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Irish Miners' Memorial in Leadville

The granite stone that marks the grave of Texas Jack Omohundro in Leadville, Colorado's Evergreen Cemetery isn't the one that was placed on the day of his funeral. That one had his name, the date of his death, and a handwritten message in Italian from Jack's wife, prima ballerina Giuseppina Morlacchi. When that first grave marker was stolen, it was replaced with another, this one featuring a drawing of a horse, a rifle, a lasso, and a pair of crossed pistols, along with an incorrect age of 39, adding six years to Jack's age. The second memorial was also stolen, and all that was left when Jack's friend Buffalo Bill Cody visited Evergreen Cemetery 115 years ago, on September 5, 1908, was a white pine slab.

Buffalo Bill eulogized his old friend that day and paid for the permanent granite memorial that marks Texas Jack's grave today. Like the old marker it replaced, it incorrectly lists Jack's age at death as 39.

As many as 1,339 men, women, and children buried in the Catholic pauper section of Evergreen Cemetery weren't lucky enough to have Buffalo Bill to eulogize them and make sure their graves were marked. Perhaps 80% of the bodies resting in Evergreen's unmarked graves were Irish miners, with as many as one-third of them immigrants from the copper mining region on the Beara Peninsula near Allihies in West Cork. These were miners who left home after years of famine and the closure of their local copper mines to look for a better life in America, bringing their families with them. The mines that these men, their fathers, and their grandfathers had worked were gone, but silver was being pulled from the ground in the Rocky Mountains, and they had the skills and the will to pursue this fortune for themselves.

Kathleen Fitzsimmons and Luke Finken have spearheaded the drive for a permanent memorial for these men, women, and children. According to the Leadville Herald newspaper, "estimates show that about 8 to 10 percent of those buried are stillborn children. Half of those buried are under the age of 12, and the average age of those buried is just 23." Kathleen Fitzsimmons says that because of the disparate ages and situations of those buried there, the memorial takes on different significance to each visitor. "For some, it’s an immigrant’s memorial," she said. "For some, it’s a miner’s memorial. For others, it’s a memorial to stillborn children or women [victims] of domestic violence or economic inequities. It can mean so many different things to so many people."

Jim Walsh, the project's historian and a researcher at the University of Colorado in Denver, first visited Evergreen Cemetery in 2003 while working on his doctoral thesis. "I remember saying to myself that day that I was going to make this part of my life's work,” he told Colorado Public Radio. “The people who were buried there, their voices needed to be heard...I couldn't believe that all of these people were just buried without markers. I mean they were given little wooden markers at the time, but it really just grabbed me and stayed with me.”

The impact of their project has a long reach and has spread from Evergreen Cemetery in Leadville, at over 10,000 feet of elevation in Colorado's Rocky Mountains, to Allihies, Ireland, where so many of those buried here were from. Tadhg O’Sullivan, chair of the Allihies Copper Mine Museum, is working with his staff on a genealogy project that will connect people with their relatives who left the area for opportunities in places like Leadville. “It was fascinating for me to discover that there could well be my own ancestors buried in this graveyard in Leadville,” he said. Leadville and Allihies have announced a new sister-city relationship to coincide with the unveiling of the memorial and to honor the links between the two towns.

On Saturday, September 16th, just over 115 years after Buffalo Bill stood in Evergreen Cemetery to eulogize and memorialize his friend and partner Texas Jack, there will be an unveiling ceremony for the memorial. Irish Ambassador to the United States Daniel Mulhall will give a keynote address at the American Conference for Irish Studies West regional conference at the University of Colorado Denver. O’Sullivan and others from the museum will travel for the event to celebrate the twinning of Leadville and Allihies. Kathleen Fitzsimmons, Luke Finken, Jim Walsh, along with Leadville mayor Greg Labbe will be on hand to celebrate the unveiling of a permanent memorial to the men, women, and children buried in Evergreen Cemetery. As part of the memorial, visitors can scan a qr code that will bring up a recording of the names of those buried in the cemetery, as read by residents of Allihies. When all is said and done, visitors at this weekend's ceremony will also participate in Leadville’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Practice Parade. Leadville's practice parade is held in September, six months after the official March holiday. The reason—March in Leadville is too snowy and cold for a full parade. On St. Patrick's Day this year, the low temperature in Leadville was 10° and the mercury never rose above freezing. This weekend, the weather should be warm by Leadville standards, with a low of around 33° and a high of 62°. And like they did at Texas Jack's funeral in 1880 and at Buffalo Bill's eulogy in 1908, the people of Leadville will come to Evergreen Cemetery to honor their dead.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Go n-éirí an bóthar leat

Go raibh an ghaoth go brách ag do chúl

Go lonraí an ghrian go te ar d'aghaidh,

Go dtite an bháisteach go mín ar do pháirceanna

Agus go mbuailimid le chéile arís,

Go gcoinní Dia i mbos A láimhe thú.

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