A Tribute To The Irish Community Butte Montana 1916-1919

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This was the the third exhibition by a female Irish artist I saw at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin last Sunday. On display were cartoonish like drawings based on the family history of the artist – Amanda Jane Graham – in particular her Grandmother’s childhood memories.

Butte, Montana is a former mining town in the Rocky Mountains. In there 19th century it was a major destination for Irish emigrants who travelled over to work in the Anaconda copper mine owned by one Marcus Daly, himself an Irish emigrant from Co Cavan. By 1900 a quarter of the town’s residents were Irish, including the artist’s great grandparents and their young daughter, Mary.

Her great grandparents, like many of the emigrant community in Butte, were supporters of the Republican Fenian movement.  At the age of three her Grandmother unknowingly smuggled money raised by the women of Butte for “The Cause” into Ireland to aid the 1916 rising in Dublin – hidden in the mattress, pillow and quilt of her dolls pram. It had been decided by the Fenians in Butte that this would be the best way to get the money across the Atlantic.

The very pram was on display as the centrepiece of the exhibition.

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The drawings illustrate the both the journey to deliver the money to the Rebels and the history of the Irish Community in Butte, showing life in the main street and the Speculator Mine disaster of June 8, 1917 when 168 miners were killed.

The drawings portray the events as seen through young Mary’s young eyes. So they’re like cartoons in which people are replaced by animals, Daleks and strange half human forms. They reminded me a little of the the cartoons that Terry Gilliam used to produce for Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

This drawing illustrates the visit by Éamon DeValera to Butte in 1919 to thank the community for their support for the Republican movement with horses replacing and representing the spectators.

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Graham can visualize her Grandmother as a child enjoying cowboy shoot outs or enduring the over crowding in cars as the community traveled vast distances to listen to DeValera at the rallies.She can still sense the apprehension when she recalls the stories of the mine bell ringing as her Grandmother witnessed one of the worst mining disaster in American history. (artist’s website)

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