Ambassador Mulhall & Consul General O'Driscoll visit Montana & "the Most Irish Town in America"
Blog16 September 2021
Ambassador Mulhall, Consul General O'Driscoll, Lt. Governor Kristen Juras & group at the Thomas Francis Meagher Statue in Montana.
Ambassador of Ireland to the United States Daniel Mulhall and Consul General of Ireland in San Francisco Robert O’Driscoll travelled to Montana over 8-12 of September for a full programme celebrating Ireland’s historical ties with the Treasure State, meeting with political leaders and focusing on Montana’s diversifying economy.
A highlight of the first day was meeting with Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras at Montana’s famous Meagher statue. Thomas Francis Meagher, a well-known Irish nationalist and leader of the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848, was one of Montana’s first governors of the territory in 1865. The meeting included an exchange on economic and COVID developments in Montana and Ireland, reflections on the historic connections between Ireland and Montana, and discussion on how to foster modern economic ties between Ireland and Big Sky Country.
While in Helena, the Ambassador and Consul General met with Mayor Wilmot Collins. The discussion focused on Irish links to Helena, economic developments, and Mayor Collins’ extraordinary journey from Liberia to Montana. Leaving Liberia as a refugee from the First Liberian Civil War, Mayor Collins arrived in Helena in 1994 and joined his wife who came to Montana 2 years prior. In 2017 Mayor Collins was the first black person to be elected mayor of any city in Montana since statehood.
As a Meagher enthusiast, the Ambassador also took time to visit the Montana Historical Society, where former Governor Steve Bullock and former Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney joined the tour to see the impressive collection of Meagher papers. The Historical Society’s collection featured original papers of Thomas Francis Meagher as well as collected papers about him. The papers consisted of originals and copies of Meagher's general correspondence, including a love letter to his fiancé Elizabeth Townsend (1855), letters from Meagher while in a Dublin prison (1848-1849), and a letter and writings by him describing life in Van Dieman's land, Tasmania (1901).
Wrapping up the programme in Helena, the Ambassador met with the brand new Irish Caucus in the Montana State Legislature. The Caucus is bipartisan and co-chaired by State Senators Mike Lang and Shannon O'Brien, and Representatives Ross Fitzgerald and Katie Sullivan. The group had a vibrant exchange on developments in Ireland and Montana, Ireland-US relations, Brexit, as well as opportunities to build on the strong heritage links between Ireland and the Treasure State.
The Ambassador and Consul General then journeyed to Butte, which has the largest Irish heritage community per capita in the United States and is renowned for an impressive St. Patrick’s Day parade. At the Butte Silver Bow Archives, Ambassador Mulhall launched the online digitised community papers project. This project has received approximately $30,000 in grant funds over the last 6 years through the Government of Ireland’s Emigrant Support Programme, the Irish Studies Program at the University of Montana, and the Friends of Irish Studies in the West to develop exhibits, host cultural events, and digitise archival collections. The Ambassador also announced an additional funding of $24,000 for the Friends of Irish Studies at the launch event.
The programme’s afternoon was focused on honouring the memory of the Irish miners in Montana with a visit to the World Museum of Mining, where Ambassador Mulhall and Consul General O’Driscoll went underground in an old mine. The Ambassador laid a wreath at the Memorial for the Speculator Mine Disaster in memory of the victims of the disaster and other mining accidents in Butte. To conclude the evening, the Ambassador and Consul General visited St. Patrick’s Cemetery to pay their respects and remember the important Irish heritage of those who rest there. St. Patrick’s Cemetery, which was recently renovated by the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) in Montana, is the final resting place of many of the Irish who travelled to Montana in the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The following day Ambassador Mulhall and Consul General O’Driscoll met with the Chief Administrator (Mayor) of Butte JP Gallagher, and participated in a roundtable with Butte economic development contacts hosted at the Montana Craft Malt facility. The roundtable was an excellent opportunity to learn about the potential for Ireland to engage economically with Montana’s diversifying economy in a region of deep historical connection to Ireland.
The Ambassador and Consul General then departed for Anaconda where they had lunch with the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) where the focus of discussion was on Brexit and the implications for Ireland. The AOH in Anaconda is one of the oldest and most successful AOH branches in Western United States. While in Anaconda the Ambassador visited the statue of Marcus Daly, also known as the Irish Copper King, who founded the town of Anaconda in 1883. Daly was a huge employer of Irish miners and most of his supervisors were Irishmen. He was a generous supporter of the Irish cause and Daly himself was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
Next stop was the Montana World Trade Center in Missoula. The Ambassador and Consul General were able to learn about the emerging technology and bioscience sector in Montana, and the potential for collaborations with Ireland during their visit to MonTEC and reception at UM Missoula College.
Later that evening, the Ambassador and Mrs. Mulhall were guests of honour at a dinner hosted by the Friends of Irish Studies. The Friends of Irish Studies is a strategic partner for the Consulate General of Ireland in San Francisco, recognised by the provision of just over US$500,000 in Emigrant Support Programme funding since 2009. The Friends of Irish Studies unite all those of Irish heritage and those who have a love of Ireland to raise funds to grow and sustain the Irish Studies program at the University of Montana, provide the community with public access to visiting guests, and to sponsor evening classes and cultural events within the community.
On Friday morning the Ambassador visited the University of Montana, where their ‘WelcomeFeast’ was in full swing, and the Ambassador and Consul General were recruited by UM’s hurling team- the Grizzlies.
University of Montana (UM) began a strategic partnership with University College Cork (UCC) in 2004 and since then both universities have had student and faculty exchanges, a joint-degree program in Field Geosciences, and UM has hosted nearly 20 Fulbright Irish Teaching Assistants over the years. Ambassador Mulhall was able to meet with the Dean of UM’s Law School Paul Kirgis and Judge Donald Molloy to discuss the very well regarded Irish language and law exchange program between UM’s School of Law and UCC.
The University of Montana is home to the largest Irish Studies program west of the Mississippi. The Ambassador was also able to meet with UM’s Global Engagement Office and connect with the cohort of Inclusive Ireland Scholars. The Inclusive Ireland Scholarship Program is a collaboration between Education in Ireland and Diversity Abroad to support BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students to study abroad in Ireland.
After a great meeting with the University Provost Reed Humphrey, the Irish Studies faculty, Fulbright Scholars, and 2019 Dublin Literary Award winner Emily Ruskovich, the Ambassador and Consul General left UM for Whitefish, where they had a welcoming reception organised by the Senior Economic Advisor to the Governor Scott Osterman.
On the final day of his trip, Ambassador Mulhall had an incredible visit to Glacier National Park, which is a sister park with Killarney National Park in County Kerry.
The agreement between the two parks was signed in a virtual ceremony in 2021 and facilitates collaboration related to the management of these cherished, protected places. Killarney National Park, managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of Ireland’s Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, and Glacier National Park, managed by the U.S. National Park Service, have many common issues including; heavy visitation, controlling exotic and invasive species, outreach with local communities, and ecological monitoring. Under their sister agreement the parks will share best practices through the exchange of technical and professional knowledge, data, technology, training, and possible site visits.
Glacier National Park was an excellent way to conclude the trip- ending on a note of international cooperation and Ireland’s global connections.
For local Montana press and other media coverage of the visit please follow the links below: