people. Whether it’s how the pope leads or how the president leads, when people are given positions of responsibility and influence, whether you are a professional athlete or you’re running a business … People turned their children over to the church and the church violated that trust. People put their money in banks and we violated their trust as an industry, and we’ve got to fix that. We’ve got to do the right thing.”

For McCann, doing the right thing in his industry means empowering clients to reengage in their financial planning and restoring their confidence in investments. His vision for working towards this goal is personal, and probably at odds with how many consumers imagine the priorities of investment agencies. “I think the biggest thing we can do is taking the time to really get to know our clients and understand them,” he says. “Clients don’t want to be sold products. Clients want somebody who can sit with them in a room and get to know them inside and out, talk with them and figure out their hopes, their dreams, their fears. And then work with them to come up with a game plan for them as to how they’re going to live their life and how they’re going to invest their money. You know, many decisions in life have a financial element. Life isn’t all about money, but let’s not be naive. To make many of the big decisions in life that you want to make, you have to be aware and understand what your financial position is. … the mistake that you make as an industry is when we sell people things. I’ve always felt that products are just the building blocks that we use. What we’re really trying to do for a client is get them in a position where they understand what they have, they understand the risk of everything they own, that there’s a game plan with the client, with the client involved with the financial advisors to execute it.

“I have a saying that I use here internally, that most big decisions are made at the kitchen table. My kitchen table is bigger than the one I grew up with. But the fundamental act of sitting down as a family to talk and decide things is still happening. And I think the best financial advisors in the world have a seat at the clients’ kitchen table. Sometimes it’s in a kitchen, sometimes it’s in a boardroom, sometimes it’s in a restaurant, but it’s a position of trust that they hold you to. We need to do that all the time and we need to have more people do it. People had a life-changing experience in the last couple years. They thought they were in a certain place in life financially and then all of a sudden the markets and the world changed and they were in a very different place than they had been. It’s very important that we understand that trauma and the impact that it had on people, and help them reengage. Because you can’t put your head in the sand and just walk away. A lot of people quit opening their statements, quit being willing to make decisions, and as a human being I understand that. But it’s our job as an industry, it’s our job here at UBS to help people start to reengage, and that’s what we’re doing.”

With his personal approach, determination to bridge differences and fervor for learning, Bob McCann seems like the kind of leader we need.

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The First Word: From Famine to Finance Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:59:57 +0000 Read more..]]> It was an interesting experience, to say the least, following up on our issue commemorating the Great  Hunger with one in which we profile Irish-American titans of Wall Street.

In a way, those two words “Famine” & “Finance”  could be seen as the bookends of the story of the Irish in America.
Not that we claim that success in the financial world is the only indicator of Irish power, but “let’s not be naive,”  as Bob McCann puts it in another context.

When you contrast the billions of dollars that our Wall Street 50 are responsible for, to the lack of material wealth that the early Irish settlers arrived in America with, it certainly is an achievement.

Really, when you look at Irish history, it’s amazing that we survived at all, let alone prospered.

Like the Native Americans we were rounded up and marched across our own country to “reservations” (the barren land of the western seaboard) under Cromwell’s “to hell or Connaught” campaign. Like the African Americans we were sent as slaves to Barbados.

We shared passage on slave ships, arriving in the New World as indentured servants, and  headed south to work on plantations with slaves purchased at auction on the wharfs in New York.

And all of that happened before the cataclysmic Famine of the 1840s, which as readers point out, would more aptly be labeled genocide, when one in eight of our population died.

Of course, the Irish were coming to America in pre-Famine times too; one-third of George Washington’s army were Irish (read Tom Fleming’s wonderful piece in this issue). And on this past Independence Day, I happened to speak to Charles Carroll, a direct descendant of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to  sign the Declaration of Independence. (Charles the signer’s  grandfather had been dispossessed of his lands in Tipperary during Cromwellian times.) But it was the Famine immigrants, so many in such a  short time, who became the cement on which the legacy of Irish America is built.  And they got off to a rough start.

Their first home in America was often a slum dwelling. “In the predominantly Irish Fifth Ward of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1850 an average of nearly nine persons, 1.82 families were packed into one or two-room dwellings; in New York City almost 30,000 people, primarily Irish, lived below ground level in cellars often flooded with rainwater and raw sewage,”  William Shannon wrote in The American Irish. Yet, as Orestes Brownson predicted  in his Quarterly Review (c.1840s), “Out of those narrow lanes, blind courts, dirty streets, damp cellars, and suffocating garrets will come forth some of the noblest sons of our country, whom she will delight to own and honor.”

For those who headed out of the cities in search of opportunity, it was a hard slog (read Kara Rota’s piece about mining in Montana).

How is it then, after such brutal colonization and starvation, and a poor start in America, we emerged a people with a distinct culture intact, and, if this issue is any indication, an impressive number of high achievers in our midst?

If it doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger, my mother was fond of saying, and what the Irish endured made them feisty, determined and proud. It was that fury that fueled their survival and propelled them forward, or so I believe.

Generations of resistance made for great fighters, whether it was agitating for better wages and conditions in the mining and railroad camps, or fighting in America’s wars.

Irish fighting men have been awarded more Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group in  U.S. military history. And let’s not forget the women. Of 600 nuns serving as nurses during the Civil War, 53 percent were Irish-born.

Today, our Wall Street 50 honorees and others in the financial industry have one hell of a fight of a different kind to take on. The nation’s economy rests in their hands. If, as history shows, great leadership is born out of human  experience, we have nothing to worry about.

Brian Moynihan, keynote speaker at our 2009 Wall Street 50, said it best: “It is going to be hard work and it’s going to be challenging. But when we look to the task ahead, we can take solace, it is clearly not as hard as our ancestors’ task was to leave Ireland and establish a new life. In addition, we have another benefit to help our efforts – their determination is in our blood.”


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The Many Faces of Maureen O’Hara Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:58:25 +0000 Read more..]]> Maureen O’Hara has celebrated many milestones in her life and career in films. Now in the 21st century, she prepares to celebrate her 90th birthday on August 17. One can’t help but wonder if she could have imagined in her wildest dreams that her image would be gracing a technology called “cyberspace” – that people would be chatting about her on Facebook or that she’d have a website visited by thousands of fans from all over the world.

I can still see her back in 1999 in the dining room of the Glengarriff Golf Club. I was just a first-time tourist to Ireland but in a different capacity than most. I was the editor and designer of Maureen’s official website here in the U.S. and had begun working with her in 1995. Now I was seeing her as Lady President of the golf club. Maureen O’Hara was back from America and was about to begin her duties as sponsor of this annual tournament by presenting trophies to the winners.

I have found in my research and 16-year association with her that she was so multi-faceted that her image kept changing, yet magically remained always the same. Years ago one writer described her as having the beauty of a child in a woman’s body. Her very being is that of a woman whose life experience embraces so many things: a heritage of Irish talent and beauty, a glamorous movie career, world travel, the romance of finally finding the true love of her life, and a sundry of interests and good works.

Maureen has received many honors and awards in her 90 years, and has played many roles in films. However, in real life it was the role of wife to Capt. Charles Blair she cherished most. I came to know the “Mrs. Blair” side of Maureen after about 10 years of research on Gen. Blair’s aeronautic career. To Maureen, Charlie Blair was the star. Charles Blair was the real-life hero that “John” Duke Wayne was on the screen, and just as perfect for Maureen (only as her husband in real life). Blair had been a senior pilot for Pan American World Airways for 29 years, including 10 years with American Overseas Airlines (which merged with Pan Am) and was one of the most honored flyers in history. Even more perfect was the fact that Charles Blair and Wayne became good friends, and had one major thing in common (aside from their love of the game of chess): they both loved Maureen. Wayne and Maureen made five films together and Maureen came to be the preferred on-screen love interest for the legendary Wayne. Off screen Wayne and Maureen did love one another, but as dear and beloved friends, more like brother and sister.

After Blair’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1978, Maureen did her share of crying and then did what was typical of Maureen. She gathered her wits about her and went on, working diligently to further Gen. Blair’s interests in aeronautics. For a few years after the loss of Charles Blair, Maureen continued to manage their commuter airline service in the Caribbean. In that capacity Maureen became the first woman ever to manage a scheduled airline (which she later sold).

Another cherished milestone for Maureen was in 1999 when she walked down 5th Avenue as Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City.  She was then age 78 and proudly kept pace with everyone as she listened to throngs of people on the parade route echo their affection: “We love you, Maureen!”

Yes, they will always love Maureen O’Hara.  She represents both Ireland and America…and women of the world in the best possible way.  She has done so for over 60 years.  But in that incredible face I see so much more.  The woman I saw sitting endless hours signing autographs for devoted fans here in America, and the woman I saw in Ireland are one and the same.  As a hopeless romantic I choose to think of her travelling the world with Charles Blair, the love of her life. That would probably have been her best movie of all.

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Bloody Sunday: James Nesbitt’s Personal Odyssey Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:57:50 +0000 Read more..]]> There was some element of, “Oh, Christ, I almost wish I hadn’t read this,” Nesbitt recalls, “because having read [the script for Bloody Sunday] I couldn’t walk away from it.”

In the movie, which portrays what happened on January 30, 1972 when members of the British Army fired upon unarmed civil rights marchers in Derry, Nesbitt takes on the role of Ivan Cooper, a shirt-factory manager and local politician who was involved in the civil rights movement. Nesbitt, like Cooper, is a Protestant, and in accepting the role he knew there was a chance that he would be seen in his own community as “going over to the other side.” Indeed, he received death threats as well as praise for his performance.

“I think Protestants have walked away from it for years,” he said. “No one wanted to own Bloody Sunday. As [producer] Jim Sheridan said, ‘The Irish don’t forget and the English don’t want to remember it.’”

Nesbitt grew up the son of a schoolteacher in rural County Antrim, near Ballymena, the only boy with three older sisters. His family is very proud of their Protestant culture, but he says that his father is “an egalitarian.” In fact, as a youngster Nesbitt was a boy soprano and his father used to take him to sing at Irish Feiseanna (festivals). He also took piano lessons in the local convent.

Despite his own exposure to Irish “Catholic” culture, he said there was “a great sense of denial about what was going on” in the province.
“The reality of life in Northern Ireland,” said Nesbitt, who was only six years old when Bloody Sunday happened, “is that if you were Protestant you learned British history and if you were Catholic you learned Irish history in school.”

The movie was a rite of passage for him – a growing up.

“I come from a generation in Northern Ireland where we sort of didn’t want to acknowledge the Troubles in our country. I was almost shamed by it when I read the script, and I couldn’t not do the movie.”

And so began what Nesbitt describes as an extraordinary journey, one that became much more than movie making. “It was a personal odyssey,” he says. “I felt I was making a film about my country, a country that I love and was trying to make sense of. It made me see for the first time why all these terrible things have happened.”

He described the shoot as “an emotionally wrenching experience,” but said his respect for British director Paul Greengrass saw him through.

Greengrass was the first journalist to film inside the Maze Prison while covering the hunger strikes in 1981. He had read Don Mullan’s Eyewitness Bloody Sunday and decided that he, as a British person, had an obligation to explore this side of modern British/Irish history.

Nesbitt felt the obligation too, but he admits that he couldn’t have undertaken the project without the support of his wife and parents, who while wishing he was doing a movie about “some of the terrible atrocities that have been visited on Protestants,” supported his decision to take on the role. “I said, ‘Trust me, I believe in it. It’s an important thing for me to do.’”

On a professional level, Nesbitt says that he came away from the movie with a newfound respect for his craft. “It was thrilling and moving and so hard, but so validating,” he said. “At the end, I walked away from it and thought, ‘I can see where this job [of being an actor] does have some worth.’ I couldn’t pretend that acting was just this thing that I didn’t take too seriously anymore,” he said. “It required constantly living in the moment. We had to be able to put ourselves down in 1972 and be able to cope with everything.”

Greengrass forced Nesbitt to look at the daily rushes to show him when he was in the moment and when he wasn’t.

“We improvised a lot. You know, improvising political dialogue is not easy. For instance, on the back of the civil rights lorry, you didn’t know until the moment what was going to happen. People shouted different things at me, and I had to respond. And I had to do so much research [in order to respond properly.] I read a lot of the evidence that had been amassed on Bloody Sunday.”

Nesbitt also sought out the families of those who had been shot, having first familiarized himself with as much personal information as he could about the      victims. He went and met Ivan Cooper, whose spirit was broken after Bloody Sunday, which marked the end of the civil rights movement and a move towards the IRA’s violent opposition to British rule.

Nesbitt’s hope is that the movie will help the healing process in Northern Ireland. “All my adult life, there was the Troubles. That was the backdrop of my life. Bloody Sunday was an opportunity to be involved in something that could be a part of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

“So many great steps have been made now. There’s still a long way to go, but the very thing that Ivan Cooper marched for along with those 20,000 people 30 years ago, is exactly what we’re standing for now – inclusion and civil rights. Paul Greengrass once said to me, ‘If Bloody Sunday can be a pebble in the wall of peace, we’ll feel that we’ve achieved something.’”

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Those We Lost Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:56:22 +0000 Read more..]]> Recent passings in the Irish America community

John W. Finn

John W. Finn, World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, died on May 27 in Chula Vista, California. He was 100. Finn was the last survivor of the fifteen Navy men who received the Medal of Honor for their service during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and had been the oldest living recipient of the medal.

Born on July 23, 1909 in Los Angeles, Finn dropped out of school after the seventh grade and enlisted in the Navy when he was seventeen.

Already a fifteen-year veteran of the Navy, Finn was at home with his wife Alice on December 7, 1941 when he heard the sound of machine guns just outside Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station. Finn quickly drove to the station and spent the next two and a half hours firing at Japanese planes that were part of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was hospitalized with serious injuries the following afternoon. On September 15, 1942, Chief Finn received the Medal of Honor aboard the USS Enterprise in Pearl Harbor.

Finn retired from the Navy in 1956 with the rank of Lieutenant and moved to a cattle ranch in Pine Valley, California. He is survived by a son, Joseph.
– Aliah O’Neill


Gerald W. Heaney

Midwestern federal appeals court judge Gerald Heaney died June 22 at age 92. He served more than four decades on the bench and championed the desegregation of schools. Beginning in 1981, Heaney wrote 27 opinions that oversaw the integration of schools in St. Louis. In 1967, he wrote the 1967 ruling that reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss complaints of racial discrimination in schools in Altheimer, Arkansas. Heaney also authored a decision that granted school newspapers First Amendment protection, which the Supreme Court overturned.

A well-known liberal, Heaney’s views were shaped by his upbringing in Goodhue, Minnesota, where his father William owned a butcher shop and provided for the hungry during the Depression. Heaney graduated from the University of Minnesota and earned his law degree there in 1941, then enlisted in the Army and served as a first lieutenant. He became involved in local politics and joined the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, and was nominated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Heaney is survived by his wife, son, daughter, sister, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
– Kara Rota


Peter Keefe

Known as a vibrant and adventurous Hollywood personality, producer Peter Keefe passed away at his sister’s home on May 27th. The Rochester native was best known for his work on the Voltron series and often credited as the inspiration for Pokemon and Power Rangers.

Keefe lived in Los Angeles for most of his life and was a frequent traveler. Among his favorite destinations was Ireland where he often stayed for weeks at a time. Keefe started out as a producer on a live martial arts television series, a show he hosted alongside Chuck Norris. He was 57 when he succumbed to cancer and is survived by his four siblings, and his mother, Anne, of St. Louis.
– Tara Dougherty
Rue McClanahan

Actress Rue McClanahan, famous for her role as Blanche Devereaux in The Golden Girls, died June 3 at age 76. She died at New York Presbyterian hospital of a brain hemorrhage.

Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan (a composite of her parents’ names: Rheua-Nell and William Edwin) in Healdton, Oklahoma, she was of Choctaw and Irish heritage. Her paternal grandparents, Zebbin and Fannie McClanahan, said that Rue had her grandmother’s “Copeland eyes,” referring to the Copeland islands in the Irish Sea, north of Co. Down.

McClanahan graduated with honors from the University of Tulsa, having majored in drama, and moved to New York to study acting and ballet. She performed onstage in Pennsylvania, California and New York, where her Broadway debut was in Jimmy Shine, starring Dustin Hoffman. She got some experience in TV work on All in the Family in 1972 and Maude, then was cast as the youngest member of the Golden Girls, which hit the number one spot during its pilot episode in 1985. It remained in the top 10 for six seasons, and McClanahan won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series in 1987. The show ended in 1992, after which McClanahan appeared in movies and on Broadway. McClanahan’s autobiography, My First Five Husbands…and the Ones Who Got Away, was published in 2007.
– Kara Rota

Harold W. McGraw Jr.

Harold W. McGraw Jr., president and CEO of McGraw-Hill during the 1970s and ’80s, died on March 24 at his home in Darien, Connecticut. He was 92.

Born in Brooklyn on January 10, 1918, McGraw grew up hearing about his family’s company from his father and grandfather, James H. McGraw, who entered the publishing business in the 1880s. McGraw Jr. graduated from Princeton University in 1940 and was a captain in the Army Air Force during World War II. After working in advertising and book retailing, he joined the family business in 1947 as a sales representative. McGraw worked his way through the ranks and became chief executive in 1975, leading McGraw-Hill through a period of expansion during his eight years in the post. Under his guidance, company revenues reached over $1 billion in 1980 for the first time.

McGraw retired in 1988 at age 70 but remained active in the publishing world, serving 25 years on the board of the Princeton University Press and 16 as president.  McGraw is survived by a son, Robert, and daughter, Suzanne, as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
– Aliah O’Neill

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Corner of Ireland in America: Mt. Holly, North Carolina Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:55:47 +0000 Read more..]]>  

In a time long forgotten, six Irish families came to the foothills of North Carolina. The men were miners and they came to work the gold mines on the banks of the Catawba River near what is now the town of Mt. Holly in Gaston County.

The families, four headed by the Lonergan brothers, the other two being the Cahills and the Duffeys, came from Cork, Dublin and Tipperary in 1831 to work for Chevalier Riva de Finila, who owned one of the more successful mining excavations.

On Sundays, de Finila, a devout Catholic of French and Italian ancestry, invited the families into his home to worship in his specially built chapel. But in 1832, when a court-ordered injunction closed de Finila’s operation, possibly due to the use of mercury in the processing which polluted the river, he left the area and the Irish were without a place of worship.

In 1838, Father Timothy J. Cronin, a Cork man, was ordained in Charleston, South Carolina. He was a circuit priest, traveling on horseback to serve  the Catholics of North and South Carolina. With the aid of this good priest, money was raised throughout North and South Carolina and Georgia to build a church for the Catawba River community. One of the largest donations came from William Gaston, a judge on the North Carolina Supreme Court for whom Gaston County is named.

In 1841, enough money had been raised and work began on the structure. William Lonergan had purchased land from de Finola before he left, and using lumber that they cut and milled themselves, the church soon started to take shape.  The building was finished in 1843, only the second Catholic church built in North Carolina. (St. Patrick’s Catholic church in Fayetteville, built in 1824, was the first.)

The Irish families were so thrilled with the new worship center that they engraved the words “Habemus Altare” (we have an altar) above the altar. The parish that had started with six families now included the Phelan, Coxe, Miller, Mulligan, Meyers, Rafter, Ryan, Kerns and Hawkins families.

Sadly, the four Lonergan brothers sailed home toward Ireland and were lost at sea, and Father Cronin died of yellow fever before the church was finished. He was laid to rest in the cemetery.

Father Jeremiah P. O’Connell was the last pastor of St Joseph’s. He served during the War for States’ Rights, known to our Northern family as the Civil War. The war took its toll on the small parish. Only one of the founding members of the church, Pierce Cahill, survived the war. In 1876, Father O’Connell bought the Caldwell Plantation and sold it to the Benedictine monks to found a monastery in Belmont, North Carolina. Following the war, “Mary” was dropped, and the church was referred to as just St. Joseph’s. As the years passed, the area Catholics began to attend Mass at Belmont Abbey and St. Joseph’s fell into disrepair. Although the church was not used for close to a century, it was not torn down and in 1970, Bishop Michael Begley of the Charlotte diocese had the exterior, altar and pews restored to their former “simple” grandeur. St. Joseph’s has been designated a National Historical Site by the U.S. Department of Interior and by the State of North Carolina. Today, Mass is celebrated just three times a year in the church, once by a diocesan priest on the date of his ordination into the priesthood, once on March 19, the feast of St. Joseph, and on St. Patrick’s Day, the two divisions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the Charlotte area not only have a Mass celebrated, but they also have a ceremony at the grave of Father Cronin in his honor and to honor the Irish immigrants that are buried in the cemetery.

About the author:  Joe Dougherty, a retired transportation manager, was born in South Philadelphia in 1944. He and his wife Nancy have been married for 41 years and now live in the Charlotte, NC area to be closer to their two daughters and five grandchildren. Joe’s great-grandparents came to the  Philadelphia area from Donegal around 1874.  

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The Mighty Quinn Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:54:13 +0000 Read more..]]>  The remarkable Quinn Bradlee has a new memoir that offers a moving account of living with disabilities.

How do you make your mark when your parents, Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn, are among the most famous  figures in Washington lore and you have been born with a significant disability that makes many basic things in life difficult?

You surpass them with a tale so full of blood, guts and gusto that the world simply has to take notice.

Thus does Quinn Bradlee make his mark.

The 28-year-old puts his success down in considerable measure to his Irish roots. In his book he writes, “I always remind him [Ben Bradlee] that the Quinns are from Ireland. Irish Americans take great pride in their Irish ancestry and always have. And that is something that I will never stop talking about.”

That new book, A Life’s Work, by Ben and Quinn Bradlee with observations by Sally Quinn, (Simon and Schuster) tells the heartwarming story of a family who have survived one near-death experience of their child after another, many years when no diagnoses could be made of Quinn’s actual condition, and the incredible love of life and drive to succeed that marked their son’s entry into manhood and independence.

Later this year Quinn Bradlee will be married at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. He has emerged as a national spokesman for children with disabilities. He holds down afull-time job and has just published his second book.

He has done the impossible.

Sitting in the Georgetown mansion his parents call home, Quinn Bradlee strikes me as an emissary from a silent world we think far too little about. How often do we think about the inner life of those we consign to the heap marked disabled or, cruelly, retarded?

There is an endearing honesty to him. He talks about his childhood struggles, his battle against depression, his determination to tell the world that while he may be wired somewhat differently to the rest of us he lacks for nothing when it comes to perception, insight and the need to love and be loved.

The night before we met at his book launch party, attended by such luminaries as Bob Woodward, Maureen Dowd and others, all unabashed fans of Quinn. He was remarkable for his own speech, an honest and vivid account of growing up with famous parents, battling disability and demons, and ultimately succeeding.

He speaks his mind in a way that some could find unsettling, but which has a refreshing honesty and insight. There is no social filter, no need to worry about niceties. He tells it like it is and his two books to date make that clear. A Different Life, his earlier memoir of growing up disabled, was a critical and publishing success.

We can learn from him about honesty and how those who are different can perceive the world. He is a reporter from a foreign shore, putting us in the mindset of those who have had no spokesman or guide for the longest time. It is a humbling experience to talk to this young man.

Even his parents seem a little in awe. They have the kind of resumes and back story that Hollywood loves. Indeed, Ben Bradlee, the most famous newspaper man of his era, was featured front and center in the movie All the President’s Men.

That was the gripping tale of how the Washington Post newspaper took down the Nixon presidency by digging and digging on a seemingly one-day story about a June 1972 bungled break-in at the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate building in D.C.

Ben Bradlee was famous before Jason Robards portrayed him, but afterwards he became quite simply the best known and greatest editor of the modern era.

Sally Quinn, on the other hand, has become a Washington legend as a hostess, columnist and style arbiter. Vanity Fair recently devoted a lavish spread to her and made it clear that in the hyper-competitive world of Washington access, power and politics, Sally Quinn reigns supreme.

Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee met late in life, married, and had Quinn, their only child.

He came into the world on April 29th, 1982, and was immediately diagnosed with a heart murmur. It was the beginning of a long series of inexplicable illnesses, one after another, which threatened his life and led to open-heart surgery at just three months of age.

Quinn was slow to learn, slow to focus. One school administrator advised the family that he would need institutional care all his life . It was the kind of life sentence no parents wanted to hear. But Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee would not give up.

Finally, a diagnosis was made. It was VFS, or Velocardiofacial syndrome, a genetic condition that affects one in 2,000 persons worldwide, marked by a series of physical problems and learning disabilities that Quinn suffered from. As he struggled through childhood Quinn Bradlee developed a thick skin, an acute sense of insight and a determination to not allow his condition to hold him back.

His account of boarding school, of his battles with inner demons, his gradual realization that he had so much to offer and his determination to stand up for others with his condition who had no voice, make up the heart of his first book. His latest book traces the family influences that made that courage possible.

His inspiration was his mother’s father, General William Quinn, or ‘Dandy,’ a deeply proud Irishman who was one of the top intelligence officers in the U.S. Army during World War II.

The disabled grandchild and the hard-bitten general hit it off big when Quinn was growing up. He developed his love of genealogy and Irish heritage from him and the general ensured that his grandson would never shirk a challenge, never fail to do his best and always stand up for what he believed.

Sally Quinn writes movingly in an earlier book A Different Life about what it is like for a parent to raise a special needs child, to see the loneliness when Quinn was always left out, lacking the social networking skills to fully integrate with classmates. Yet neither she nor her boy gave up.

A Different Life sets the stage for A Life’s Work. The bond between Ben Bradlee and his son Quinn fill these pages. Bradlee is an outdoors man who likes nothing better than to leave the hurly burly of Washington for his beloved West Virginia retreat. Quinn is with him every step of the way. Out on the land the two bond. Much of the narrative in the book describes the art of clearing brush, cutting down diseased trees, using chainsaws to improve the land. The extraordinary aspect of the book about father and son bonding is that it is the father, who by the end of it, is learning from the son.

There cannot be too many people who can have that impact on the legendary Ben Bradlee, still hale and hearty at 89. Yet his son reaches him, explains vulnerability, takes him and his wife Sally on their own inner journey to understanding their son.

They and the world are much better for it.

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The Legacy of Church-run Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:53:36 +0000 Read more..]]> In the wake of the Ryan and Murphy reports*, both released in 2009, often the memories of the children, women and workers involved have taken a sideline to the question of who is to blame for systemic abuse. But while the Irish public attempts to heal from this broken past and demand justice, more stories are on the verge of disappearance: those of the unknown women and babies who lived in Church-run mother and baby homes and of the American families who adopted these children from the 1940s until the early 70s. I spoke with Dr. Valerie O’Brien, lecturer and researcher in Applied Social Science at University College Dublin, about her joint project with Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao, founder and CEO of Center For Family Connections in Boston and lecturer in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, to reach out to those involved and record a history obscured by Church and State. By sharing these stories, O’Brien and Maguire Pavao see an opportunity to positively affect modern adoption practices in Ireland as well as bring dignity to the mothers who were forgotten by their community.

Even after the 1952 Adoption Act, which regulated adoption in Ireland and made it legal, most adoptions were facilitated by nuns in mother and baby homes. In these homes, pregnant, unwed women were hidden away in shame to have their child under the watchful eye of the Catholic Church. Sometimes located on the same site as the Magdalene laundries**, the institutions were also workplaces for pregnant women and new mothers, who often raised their children until they were toddlers. Based on records of adoption passports from 1949 on, O’Brien and Maguire Pavao list 2103 adopted Irish children, though the exact number is still not known.

While the mothers gave consent to their children’s adoptions, O’Brien describes it as a decision made out of helplessness. “For the vast majority of women, they couldn’t leave the mother and baby home until their child was a certain age. For many of the women the children were 2 or 3…[and] the nuns didn’t always tell the American adoptive parents that their mother was looking after them. They wanted to give the impression that they were orphaned or abandoned children,” says O’Brien. Not only was this painful for the young mothers, the method posed problems for both adopted people and adoptive parents. “The adoptive parents weren’t given the full picture. They were often given very traumatized children who were suffering from separation from their mother’s love and care and attention.” Even after the Adoption Act, this practice continued due to a loophole that provided for “illegitimate” children to go overseas.

The difficult search for biological family by adopted children reveals the need for full access to mother and baby home records. “Prior to the 90s [when records of adoption were found], some people knew about the practice,” says O’Brien, describing the mother and baby homes as “known but not known” by the Irish community. “There was some disquiet reported from time to time in the media but attempts to more tightly regulate the practice were impeded. What was involved were nuns moving children from Ireland to America with the cooperation of Catholic charities here predominantly, and placing children in adoptive homes. And the children were then adopted here [in America]…Unless they were told by their American adoptive parents that they were adopted they might not even know.”

The adopted children, now adults, were often given new names upon arrival and may not be in possession of their original birth certificate; in fact, they may not even know they are Irish. While the Church stipulated that the adopted child be placed in a Catholic family, the family did not have to be Irish American. According to O’Brien, “The criteria that was laid down by the Church was that the children were placed in Catholic homes, where parents gave a commitment to raising the children Catholic, sending them to Catholic school and Catholic college.” Controversially, these adoptions all occurred without the help of American institutions—though the Child Welfare League of America offered assistance to the Catholic Church and Catholic charitable organizations throughout the 50s and 60s, their offers were turned down.

Recognizing these past concerns, the project aims to impact contemporary adoption practices. In addition to being a member of the Irish Adoption Board for over ten years, O’Brien has written frameworks for many aspects of domestic and international adoption in Ireland. Still, with Ireland just beginning to become a “receiving” or adopting country rather than a sending country, she believes that the country’s adoption practices can be improved, particularly by passing Hague legislation to regulate intercountry adoption and prevent child trafficking. Ireland is the last country in the western world to adopt this legislation.

The recent release of the Ryan Report and the allegations of abuse against children and women in Church and State-run institutions are also not far from O’Brien’s mind. In her early work to understand the historical angle of adoption in Ireland, she adds that she is “trying to examine through the lens of the Ryan Report what might have happened if the children had stayed. I think some of the children were probably very lucky, that they didn’t stay in institutions where we now know so many children were treated abysmally.” That O’Brien can see the positive side to these adoptions, despite their circumstances, is a testament to the project’s ultimate goals of justice and sensitivity. “When we uncover the past we must be very mindful of people’s sense of self and identity and integrity. We’ve no wish to pathologize individuals…because for many people that came here [to the U.S.], they’ve had very successful lives. So what we’re really interested in is hearing about those successful lives but also how they learned to integrate the stories from the past and how they learned to integrate their identity in relation to their Irishness, especially for those who weren’t raised in Irish American homes.”

For the mothers who raised their children in mother and baby homes without power or choice, O’Brien has found common ground with the calls to expose the horrors of the Magdalene laundries in balance with respect and privacy for women involved. “I think it’s the same issue of justice for women who have been through quite a horrific period where to be pregnant outside marriage in Ireland was such a taboo, and while the Church played its part the community did as well…I don’t think any of us can walk away.”

Like these other projects that attempt to heal the wounds of the past in Ireland, so much depends on access to state records. But in the absence of concrete numbers, the significance of what O’Brien calls “memory work”—focusing on remembering rather than uncovering the truth—becomes all the more clear. She and Maguire Pavao are conducting interviews with everyone “from policy makers to air hostesses to students that were in applied social sciences at UCD, my university,” says O’Brien. “There were many stories of students going to live or study in America very often had their passage paid and brought the child on their knee. Again we don’t have any firm data, and those are the stories that need to be collated.”

This memory work provides the chance for connections that concrete statistics often cannot. O’Brien learned that for herself when she described the project she was working on to her aunt one day. Her aunt replied that as a child she remembered babies, wrapped in shawls, coming through the house with nuns on their way to the airport. It turned out O’Brien had relatives who worked in mother and baby homes and they would often stop for a cup of tea on the way. O’Brien had already been working on the project for years before she made this accidental discovery. “It was just amazing. It was so powerful to think that some of the people that I might get an opportunity to meet in fact were held in arms in my family home.”

*The Ryan Report is the published report of the Irish government’s investigation of child abuse in reformatory institutions and industrial schools operated by the Catholic Church and funded by the Irish Department of Education from 1936 on. The Murphy Report investigates cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic archdiocese of Dublin.

**Magdalene laundries were Church-run institutions in Ireland where young girls and women engaged in hard labor and many allegedly suffered physical and sexual abuse. This abuse was also covered in the Ryan Report.

If you are interested in participating or have any questions, please contact Dr. Valerie O’Brien at or Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao at

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The Pioneer of Wall Street: John J. Kiernan Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:52:06 +0000 Read more..]]> All but forgotten today, John J. Kiernan, a pioneer in the financial news industry and inventor of ticker tape news, yields only a handful of hits in a search of the New York

Times archives. But in his day, Kiernan became one of the most influential and wealthy men on Wall Street, giving Charles Dow and Edward Jones, founders of The Wall Street Journal, their start at his news agency.

Kiernan, born February 1, 1845, was the eldest of six children born to Irish immigrants. Though he barely finished grade school, he began his illustrious career at age 12, running errands for the Magnetic Telegraph Company and later becoming a Western Union messenger. Kiernan quickly realized that the hand-written news dispatches he delivered were highly valuable, especially to customers in the financial district who would pay extra for other news from across the wires.

In 1869, using his own savings and borrowing from family and friends, Kiernan launched his own small news bureau, breaking news items in the shipping, railroad and construction fields. He also distributed information to his clients that he received from the New York Stock Exchange and other financial points around the country. Kiernan even went as far as to row out into New York Harbor, skimming ships for days-old newspapers from London and other cities to relay to Kiernan’s Wall Street Financial News Bureau subscribers.

By 1880, Kiernan had hired Charles Dow and Edward Jones, both skilled financial reporters, to work at “Kiernan’s Corner,” the office located at Wall and Broad Streets and the site of today’s New York Stock Exchange. At only 35 years old, Kiernan had amassed a fortune of about $250,000. His invention of the “ticker” expanded the reach of the business, which began to supply general news. As his financial news agency continued to prosper, Kiernan turned his attention to politics, winning two terms as a Democratic state senator beginning in 1881. In 1880, as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Kiernan was given the honor of escorting Charles Stewart Parnell through Wall Street and into the Stock Exchange during his visit to America. It was a significant time for Parnell – his party, the Irish Parliamentary Party, had been pushing hard for land reform, believing that abolishing landlordism and allowing tenant farmers to own the land they worked on was a crucial step in securing Irish independence. During his trip to New York and over sixty other cities, Parnell was able to garner support for Home Rule and funds for improvement of living conditions among poor Irish tenant farmers.

Kiernan found success as a politician, authoring bills to improve New York Harbor and expanding ferry service. However, as he focused more on politics he saw the success of his news agency decline. In 1882, Dow and Jones left Kiernan’s agency and launched their own financial sheet, Customer’s Afternoon Letter. The venture was instantly successful, and eventually the newsletter became The Wall Street Journal.

In an attempt to revive his business, Kiernan brought in William P. Sullivan as a partner, but the relationship quickly turned sour. After a series of scornful notes about Kiernan’s financial dealings were circulated by Sullivan throughout their company and published by the local papers, the partners settled in court in 1888. Sullivan bought the company for only a few thousand dollars, leaving Kiernan stripped of the agency that had made him rich.

Over his remaining years, Kiernan struggled to regain political clout. Though he had the support of many leading political figures and was nominated for surveyor of the Port of New York, he was unable to attain a measure of his past success. He was last prominent as a pro-Cleveland Democrat, speaking publicly about the possibility of reform within the Irish community. In an 1884 New York Times article citing the near unanimous support of Grover Cleveland’s presidential nomination, Kiernan is quoted as saying, “I have visited every prominent man in the banking and commercial business down town to-day, and I have not found one who is not ready to sustain Mr. Cleveland…As far as I can see, the people who have promised to Blaine [the Republican opponent] the so-called Irish vote, if there be such an entity, have promised to deliver goods which they cannot even handle. I do hear of a great Irish reform taking place in New York. If that movement takes the shape of ignoring the ballot boxes of an organization [Tammany Hall] that has shamed the Irish name for many a year, then I hope the talk about that reform is as true as I could wish it to be.” Cleveland narrowly won New York by just over a thousand votes.

On November 29, 1893, Kiernan died of pneumonia and heart failure at age 48 in his Brooklyn home. His second wife and children survived him. Kiernan’s service was held in St. Stephen’s church, which was packed to the doors, and his remains were interred in Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn.

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Butte: Montana’s Irish Mining Town Sun, 01 Aug 2010 11:51:15 +0000 Read more..]]> Many of the 1.8 million Irish who emigrated to Canada and the U.S. between 1845 and 1855 found employment in the dangerous but lucrative mines that played a vital role in building American industry. A new documentary, Butte, America, shows how over the following decades, the American Industrial Revolution swallowed entire families who lived in mining  communities, as the often deadly work caught immigrants between the power of the wealthy companies and the pull of unions.

Narrated by Gabriel Byrne, Butte, America is a documentary that tells the story of the most profitable hard rock mining town in American history. Through historical narrative and interviews with mine survivors and their families, the film captures the pioneering spirit that drew men to work in the mines, the emotional ties that formed in mining communities, and the powerful hold that the mining companies had over every aspect of their lives.

“I never said goodbye in the morning, going to work. I’d say see ya, so long. Never goodbye,” says John T. Shea, an Irish ironworker, in the opening moments of Butte, America. This cheerful spirit belies the underlying knowledge all the miners must have had that their work could mean an early death for them. Butte’s mines were statistically the most dangerous in the world, and required immense manpower to operate. In the early 1870s, Butte was a mining town on the verge of becoming a city full of immigrants in search of employment and the American Dream. When the advent of electricity demanded more copper,  the “Copper Kings,” industrialists Clark, Daly and Heinze, called for more manpower, pushing Butte’s population near 90,000. Immigrants flowed in from Ireland, England, Lebanon, Canada, Finland Austria, Italy, China, Montenegro, Mexico, and more: the “no smoking” signs in mines were written in sixteen languages.

The Irish, however, felt a special connection to Butte. Beginning their immigration during Famine times, many came from the Beara Peninsula where they had mined before leaving for America. They arrived in Butte by way of Nevada’s Comstock Lode, Penn-sylvania’s coalfields, and Michigan’s copper mines. They arrived from Cork, Mayo, and Donegal. According to David Emmons’s book The Butte Irish, 12,000 of Irish descent were living in Butte by 1900, where the population was then 47,635. At a quarter of the population, Irish made up a higher percentage in Butte than they did in any other American city at the turn of the last century. Seventy-seven various families of Sullivans left Castletownbere, Cork and came to Butte. By 1908 Butte hosted 1,200 Sullivans.

The land in Butte was owned by the mining companies, and mining families paid ground rent to live there. As the companies fought for control of the fruitful mines, the larger companies expanded into railroads, logging and other industries, pushing their smaller competitors out of business. Monopolies meant that corporations held greater and greater power over the families that lived in mining towns, and unions could do little to change the occupation’s hazards. Butte was awash with widows raising large families alone, left with no insurance or income. The women held several jobs, and children contributed to the workforce as soon as they were able, ushering in the age of newsboys. Some 16,000 miners worked in the connected honeycomb of mines that lay underneath Butte, all with beautiful names that belied what went on underground: Anselma, Alice, Lexington, Bell Diamond, Mountain View, Moonlight, Silverbowl, and on and on.

In 1899, Copper King Marcus Daly joined with William Rockefeller, Henry Rogers and Thomas Lawson to form the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, which soon changed its name to Anaconda Copper Mining Company. Marcus Daly was born in 1841 and raised near Ballyjamesduff in Co. Cavan. In Butte, he found a rich and plentiful source of precious metals, and became one of the wealthiest men in the West when demand for copper rose. He was known for his tendency to hire Irish whenever possible.

Known simply as “The Company,” by 1914 Anaconda Company had become the fourth largest corporation in the country and had full control of Butte. They controlled town and state legislatures, and miners were pushed to increase production. Under the stress, the miners’ union splintered into smaller factions, none of which were acknowledged by Anaconda. After 1905, Butte was a hub of organization for the “Wobblies,” or Industrial Workers of the World. As WWI hit, more and more copper was needed, and Irish miners were expected to work longer hours.

The conditions became, unthinkably, even more dangerous, culminating in a fire that exploded in the Granite Mountain Mine on June 8, 1917. Hundreds of miners were trapped inside; 168 bodies were found. The shocked town mourned. Miners demanded safer working conditions, but the mine owners refused. Butte became a violent place, with union halls blown up and miners jailed or even murdered. When a strike at one mine was sustained for seven months, the miners were accused of treason during wartime and marched into the mines at gunpoint when federal troops were called in. In the Anaconda Road Massacre of 1920, Pinkerton Agency guards hired by The Company shot a group of picketing strikers, killing one and injuring 16.

By 1920, industrial unionism was a thing of the past as the “Roaring 20s” ushered in an era of rampant capitalism.

Then 1929 hit America with the biggest bust it had ever seen. A new era for workers arrived in 1932 when FDR ran on his promise of a New Deal and support for labor unions. Newly confident union workers were legally empowered to strike, and  many did so in a pattern of every three years: the length of a contract. This led to a striking cycle in which mining families were forced to do without, but mining communities supported them with a created economy of credit, gift and barter. This community support during strike times, which many considered the highest moral achievement, also helped the miners achieve a living wage.

Still, The Company’s hold on Butte was ever-present, as it became more and more entwined in the daily lives of the families who lived there. Company-sponsored picnics, parade floats, and children’s sports teams were common, and miners’ kids grew up playing in the toxic playgrounds near active mines. However, by the 1940s, Anaconda’s profit was largely supplemented by overseas mining in Chile, which gave The Company a significant advantage in negotiating mining contracts with unions.

After a lifetime in the mines, if they survived the day-to-day perils of the machinery and conditions, many miners experienced a buildup of silica dust in their lungs and died painful deaths. After WWII, the prominence of industrial manufacture meant that greater and greater quantities of metal were needed. In the 1950s, Anaconda shifted their operations towards open pit mining, which utilized equipment and machines over manpower and caused greater environmental degradation. Miners were consistently laid off, and those that remained were turned into drivers and machine operators, stripping the work of the pride that men had had in it for generations. Entire neighborhoods were bulldozed to make room for pit mines, and the remaining families were surrounded with gaping holes in the town they called home. When a fire swept across Butte, many believed it was set by The Company to destroy buildings in the way of more open pits. “They owned it, that’s all that mattered,” remembered one Butte citizen. “You can do anything you want when you own it.”

In 1977, Anaconda was purchased by the ARCO company, which started shutting down mines due to lower metal prices. Layoffs continued to wrack Butte economically and emotionally, as men who had given their lives to the mines were rewarded by being cast aside. In 1982, the pit mines began to close and unemployment was rampant. By 1984 the Berkeley Pit was the greatest poisonous lake in North America: thirty-three billion gallons of water laced with a toxic sludge of minerals and chemicals killed snow geese that migrated overhead and came into contact with the water. The environmental, emotional and economic devastation that characterized the rise and fall of Butte, Montana under the hand of the mining business remains evident today.

However, the spirit of community support that characterized Butte through the mining era remains. Since 1882, Butte’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities have provided an annual celebration of the city’s Irish heritage. Over 30,000 attend the parade held by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Butte’s historic Uptown District. The annual An Ri Ra, held on the second weekend in August, is a cultural festival that focuses on the music, dance and language of Ireland. Thousands attend the event. Once called “The Richest Hill on Earth” for its natural resources, which along with hardworking immigrant labor was plundered for profit, Butte is carving out a new identity as a city with a rich cultural history and pride in its Irish heritage.

To purchase Butte, America:

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