If the history of Park City is any indication, the luck of the Irish is not evenly dispersed.
Statewide in 1910, some 10,000 people out of a total population of 373,000 were born in Ireland or had one or two Irish-born parents (2.7 percent). The Park City area’s percentage was probably higher, since mining attracted many immigrant Irish here. Park City continues to be shaped by this Hibernian infusion.
The Irish are well known to have “saved Western Civilization” and this article will not debate that point. According to historian Bishop Dwyer, the impact of the Irish in the Intermountain West has been above what a modest fraction of population would reasonably have produced. In that regard, their influence on Summit County and Utah is clear.
Consider the lives of prominent Irish-born or Irish-descended citizens, such as Col. Patrick E. and Johanna Connor, Thomas Kearns, John and Mary Judge, John Daly, Eliza Nelson, Dan and Isabelle McPolin, and others. They were soldiers*, mining magnates and millionaires, philanthropists, engineers, farmers, entrepreneurs, and more. From our own Miner’s Hospital, “Big White Barn,” and some still-producing drain tunnels, to Fort Douglas, the Governor’s mansion, and Judge Memorial High School, their works affect us even today. *The Shoshone would add “butcher” to Connor’s resume – another sad tale for another day.
Of equal importance but of far less prominence are the hundreds of hard-working Irish laborers who did the heavy tasks of drilling, mucking, and hauling in Park City’s mines. Many are nameless, but their cumulative impact on our community was deep. Their labor made possible the wealth that coursed through and uplifted our town. Yet their stories often ended in tragedy.
A short walk through the Park City Cemetery will take you to a neat row of headstones facing west. They commemorate some of the Irishmen who died of asphyxiation in the Daly West explosion in 1902. They were John and Harry Devlin, James Murnin, John Carney, and Charles McAlindon, all of County Down, and Richard Dillon of County Mayo, and Mike Conlon “Born in Ireland.” The entire town turned out to honor their passing.
Or take the example of Michael McCarthy, who died horribly a few years earlier in the same mine. On November 15, 1899, at an early morning shift’s end at the 900-foot level, McCarthy boarded a crowded hoist cage (nine men on each deck of the cage).
“The cage came up smoothly and apparently the same as usual until about twenty or thirty feet from the top when a short ‘Oh’ was heard and someone remarked ‘Mike is gone.’ The men said they all felt the cage jar,” noted the Park Record.
McCarthy had slipped off the deck, was crushed between the cage and the shaft, and his body fell 1,400 feet. The remains rescuers found were mangled, fragmented, and bloody. A box was needed to convey all the body parts to the surface.
The men standing near him had noticed nothing amiss when they all boarded the cage. Their testimony to the coroner speculated that McCarthy “had been working where the air was bad and when good air was reached, he was overcome, fainted and fell off the cage.”
Age 29 and unmarried, McCarthy was – like Connor – a native of County Kerry. And like Daly, McCarthy had spent time in the mining camp of Butte, Montana before moving to Park City. “He was a whole-souled, industrious, and well-respected young man and a splendid miner. Being of a mirthful disposition, his good natured natural Irish wit made him a favorite among men, and he will be sadly missed,” said the Park Record.
The funeral took place at the Catholic church with Rev. Father Galligan officiating. “A large
number of friends followed the remains to the city cemetery where they were consigned to rest.” McCarthy’s headstone is on the west side of the cemetery, on a slight uphill.
McCarthy had the character and background, but not the luck of a Kearns or Daly. This St. Patrick’s Day, raise a toast to the famous and the not-so-famous Irish who built our community. All worked hard, and all made sacrifices, but Fortune smiled on some more than others.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Park City Museum!