Leadville’s Irish Miners’ Memorial and Exhibit: The Story of ImmigrantsSeptember 25, 2023
You can now visit the Leadville Irish Miners’ Memorial, which speaks to the hopes and dreams of immigrants across the world. This new memorial honors Leadville residents whose names had been lost to time.
Who Were the Irish Miners?
The memorial honors approximately 1,300 miners from the Silver Rush days, most of them Irish. All were buried in unmarked, sunken graves in Evergreen Cemetery’s pauper section.
It features a sculpture of a miner, nicknamed “Liam,” holding a pickaxe and a harp, the national symbol of Ireland. The sculpture was fashioned by hand and shipped from Ireland to Leadville. Panels that surround the memorial show the names of those buried in Evergreen Cemetery. Many are infants or children, underscoring the harsh living conditions and heartbreak of the times.
Yet these workers continued to try to better their lives. They participated in strikes against the mining companies to secure better wages and conditions. Ultimately, their efforts brought Colorado’s labor unions into being. Their stories touch on a wider story—one of the optimism and desperation of people forced to flee their homeland to survive.
Hear the Miners’ Stories
A new exhibit, Unearthed: Voices of Leadville’s Shanty Irish, tells more of their story. You can see it at Healy House Museum & Dexter Cabin in downtown Leadville.
A Link Across the Ocean
Many community leaders on both sides of the ocean joined to create this historic memorial. Ireland’s government helped support it, and the Irish Ambassador to the United States, Geraldine Byrne Nason, spoke at the dedication on Sept. 16, 2023. As the research unfolded, Leadville and Allihies in County Cork on Ireland’s west coast became twin cities. Many copper miners from Allihies emigrated to Leadville during the late 1800s Silver Rush. A delegation from the Allihies Copper Mine attended the ceremony.
The Irish Network of Colorado spearheaded the design, fundraising and construction of the memorial. Leadville locals Luke Finken and Kathleen Fitzsimmons dedicated countless hours to bring the memorial from dream to reality.
Why We Honor the Paupers
Dr. Jim Walsh of the University of Colorado Denver, who spearheaded the research and the project, along with many others, said it is “the memorial that turned the world upside down, that put the people on the bottom on the top.”
That is the power of this memorial. It keeps the stories of these immigrants, and stories of people like them, alive into future generations.
How to Visit
Irish Miners’ Memorial
Leadville’s Evergreen Cemetery
McWethy Drive and James Street, Leadville
From the cemetery entrance, follow the main road directly back into the cemetery; do not take any turns. The memorial will be in front of you.
Healy House Museum & Dexter Cabin
912 Harrison Avenue, Leadville
Open Wednesday through Sunday
“This is not an uplifting story, but we hold it up to the light as a way to demonstrate how first and second generation immigrant laborers fought for a dignified existence, a story which continues to this day.”
-Michael Mooney, Irish-born Leadville Labor Leader
For additional stories about the Irish miners who came to Leadville, check out a new podcast on Documentary On Newstalk, from Irish producer Pavel Barter. “Cloud City” tells the story of Michael Mooney, a miner from Dublin who served as a marshal in Leadville. In the Cloud City, Mooney led a miner’s strike and pioneered protests for workers’ rights. Cloud City is available on Spotify, GoLoud, and Apple Music.