The Ulster Unionist Tour of Canada, 1886

1000px-flag_of_canada_28pantone29-svgCanada’s 150th birthday is coming up in a few days! As part of my doctoral work at the University of Edinburgh, I looked at visits across the Atlantic by Ulster unionists who aimed to publicize their cause and to counter Irish nationalism during the Home Rule era. One of the more interesting stories involving Canadian history that I came across involved two of these Ulster unionists, who toured North America in 1886.

1200px-flag_of_ulster-svgReverend Dr. Richard Rutledge Kane and barrister George Hill Smith were commissioned by the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union shortly after the defeat of the first Home Rule Bill to present the unionist cause to the North American public which they believed were blinded by a pro-nationalist press.

Kane was a fairly notorious figure within Belfast society as the rector of Christ Church, the Grand Master of Belfast’s Orange Order, and a prominent unionist speaker; he was accused of inciting the Belfast riots in 1886.  Smith was a barrister from Armagh who spoke throughout England and Scotland on behalf of the Ulster Loyalist Anti-Repeal Union and other Irish unionist organizations.

Kane and Smith’s tour first took them to Canada and then to the United States.  Speaking at gatherings of Irish immigrants and their descendants, and to Orangemen, they promoted the cause of Irish unionism and attempted to discredit Irish nationalists. But there was one particularly remarkable incident that stood out both to me and to Smith, who considered it one of the most extraordinary things to happen in his long speaking career. Continue reading

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Charleston’s Hibernian Hall

I recently visited Charleston, South Carolina, for the first time, and anyone with an interest in Irish history or architecture cannot help but be struck by the massive, Greek-columned Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street.

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Hibernian Hall, Charleston – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Hibernian Hall, which is a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1840 for the Hibernian Society, an Irish benevolent association founded in 1801.  The Hibernian Society celebrates its non-sectarian identity, alternating between Catholic and Protestant presidents. Continue reading

Political Cartoon: The Anti-Home Rule Orange Circus Over the Water

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Irish World, 11 March 1893

In the midst of the second Home Rule crisis in 1893, the most prominent Irish-American newspaper, the Irish World, published this political cartoon: “The Anti-Home Rule Orange Circus Over the Water.”

Here we see Edward Saunderson, MP and leader of the Ulster unionists in Parliament, beating the Orange drum.  Reverend Richard Rutledge Kane, of Belfast’s Christ Church, rips and stomps the Home Rule bill.  And in the background, Prime Minister William E. Gladstone is burned in effigy.

The Irish World described the scene: “More than 5,000 persons were present at the great Orange meeting here [in Belfast] to-day.  Dr. Kane, who presided, said that Ulster was prepared to defend herself to the last against the proposals of the Home Rule Bill.  The men of Ulster need not feel, however, that they would be alone and unaided in the fight for their liberties.  They had the sympathies of Englishmen of all classes throughout the world.

“He had received letters from military and police officers in England and Ireland and telegrams from Canada and Australia promising co-operation with the men of Ulster if the latter resorted to arms to defend their liberties against the tyranny of their historic foes.  A hundred thousand Orangemen were ready to resist to the death the Home Rule Bill.”

The Irish World‘s serious tone in reporting the event contrasts with the snarling and chaotic feel to the political cartoon, with the beating of the Orange drum an annoying “circus” and distraction from what Irish nationalists considered as the larger issues at stake with Home Rule.

Colorado Orange Lodges: A Preliminary Survey

I’ve been particularly interested in the Loyal Orange Institution of the United States of America and its development as compared to that of the Orange Order in other countries.  The first Orange Lodges in America were established in the 1820s and the United States Orange Institution gained National Grand Lodge status in 1870.  The Orange Order was strongest in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York, but were as far-flung as Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Idaho, and even one lodge in Cordova, Alaska.

In my home state of Colorado, there were 17 lodges listed in the Orange Ledger, which I’ve mapped out below:

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Map source: L. Flewelling

Denver had four lodges, with the earliest founded in 1893.  How long Orange presence lasted is unclear, but I had a look at a 1945 city directory a few weeks ago and there was an Orange lodge plus a ladies’ auxiliary listed.  (As a side note, the fact that “secret societies” get their own section in old city directories is one of the small joys of life.)

The bulk of the lodges were in mining towns, such as Leadville, Cripple Creek, Aspen, and Ward.  One thing I found particularly interesting when I was examining Leadville’s Irish population a few weeks ago was that the Leadville Orange Lodge was founded right around the same time as the town’s big miners’ strike in 1896.  Did the Scotch-Irish of Leadville want to separate themselves from the Irish Americans who led the strike?  The creation of a new lodge in Leadville at this time is especially odd to me as the population of Leadville had gone drastically down since the 1893 silver crash.  Most miners were moving on, either to Denver or to other mines in the west.

Cripple Creek’s Orange lodge was also founded soon after its strike (the only one in Colorado where the state came down on the side of the miners) in 1894.  This strike was also heavily associated with Irish American leadership.

When their Orange lodges were in existence, Boulder and Colorado Springs would have transitioned from mining towns to prominent cities in Colorado.  Pueblo was an industrial town with steel as its focus.  Fort Morgan was a rural, agriculture-based community.  Montrose and Florence were both regional railroad hubs.

It seems that there is no real pattern to which towns Orange lodges would emerge in, as there was no single economic sector which dominated.  The lodges were strongest around the turn of the century, but then quickly faded everywhere in the state except for Denver.  The State Orange Lodge of Colorado appears to have only met between 1897 and 1901.  After that point the lodges would have been unaffiliated with a state lodge structure.

I’m looking forward to continuing to pursue more details about the Orange Lodges in Colorado and throughout the United States, especially how the lodges remained connected to Ireland and interacted with Irish Americans in their local communities.

The Irish in a Colorado Mining Town: A Look at Leadville

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Church of the Annunciation, Leadville, CO – photo credit: L. Flewelling

In the nineteenth century, the Irish were the second largest foreign-born ethnic group in Colorado, with the major sites of Irish settlement at Denver, Leadville, and Cripple Creek. The earliest Irish migrants in Colorado were miners, railroad workers, soldiers, and domestic servants.  In Denver, many Irish worked as common laborers.

In 1877, miners in Lake County realized that the black sand they had been tossing off to the side when looking for gold was actually silver.  This led to a silver boom, causing the city of Leadville to spring up overnight.  By far the largest ethnic group in Leadville was the Irish, and Leadville became the most Irish city in the Rocky Mountain region by 1880.  About 9% of the population had been born in Ireland and another 7% were second generation Irish Americans.  The majority of Irish were miners, and like most groups in Colorado at this time, were mostly men.

Irish women in Leadville were housewives, domestic servants, laundresses, about six were prostitutes, and there were also several nuns who worked as nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital.

In Leadville, the Irish mainly settled on the east side of town, with 6th street as the main thoroughfare.  Because they were the largest ethnic group, they had a large impact on the town as it grew.  They had their own Catholic church, the Church of the Annunciation, which was founded in 1879.  There was also St Vincent’s Hospital and St Mary’s Catholic School.  The names of the mines also reflect the Irish presence.  Many of them are name after people or groups from Irish nationalism: Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, O’Donovan Rossa, Fenian Queen, and Charles Stewart Parnell.  Others have more general Irish cultural links: O’Sullivan, Murphy, Fitzjames, Letterkenny, Mary Murphy, Red-Headed Mary, Seamus O’Brien, Fitzhugh, Donovan, O’Brien, and Maid of Erin.

The most well-known people of Leadville were also Irish.  Molly Brown and her husband J.J. were the children of Irish immigrants.  Baby Doe Tabor, whose birth name was Elizabeth McCourt, was also the daughter of Irish immigrants.  Her husband, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Horace Tabor, was known to support the Irish nationalist movement.

Irish nationalism was a huge cause for the Irish immigrants in Leadville.  Nationally, Leadville ranked third in money donated to the Irish Land League, behind only Philadelphia and Chicago.  Leadville formed its own branches of the Land League and the Ladies’ Land League, and also had other Irish societies, the Knights of Robert Emmet, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Daughters of Erin.  The Irish also had their own local militai, the Wolfe Tone Guards.

Both Leadville and Denver’s Irish populations were well-organized and supportive of nationalist causes, and this led several Irish nationalists to include both cities in their fundraising tours of the United States.  This included two visits by the founder of the Land League, Michael Davitt, as well as the treasurer and secretary of the Land League and several members of the Irish Parliamentary Party.  Oscar Wilde also came to Denver and Leadville in 1882.  He gave a talk on art and aesthetics to the miners at the Tabor Opera House and became legendary in the area for the amount of whiskey he consumed.

Along with their nationalist activism, the Irish in Leadville were known for their participation in local labor movements.  They were associated with the leadership of two major strikes in Leadville, the first a 23-day strike in 1880 and the second a much longer strike from 19 June 1896 to 9 March 1897.  Labor activism fit well with Irish land agitation and calls for self-government.  In fact all three of these movements had been tied together through the most prominent Irish American newspaper, the Irish World.  The newspaper’s founder and editor, Patrick Ford, promoted Irish nationalism and American labor activism, and his paper was circulated around the country, even to places as distant as Leadville before it had railroad access.

In both of the Leadville strikes, the miners’ unions were led by Irish miners, demanding higher pay and shorter working days.  In both cases, the strikes were put down by the Colorado National Guard.  While the 1880 strike was peaceful, the 1896 strike became violent, with armed strikers attacking the mines.  At least eight miners were killed.

In 1896, Leadville’s branch of the Loyal Orange Institution was founded.  In North America, the Orange Order had a by far larger presence in Canada, with a weaker organization in the United States.  In Colorado, the oldest and largest Orange presence was in Denver.  The timing of the foundation of the Orange lodge in Leadville is interesting, as the population of Leadville had been drastically declining since the 1893 silver crash.  So why would smaller numbers of people want to form a new organization at this time?  It’s possible that the Irish and Scotch-Irish Protestants were attempting to dissociate themselves from the Irish Americans who were leading the miners’ strike, who they would have considered radical, extreme, and at the bottom of the social ladder.

The Orange lodge in Cripple Creek was also founded soon after the Cripple Creek miners’ strike, which was also heavily associated with Irish American-led labor agitation.

It’s difficult to track just low large of a presence the Orange Order and other Scotch-Irish migrants would have had in Colorado, because the peak of emigration from Ireland was farther in the past.  They might be lumped in with second-generation Irish Americans from Canada, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan, where the Orange Order was strongest.

After the silver crash of 1893 and the strike of 1896, the productivity and population of Leadville declined drastically.  In 1900, 8,900 people lived there, and by 1910, it was down to 4,400.  Many of the Irish miners moved on to different mines in the west, while others moved to Denver.  By 1910, 44% of the Irish in Colorado lived in Denver, part of the total of 63% of the Irish population living on the Front Range.  Those who remained in Colorado were more urban and middle class than the working class miners.

The Irish in Colorado continued to be active in the labor movement, including the leaders of the Cripple Creek miners’ strike in 1903-4 and Mary Harris Jones, known as “Mother Jones,” who was born in County Cork and was active in supporting miners during the Ludlow Massacre.  The Irish worked in the coal mines along the Front Range, became police officers and firefighters in Denver, supported the expanding Catholic church in the region, and continued to participate in fraternal societies such as the Knights of Columbus.  Éamon de Valera, the president of the Irish parliament, visited Denver as part of his fundraising tour of the United States in 1919, highlighting continued support for Irish nationalism.

Additional Readings:

David M. Emmons, Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).

Dennis Gallagher, Thomas J. Noel, and James Patrick Walsh, Irish Denver (Charleston: Arcadia, 2012).

James Patrick Walsh, Michael Mooney and the Leadville Irish: Respectability and Resistance at 10,200 Feet, 1875-1900 (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Colorado Boulder, 2010).