Butte, Montana in the early 20th Century.

A NEW exhibition at UCC, “From Rocky Shores to the Rocky Mountains:  The Irish in Montana” will be officially launched next Tuesday.

The exhibition, which comes to Ireland from the Butte-Silver Bowe Archives and University of Montana, is a retrospective glimpse into the lives of the Irish in Montana from their initial arrival in the US until the present using materials from archival and oral collections.

It reflects the uniqueness of the Irish experience in America, telling the story of Irish Immigration to America, westward to the lush and mineral rich mountains and prairies of Montana.

The influence of the Irish in Montana is far-reaching.  Irish values of family, faith, and community have shaped Montana’s agricultural, railroad, and industrial cities since the early 20th century.

Ireland’s “fifth province”

Situated high in the US Rockies, the mining town of Butte, is an Irish-American stronghold.

Sometimes known as Ireland’s fifth province, it has a history that especially tells the story of the special connection between Ireland and the United States of America.  During Famines times, many Irish found their home there, arriving in Butte by way of Nevada’s Comstock Lode, Pennsylvania’s coalfields, and the Michigan copper mines.  At the turn of the last century the Irish made up a higher percentage in Butte than they did in any other American city, and they continue to be firmly embedded in the community and community life there.

Montana mines

The Beara connection

There is also an historic connection between Cork and Montana in that 1,500 miners from the Beara Peninsula migrated to Montana in the early 20th Century following the failure of the copper mines in Allihies.

Over a quarter of the population in Montana is of Irish descent.

The state of Montana is rich in natural resources, has a population of less than 1m and enjoys national influence disproportionate to its size.

The exhibition will include excerpts from the manuscript collection of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, oral histories from The Gathering: Collected Oral Histories of the Irish in Montana, literature, and research of the Irish in Montana.  These stories illuminate the compelling nature of the westward immigration of the Irish.

Cultural influence

The exhibit is organized around four themes: The Journey, Work & Labour, Women & Children, and Church & Club. Each element is both independently strong and interrelated.

The arrangement itself reflects the Irish experience in Montana and how they integrated themselves into a new Irish American community.

More than 17 per cent of Butte’s population was of Irish decent in 1920 and greater than 6 per cent of Montana’s population was from Ireland, their influence on the culture of Butte and Montana is irrefutable.

The Irish story can be read in every social gathering, church activity, political campaign and ethnic event in Butte.

The sheer number of Irish made them influential and they infiltrated every other ethnic group and brought them into their fold.

A mining tower in Montana

Allihies visit

The collections documenting the Irish in Butte are some of the most highly used collections in Butte-Silver Bowe Archives holdings.

The Exhibit team travelling to Ireland includinhg Ellen Crain (Archivist, BSB Archives), Ciara Ryan (University of Montana), and Bernadette Sweeney (Gathering Project) will be available to provide presentations on the exhibit topics and/or their research and projects associated with the exhibit.

Ellen Crain will be staying several weeks in Cork to visit the Beara Peninsula and exchange information, ephemera and intellectual material with the Mining Museum in Allihies.


The exhibition will continue in UCC Library until the end of September 2012 as part of A Montana Ireland Exhibition July 2012 to May of 2013.

UCC Library Opening times are Monday-Friday 8.30am – 4.15pm, Saturday 10am-12.45pm.