From Claremorris, Mayo to Butte, Montana

June 12, 2017

Barnacarroll & Butte, Montana forever intertwined following joint Mine Disaster Centenary Commemorations.

A full congregation at the Church of our Lady, Barnacarroll, Claremorris assembled in solidarity to honour the heroic, yet tragic endeavours of Michael Conroy and Peter Sheridan in the Butte Speculator Granite Mine Disaster, one hundred years to the day on June 9th, when the tragedy occurred in Montana State, USA.

The special centenary celebration Mass celebrated by Fr. Martin O’Connor, attended by family, relatives and friends of the Conroy and Sheridan families also paid tribute to the 168 men that also died in the incident, many of which were Irish natives, deemed as the worst hard-rock disaster in US history.

Direct descendants of the Conroy and Sheridan families participated in the celebration as gift bearers and in reciting readings and prayers. Also during the ceremony, Fr. Martin blessed the Brass Plate, which replicated Michael Conroy’s headstone placed by US based relations at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Butte. This will be erected at Barnacarroll graveyard, a short distance from Michael’s birthplace.

At the homily, Antoinette Keane (Conroy) welcomed Michael’s and Peter Sheridan’s grandchildren who came over from England and Dundalk together with Michael’s grandnephews who travelled over from the United States especially for the occasion.

“100 years ago on this very day,” Antoinette began: “Michael Conroy died tragically while trying to rescue his fellow-workers in America’s worst mining disaster. The true courage of a person is its readiness for sacrifice in the service of others. Michael and Peter sacrificed themselves without thinking of the consequences. They displayed a great presence of mind in their spur of the moment decision to go into the shaft cage to rescue their colleagues, regardless of complete indifference or even liking towards them as individuals.”

“Courage has religious roots, there is a spiritual connection between courage, sacrifice, and love. Michael Conroy and Pete Sheridan, at a soul level, valued life enough to have the courage to save their co-workers. Their sacrifice is a model of courage; They saw the value of life,” she continued.

“Michael and Peter performed a brave act in the face of adversity. No doubt they were aware that their effort to save lives could fail. Michael and Peter failed in their attempt to save their co-workers, their heroic deed however lives on in our hearts and minds. They will never be forgotten. They are heroes forever and we salute them.”

Another relative Jarlath Sweeney, on behalf of the organisers, outlined how the initiative in arranging the centenary commemoration at Michaels’s home parish came to pass.

“The story began last Easter to when my cousin Ellen Stephens-O’Neill informed me of the heroic endeavors of Michael Conroy and Peter Sheridan in the Butte Speculator Granite Mountain Mine Disaster, 100 years ago today. The past number of weeks have been both fascinating and intriguing, yet tinged with sadness. With great support and help from Antoinette Keane and her husband TJ, along with many people involved with this evening’s commemoration, we have put together this fitting tribute to both Michael and Peter and all of the other native sons that lost their lives in this great tragedy,” he said.

“Michael Conroy’s sister Bridget Delia was married to my granduncle, Thomas Francis Sweeney. Thomas’ niece Rita Sweeney-Lasser, now resident in Florida along with Loretta Sweeney-Johnston and Geraldine Sweeney-Hughes placed the memorial stone in Michael Conroy’s unmarked grave in 2009 in his honour, at the Holy Cross Cemetery, which we have replicated in brass plate form. This will be placed inside the graveyard here at this Church. The “Loving Family” engraved on both is shared with togetherness on both sides of the Atlantic.”

Jarlath mentioned the collaboration with the local schools in the commemoration project: “I was keen to get the local Primary Schools involved to discover and learn about what happened 4,200 miles away in Butte, Montana, a century ago and the Irish connections, of which there are many. Special thanks to Tom Forde and Deirdre Heneghan and the pupils at Barnacarroll NS for producing the Mass Booklet and to Maire Ni Deinnide and Maire Ni Mhurchu and Rang a Tri agus Rang a Ceathair for their research work, which is on display at the Community Centre,” added Jarlath.

The commemoration ceremonies coincided with a number of events planned to mark the centenary of the Mine Disaster in Butte, Montana. At one occasion, the Mayo and Claremorris flags were carried in honour of one of their heroes, Michael Conroy. And the happenings in Claremorris did not go amiss either in Butte as The Montana Standard daily newspaper had a front page story entitled “Journey to honor heroic miners stretches from Ireland to Butte” featuring Antoinette and Jarlath efforts, written by Tracy Thornton. “The link between the village of Barnacarroll and the City of Butte will be forever intertwined. It seems that a Greater Power inspired us to take on this project. The timing of when the information arrived was certainly more than coincidental and we are more than pleased to be the messengers. Heartfelt thanks to everyone that came with us on this poignant journey.”

At the Gift’s Procession, among the items brought to the altar was a copy of the book ‘Fire & Brimstone”, which features Michael Conroy and Peter Sheridan’s heroism, together with a specially commissioned painting by Irish artist Stephen Madden called “No Greater Love than This”, presented by Jerry Sullivan, from Butte, a recent visitor to Claremorris.

A gathering of the clans’ function followed the Mass at the nearby Community Centre where relatives and friends had the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and take a look at the many display boards that traced the Conroy family tree and the history of the Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Disaster. Pat Keane from Claremorris Community Radio recorded family related stories, a collage of which will be broadcast at a later date.

Michael Conroy’s grandson, his namesake, Michael Edward Peter Conroy spoke on behalf his family members attending: “I am indeed honoured to be invited to join you all here to commemorate the death of my grandad and your local hero. His passing at 36, together with his colleague and good friend Peter Sheridan was ever so sad and the circumstances of their untimely deaths, distressing. However, I would just like to say on a positive note that had those men not sacrificed their lives trying to save others, many of us, including my sisters, my cousins and myself would not have been born and here with you tonight. We all really feel at home here in the company of our wonderful family and new-found friends. May Michael Conroy and Peter Rest in Peace”.

Anne Sheridan, on behalf of Peter Sheridan’s grandchildren present also commented: “We are so pleased to be present here for this special occasion as we have always known about the closeness and friendship of Peter and Michael and how they died together on the fateful night. Over the years we have tried to trace Michael’s home place and were delighted to receive the email about this event in Barnacarroll, two weeks ago. We are very grateful that Peter was thought of in the manner, which was beautiful and so fitting,” she said.

Reflecting on the special night of remembrance, Antoinette commented: “Last night’s commemorative event in Barnacarroll was a huge success. The Church was full, and there was a great feeling of peace and love there. The congregation was very touched by the story of their local hero Michael Conroy, and his work colleague Peter Sheridan. Fr. Martin O’Connor (Michael Conroy’s cousin) said a beautiful Mass, and paid moving tributes to Michael and Peter. He also included in the Mass, Peter Hastings from Drummin, Westport , John Brady also from Mayo, and the 168 men who lost their lives so tragically on the night of June 8/9, 1917.”

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