Iraq and Ireland

My memories are vague now, but because of the event I can name the year. It was 1956. I was a student in a classroom at the old Christian Brothers of Ireland High School in Butte, Montana. Known as Butte or Boy’s Central to outsiders, it is what many of us remember as the “Christian Brothers school.” It was during what was known as the Suez Crisis and the American president was Dwight Eisenhower.

Now England, along with Israel and France, were ganging up on Egypt, apparently planning a “regime change” and getting rid of a fiendish Egyptian ruler named Nasser. Whether Nasser was a distant relative of Iraq’s Saddam Hussien I do not know. But what I remember is the American president stopped the invasion and the English, French, and Israeli’s pulled back. So in this long-ago classroom I can still remember one of the Christian Brothers, his name was either Brother Curtin or Brother Sullivan, and he said something like this. “I never thought I would live long enough to say something nice about a Republican, but when an American president stands up and tells the English they can’t invade another small helpless country, then we should admit he is right and did the good thing even though this president is a Republican.”

And there I was, in 1956, a few generations distant from my Irish relatives who came out of the Beara copper mines in West Cork and journeyed on to Butte. But I knew exactly what this nearly forgotten Christian Brother of Ireland was talking about. If we knew one thing then, and we knew it well, it was that we hated the English. And England meant Oliver Cromwell.


No other name in Ireland is remembered with more hatred then that of an Englishman named Oliver Cromwell. This memory remains from a nine month campaign of Cromwell in 1649 in which Irish towns and villages were destroyed and the inhabitants massacred. A number of years later, 267 years in fact, the Irish are still fighting the English. The Irish have this odd idea that Ireland is their country and they would like the English to go.

As for the English, well, it is those Irish who are resisting who are the problem. In other words, Irish terrorists and their foreign backers were preventing Ireland’s silent majority from embracing the English version of Operation Irish Freedom.

And this particular year is 1916.

Today in Ireland it is remembered as the Easter Uprising. And so here we are in Dublin, Ireland, 1916. And the uprising is underway. There is little news reaching London and Lord Beaverbrook, the English press lord made contact by telephone with one Tim Healy, an Irish representative at the English Parliament. Beaverbrook himself recorded the conversation and this is from his own notes. But first let me note that Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. Which meant that in 1916, Cromwell had been gone 258 years.

Lord Beaverbrook: “Is there a rebellion?”

Tim Healy: “There is.”

Lord Beaverbrook: “When did it break out?”

Tim Healy: “When Strongbow invaded Ireland,” (Which was in 1173)

Lore Beaverbrook: “When will it end?”

Tim Healy: “When Cromwell gets out of Hell!”

Then Healy hung up the phone.

ROBERT EMMET’S BUTTE MONUMENT: Let no man write my epitaph

Another fallback in time and it is now 1803 in Ireland. Robert Emmet was another Irish rebel whose fame would increase in the years after his death. The martyr Emmet was drawn and quartered by the English occupiers. Which meant he was hung by the neck or slowly strangled till near dead, then cut open and the finale came when his body torn into four parts by four horses going in four different directions.

After that outrage, 19th century Ireland and Irish-America founded a long list of Robert Emmet clubs and secret societies. It also became common practice to name new baby boys Robert Emmet.

One such society was formed in Butte in the last years of the nineteenth century. Now all that remains of the Robert Emmets in Butte can be found down on South Montana Street, just off the main road inside St. Patrick’s cemetery. Here we find a century old fence enclosing the weathered 1891 monument, along with a flag pole and five headstones.The only reference to Emmet found here is the R.E.L.A. initials at the base of the monument. This was in accordance with Emmet’s wish that until Ireland was free, “Let no man write my epitaph.”

On the monument are the names of 29 men, followed by date of birth and death, the first of which are Myles Burke and Daniel Noonan followed by typical Butte names like Shields, Mooney, Doyle, Farrell, Mahoney, Egan, Murphy, Ryan, Hannifin and so on. A dozen of these men, much like the population of the cemetery itself, were born in the 1840’s and must have thought themselves fortunate that they lived to adulthood as a million and a quarter Irish men, women and children were starved to death by the English occupiers between 1846 and 1850.

JACKIE CORR lives in Butte, Montana. He can be reached at: