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MINERS IN MIGRATION: THE CASE OF NINETEENTH-CENTURY IRISH AND IRISH-AMERICAN COPPER MINERS* TIMOTHY M. O’NEIL what forces compelled so many in postfamine Ireland to resettle in North America? With an emigration rate more than double that of any other European country, Ireland in this period has received considerable scholarly attention.1 Yet most studies focus on larger structural forces—chiefly the capitalist transformation of agriculture from tillage to pasture—to the neglect of local conditions and the role of specific migration links between Ireland and America. Allied to this, Irish-American community studies seldom determine where precisely in Ireland their subjects originated or what, beyond the larger structural forces, compelled them to emigrate. While not centered on the study of Irish migration, David Emmons’ award-winning Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875–1925 asked the important question: Where specifically in Ireland were the Irish in his story from? Emmons concluded that “the Irish-born among Butte’s thousands of Irishmen were principally drawn from the idle copper mines of West Cork and from landless farm laborers and small farmers of the West of Ireland.”2 He based his conclusion on place-name association, noting that the six most common Irish surnames in Butte “are closely associated with Co. Cork.”3 To support his place-name assoTHE CASE OF 19TH-CENTURY IRISH AND IRISH-AMERICAN COPPER MINERS 124 *The comments and suggestions of John J. Bukowczyk and Charles K. Hyde of Wayne State University and William Mulligan, Jr., of Murray State University are gratefully acknowledged. 1 Timothy J. Hatton and Jeffrey G. Williamson, “After the Famine: Emigration from Ireland, 1850–1913,” The Journal of Economic History 53 (1993), 575. 2 David Emmons, The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875–1925 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), 18. Kevin Kenny, Making Sense of the Molly Maguires (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) also uses surname frequency, among other sources, in tracing the Donegal origins of many of his subjects. 3 Ibid., 15. ciation evidence, he also cited Riobard O’Dwyer’s genealogical studies of the Beara Peninsula, a copper-mining district in West Cork, which confirmed considerable migration to Butte.4 In a more recent work Emmons returned to the West Cork–Butte nexus and again concluded that the concentration of West Corkonians in Butte was “no historical accident,” citing as further evidence that “West Cork had had the only copper mines in Ireland, at Hungry Hill, near Allihies.”5 What Emmons did not realize is that nineteenth-century Ireland contained several copper-mining districts , two of which (Knockmahon in County Waterford and Avoca in County Wicklow) equaled or exceeded Allihies in both production and number of workers engaged.6 While Emmons and O’Dwyer demonstrated a strong migration link between the Beara Peninsula and Butte, the existence of additional Irish copper districts raises important questions. Did the other mining districts send such numbers to Butte? If not, why? Moreover, while Emmons asserted that “County Cork in southwestern Ireland supplied a hugely disproportionate share of Butte’s population,”7 it must be remembered that Cork was Ireland’s largest county and produced by far the greatest number of emigrants in this era.8 It is therefore reasonable to assume that County Cork surnames predominated in many other Irish-American communities . This essay will also explore that supposition. Emmons’ scholarship has made an indispensable contribution to our understanding of the Irish in America. His discovery of chain migration between copper districts in West Cork and Butte invites further investigation into the migration patterns of nineteenth-century Irish copper miners . This essay endeavors to offer such an investigation. Its objectives are fourfold: first, to present a brief narrative on Irish copper mining and the THE CASE OF 19TH-CENTURY IRISH AND IRISH-AMERICAN COPPER MINERS 125 4 O’Dwyer traced the histories of over 14,000 people on the Beara Peninsula. See Riobard O’Dwyer, Who Were My Ancestors, in four different volumes representing the parishes of Eyeries (1976), Allihies (1988), Castletownbere (1989), and Bere Island (1989), all published by Stevens, Astoria, Illinois. 5 David Emmons, “Faction Fights: The Irish Worlds...


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