Memorializing Irish Immigrants in Unmarked Graves
Dear Friends: We need your help to finish the Leadville Irish Immigrant Memorial to unnamed and unknown 19th century Irish exiles to the Rocky Mountains. We are reaching out to the grass roots with faith and hope and joy that the larger community, everyday people, partners, daughters, grandfathers, dreamers, fighters, writers, lovers, exiles, human rights warriors, and those everywhere, Irish or not, who care deeply about human dignity, will hold this project in your palm and contribute to this years-long effort to name the unnamed in a Leadville, Colorado cemetery. I am cycling through historic and sacred Irish American labor country to raise funds, from the Anthracite region of Eastern Pennsylvania to Albany, NY and the Erie Canal. Please help me pedal with your donations!
Construction is under way on one of the most significant and unique Irish memorials in North America. In a Potter’s Field in the back of Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville, Colorado lie the remains of thousands of 19th century immigrants, most of them Irish. These migrants came from West County Cork, Tipperary, Connemara, Donegal, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Nova Scotia, and the Anthracite coal region of Eastern Pennsylvania. They made their way across North America during the late 1870s and early 1880s, to one of the greatest silver rushes in North American history. There, they found themselves segregated to Leadville’ East Side, working the mines and smelters at ten thousand feet above sea level. Their wages were three dollars a day, their shifts ten hours. Twice they launched massive strikes to change their circumstances. Both strikes were broken by the Colorado National Guard under Martial Law.
These were desperate, transient, uneducated, unskilled, and mostly young people. The poorest of these immigrants, without any resources or family, were buried in the “Catholic Free” section of the cemetery, with a crude wooden slab to mark their burial. The wooden slabs have long since rotted and collapsed, leaving behind thousands of rows of sunken indentations in a pine forest. The average age of death of those buried there is twenty two. Half of them are children twelve years old or younger. These were the children of the famine generation, those orphaned, exiled, and cast adrift in North America. By naming them, we are centering the intense trauma and suffering that this generation of Irish immigrants brought to North America. After leaving behind a war of occupation where they did not have access to land and economic opportunity, they found themselves victims of a
war of industrial labor.
It has been such a privilege to be a part of the coalition to bring this project to light. This partnership includes the Irish Network of Colorado, the Irish Government, Leadville City Government and the local Irish and Irish American communities. Please consider contributing what you can.
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