The impact of the Irish

HANCOCK – Many Copper Country residents are aware of the contributions made by the Croatian, Cornish, Finnish, French-Canadians, and Italian immigrants, but what may not be as well known is the contribution Irish immigrants made to the local communities, particularly to Hancock.

As part of its Sesquicentennial Celebration, the city of Hancock will sponsor a presentation called It’s a Long Way From Tipperary: Early Irish Settlers and Leaders in Hancock by Dr. William Mulligan Jr., a professor of American history at Murray State University in Kentucky, and researcher of the Irish diaspora, including emigration from Ireland to the Copper Country.

Mulligan’s presentation will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Finnish American Heritage Center in Hancock. There is no charge for the talk.

Mulligan said he has a connection to the Upper Peninsula having lived in Negaunee for three years and teaching history part time at Michigan Technological University for 20 years.

“I know the Copper Country pretty well,” he said.

Beginning in the middle 19th century, Mulligan said Hancock was the center of Irish immigration in the Copper Country.

As an Irish-American, Mulligan said when he was teaching at Tech, he knew there had been a Irish presence in the area, but there seemed to be few decedents of those early immigrants.

“I hardly ever met anyone who was Irish,” he said. “I started investigating what happened to all the Irish people.”

Mulligan said there were two main waves of Irish immigrants, the first coming in the early 1840s.

“Most of them came from County Tipperary,” he said. “They found their way to the Copper Country.”

Many of those early Irish immigrants worked the copper mines in Ireland, but in the 1840s, the mines began to fail, largely due to competition.

The first Irish immigrants, who spoke English, landed in Massachusetts, Mulligan said, then came to Michigan and Hancock because of the copper mines.

“By the 1850s, there’s a significant number of Irish in the mines,” he said.

A second wave, many of whom spoke Irish Gaelic, came to the area 20 years later. Immigration to Hancock continued through the 1880s, Mulligan said.

“Hancock was seen as an Irish town,” he said.

Mulligan said his talk will highlight certain Irish families and individuals who became prominent in Hancock, including the Ryans, who were in government and business, Michael Finn, who held a few government positions, and the Finnegan family.

He hopes his talk about those people will make those in the audience think about the influence they had.

“Maybe some light bulbs will light up,” he said.

One of the people Mulligan said he will talk about is Edward Ryan, who started out with general stores in downtown Hancock and in Calumet, and who was involved in banking and copper mining, despite having very little formal education.

“Not bad for a kid who left Ireland at the age of 4,” he said.

Mulligan said in the 1870s, the Irish miners in the Copper Country, including Hancock, began to leave Michigan for mines in Leadville, Colorado and Butte, Montana. Irish in Ireland also started going to those mines rather than going to the Copper Country.

“What you see is an exodus to Butte,” he said.

Another contributing factor to the decline of the Irish population in Hancock, Mulligan said, was the conflict between Irish laborers and mine owners and managers, who started working to remove those people from the mines.

Mulligan said there isn’t much of a population of decedents of those original Irish immigrants in Hancock, now.

“It’s very small,” he said.

Despite the slight Irish legacy in Hancock, Mulligan said his talk will be informative to many who hear it.

“It’ll be about a community and the challenges they faced,” he said.