Two weeks ago today, we stopped in Butte, Montana to see my cousin, her husband – and their adorable granddaughter. We had a short but wonderful visit.
They live downtown so we were able to walk around and see some of the old buildings and even had time for a few meals – dinner on Friday evening at the Metals Sports Bar & Grill located in the historic Metals Bank Building, and breakfast on Saturday morning at Gamer’s Cafe, a Butte institution.
Butte holds quite a special place in my heart.
My great grandparents Joseph and Kate (Myers) Kieron immigrated there from Ireland in the late 19th century. Their daughter – my grandmother Nora Marie (Kieron) Blacker – was born there in 1900.
And as luck would have it, we were there on the same weekend of the Irish Festival, which this year was commemorating the Easting Rising of 1916 – which I wrote about earlier this year.
We had some spare time on Friday evening so we headed up the hill to the Original mine – one of only a few remaining headframes left in Butte – where we listened to Irish fiddle tunes and saw a group of young Irish step dancers. As you can see in the picture below, the stage was set up at the bottom of the headframe, also sometimes referred to as a “gallows” frame.
Listen to a wonderful Irish fiddle tune while you finish reading this post.
And as it was a little chilly out, I had to buy a sweatshirt!
As I sat at the Irish Festival next to my cousin, listening to the tunes, I couldn’t help but wonder about our great grandparents and our grandmother.
I know my great grandfather worked in some of the mines . . . but which ones?
What neighborhoods did they live in?
What was life like for them in Butte?
And do you suppose my great grandparents Joseph and Kate ever danced together to fiddle tunes from their homeland?
(I’ve been doing lots of research since returning home, hoping to answer some of these questions in a forthcoming blog.)
The next morning before leaving town, we visited the graves of our great grandparents at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
I was so happy to share this time and place with my cousin and her family. And I’m already looking forward to our next visit.
Today is the 79th anniversary of the death of my maternal Irish grandmother, Nora Marie (Kieron) Blacker. She was only 36 years old when she died, leaving behind a husband and five small children – two boys and three girls ranging in age from 8 to 14 years old.
Yesterday, my mom – who was 8 years old when her mother died and is now 87 years old – called me and said she wanted to share some of her memories so that no one would forget her mother. So I drove over to her house today and we spent the afternoon together reminiscing.
In her words (with a few clarification edits by me) are some free-flowing memories of her mother —
When I think about Mama, I think of all the little memories she left behind.
She loved to sing while she cleaned the house. I remember watching her make the bed, stopping long enough to belt out a song like she was on stage – just like Judy Garland.
And of course all the chores had to be done on Saturday before we could head out the door, sometimes taking a long walk up to Dry Gulch – stopping to have lunch beneath a big shade tree. Or sometimes we took a walk to the NP Depot for penny candy – her favorite. Oh, and her other favorite was Mr. Goodbar. We kids felt like it was more for her treat than ours.
When it was cold and snowy outside, she would dress me up in my little red snow suit and galoshes – which took some time and effort. Then just before we’d head out the door, I would say, “I’ve gotta go to the bathroom.” Which of course made her so happy.
One time she lost her temper with someone – can’t remember who – and on went the little red snow suit and galoshes. Then out the door and around the block we went – until she calmed down.
Sometimes I’d climb into bed with her in the morning and she’d raise her arms above and behind her head to play a tune on the headboard with her knuckles.
She loved to dance.
She loved baseball on the radio and would sometimes jump up and down on the couch when her favorite team won a game. Once during a long illness in the hospital, the nurses took the radio out of her room so she wouldn’t become too excited.
She loved President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Daddy loved to tease her, saying “FDR is no good!”
I shared this picture [on the right] with my brother David one time. He said it made him feel sad that there were no pictures of him and his brother with their mother.
When we made the long car ride moving back to Montana from California – shortly after a long hospital stay for my mother when she was suffering from phlebitis – Daddy would stop every so often and he and the boys would help her out of the car and walk side-by-side with her, just a few steps at a time. By the time we got to Helena, she could walk pretty good. Daddy was so gentle with her.
I can still feel her touch and smell her fragrance as she fixed my hair into Shirley Temple curls.
My mom then called her only surviving sibling, Katherine – affectionately referred to by her nieces, including me, as “Auntie Katherine”. She was 12 at the time her mother died and is now 91 years old. We explained what we were up to and Auntie Katherine graciously shared some of her memories with us, as my mom and I chatted with her, handing the phone back and forth. (And oh yes, a few of my aunt’s memories triggered a few more of my mom’s memories, which are in shown in brackets below.)
Mama was always happy. A beautiful woman who loved life. She had beautiful auburn-colored hair. But I think she added the color herself, with a henna rinse. [We had a good laugh at that. And my mom added that she thought the added color came from the beauty shop. Another good laugh. My mom also remembered receiving a perm herself, not realizing at the time that it made her hair curly. And then wondered what happened to her “naturally curly hair” after her mother died. My mom: “I guess 4-year-olds aren’t the smartest kids on the block.” More laughing.]
Mama called us ‘her kiddies’ and loved to skip up and down the street with us. She was like a kid herself. And she was a wonderful cook and especially liked to bake cakes and cookies.
On the night of the earthquake [October 18, 1935], Mama had a premonition and wouldn’t let any of us go to bed. She was ironing when the quake began and the walls began to cave in all around us. Our neighbor from across the street was with us and she headed out the door first, with the five of us kids right behind her. Mama was the last one out. [My mom chimed in again and said she remembered her mother going back into the house and the neighbor pulled her out just before a wall fell in.] It was a good thing we didn’t go to bed that night. The bed upstairs where all the girls slept fell in on top of the stove on the main floor. There wasn’t a thing left of our furniture.
The doctors told Mama she would never walk again after having phlebitis – but before she died, she was walking again – in high heels!
After Mama died, we five kids went looking for her in the funeral parlor. We finally found her covered body in the basement. We uncovered her to make sure it was our mother. At the funeral, she was in a bed rather than a casket. I’m sure Daddy would have had them do that.
There is no denying that life was not easy for my grandfather and his five children after Nora died. And I believe the sadness of her death and the absence of her presence in our lives has even touched her grandchildren.
But thanks to two of her daughters, who have so generously – and joyfully – shared their precious memories, I feel certain that no one will forget Nora Marie (Kieron) Blacker.
Monday of this week marked the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising1. So I’ve been wondering what my Irish-born great grandfather Joseph Kieron might have been thinking as the events unfolded that week in 1916.
Joseph had immigrated to the United States from Ireland in about 1895 and made his way immediately to Butte, Montana. With its large Irish population, stories of the rebellion must have been big news in Butte.
So of course I got right on the computer to see what more I could learn.
According to this recent article from the Montana Standard, the impact on Butte was “huge”. Both the Anaconda Standard and the Butte Miner ran nearly identical stories but the headlines of each paper were quite different – the Standard being the more “restrained” of the two. And among the group of activists eventually tried and shot for treason was James Connolly who had visited Butte in 1910.
On April 30th, the day most of the Irish nationalists surrendered in Dublin, at least 1,000 Butte Irish met at the Hibernia Hall to establish the Butte chapter of The Friends of Irish Freedom – a group founded to support the goal of national independence of Ireland.
Quite accidentally, I also learned that the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives has a CD which contains “scans of documents pertaining to the Friends of Irish Freedom from 1910 to 1936”, including membership rosters. I’ve ordered a copy of the CD – it should arrive any day.
Do you suppose Joseph attended that meeting in a show of support for his countrymen? I’m hoping to find out.
Copyright (c) 2016, Lark M. Dalin Robart
The Easter Rising was an armed rebellion by a group of Irish nationalists determined to end British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic. ↩
Lisa Alzo’s “Fearless Females” blog prompt for March 16th is: If you could have lunch with any female family member (living or dead) or any famous female who would it be and why? Where would you go? What would you eat?
This is a hard one. I would definitely choose a female family member over someone famous – but which one?
After making a long list of possible lunch companions, I finally settled on my grandmother Nora Marie Kieron Blacker.
Nora was 100% Irish, having been born in Butte, Montana to immigrant parents – her father from County Monaghan and her mother from County Galway. Nora’s mother Kate died when she was only 36 years old – Nora was just a toddler. Sadly, history repeated itself when Nora also died at age 36 leaving my grandfather to raise five children. The youngest was 8 and the oldest was 14. Continue reading →