Ten years ago, Colorado author Jim Walsh’s dissertation research on 1800s immigration to the Rocky Mountain region led him to the Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville and a previously unwritten chapter of history. There he came upon the “Catholic Free” section beyond the back of the cemetery, which extends for acres into pine forest. Records indicate that over a thousand Irish immigrants—averaging only 26 years in age—are buried there in unmarked graves. During the 1870s and 1880s, impoverished Irish miners flooded into the Rocky Mountains, often never to be heard from again. Rather than finding fortune in the gold and silver boom era, many met with untimely deaths. Walsh, a Clinical Assistant Professor at CU Denver, who now researches and lectures on labor and immigration issues, has felt compelled to find some recognition for those unacknowledged souls.
“These Irish immigrants, many from the copper mining region of the Beara Penninsula in west County Cork, were buried in what was called the Catholic Free section of Evergreen Cemetery between 1878-1890,” Walsh said. “The sunken graves include hundreds of infants and children. These are the forgotten Irish: destitute, transient, and facing dangerous working conditions. A massive miners’ strike in 1880 led by Irish-born Michael Mooney, failed to improve pay or working conditions for the community. On October 1, we will resurrect their stories and make sure that this space is recognized as sacred Irish space.”
CU Denver’s Political Science Department, Irish Network Colorado, the Consulate General of Ireland, Austin and the Molly Brown House Museum are co-hosting a “Colorado Irish History Weekend” to celebrate Irish and multicultural immigration to the Rocky Mountain region and to commemorate the unmarked paupers’ graves in Leadville. Other support comes from the Romero Theater Troupe, Auraria Casa Mayan Heritage Society, and the Rocky Mountain Labor Education and Arts Collective. Some of the events below will include Celtic musical performances by local artists, which are in the process of being confirmed.
The weekend will launch with a reception and talk on “The Irish in Colorado” at the Molly Brown House Museum on Thursday, September 29, with honored guest Adrian Farrell, consul general of Ireland, Austin and talk by museum director Andrea Malcomb. RSVP required: irishnetworkco.com
On Friday, September 30, in the Student Commons Building on the Auraria campus, there will be a screening of 1916: The Irish Rebellion, with introduction and comments by Adrian Farrell and Jim Lyons, Denver’s honorary consul of Ireland. A tour of the Ninth Street Historic Park will follow the screening. This will include comments on Auraria history by Jim Walsh and Gregorio Alcaro, who runs the Auraria Casa Mayan Heritage non-profit. RSVP required: irishnetwork.com
Details of all Colorado Irish History Weekend events and to make reservations (required for the evening events in Denver) may be found at IrishNetworkCO.com/.
For more information, contact:
President, Irish Network Colorado
On Saturday, October 1, the residents of Leadville will graciously host visitors from the Denver metro area for the day, kicking off with an 11 a.m. St. Patrick’s Practice Day Parade on Harrison Avenue. At 1 p.m. at Annunciation Church, Adrian Farrell will welcome all and introduce Jim Walsh, who will offer the presentation, “The Irish Road to Leadville”. Following that talk, Walsh will be joined by Colorado historian, author and statesman Dennis Gallagher to conduct a historic tour of the area. At 3 p.m., people will gather at the “Old Catholic” area of the Evergreen Cemetery, where Father Rafael Torres-Rico of Leadville’s Holy Family Parrish will join Adrian Farrell, Jim Walsh and Dennis Gallagher in a commemoration of those buried in the unmarked graves. For those wishing to stay on into the evening, Irish Network Colorado president Maura Clare will lead the open discussion “Imagining a Memorial to Irish Immigrants in the Rocky Mountain West” and Luke Finken, former Leadville City councilman and organizer of the Leadville St. Patrick’s Practice Day Parade is hosting a celebration at Wilde’s Green Hour.
Guest Contributor: James Walsh, PhD, Senior Instructor, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences