Friday, June 9 marks the centenary of the tragic death of Claremorris native, Michael Conroy in the Granite Mountain Speculation Mine Disaster in Butte, Montana, USA. Michael, born in Murneen South, Barnacarroll along with Louth man Peter Sheridan undertook a heroic act in attempting to rescue fellow miners that were trapped deep into the expansive copper mine of the North Butte Mining Company.
Station tenders, Michael and Peter in their vain effort were burned to death from the backdraft of a blazing fire below them, as they were lowered on a double-deck cage. The flames overtook the cage. They had gone down the shaft in response to signals and calls for help from isolated work mates. They no doubt knew that the direction of the airflow might reverse, but fearlessly and courageously aimed to get the stranded men out of danger before this occurred. The intensity of the fire killed the two men before they could be hoisted out of the way of the flames. Michael was awarded a gold medal and a diploma for his ultimate sacrifice. A memorial was erected in his honour near the fateful site.
In his late teens Michael left home to work in the mines of Pennsylvania before going to Butte, Montana. His wife Catherine (Kate ), nee Toolan, also a native of Barnacarroll parish had been living in Mace with her three children three years before Michael’s tragic death aged 36. Her fourth child was born some months after her arrival in Ireland. She wanted to return to Butte but Michael prevented her from travelling, concerned about the movements of submarines on the Atlantic Ocean during World War One, which was ongoing at the time. Catherine returned to the USA six months after his death to settle his estate and collect her benefits from the mining company. She stayed with her two brothers James and Michael Toolan, in Butte.
To mark the centenary of the tragic deaths of these Irish-American heroes, Michael Conroy and Pete Sheridan, relatives of Michael from the Claremorris area are arranging a special commemorative Mass in Barnacarroll Church on June 9 at 7.30pm, preceded by the unveiling of a replica of the memorial stone as erected in Michael’s memory in Butte, Montana. In addition, students at two local primary schools are undertaking projects on the North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917. With a total of 168 fatalities, it is still deemed as the worst hard-rock disaster in mining history. For further information contact Antoinette Keane on (087 ) 9290835 or Jarlath Sweeney on (087 ) 2439239.