Virginia City: Secrets of a Western Past

By Ronald M. James | Go to book overview

3. An Irish Blacksmith and
the Archaeology of Belief

Timothy Francis McCarthy was from Ireland’s County Cork. The Bere Peninsula, pointing into the Atlantic toward America, had the most important hard-rock mines on the island in the nineteenth century, and its men knew how to dig underground. When the clarion call of immigration reached Ireland’s miners, America’s West was an obvious choice. There was no need to succumb to the immigrant slums of Boston or New York. Good jobs in places like the Comstock Mining District, Montana’s Butte copper fields, or any number of other places awaited those with experience, and thousands of Cork miners found the opportunity irresistible.1

Although McCarthy was from a mining district, he was a blacksmith, not a miner, perhaps explaining why he lingered in Boston after he immigrated. He had left Ireland in 1853 in the wake of the potato famine, and like hundreds of thousands of others, he arrived on the eastern shore of North America. Working hard, McCarthy was able to send for his mother, become an American citizen, and eventually wed fellow Irish native Mary Dooley. After the death of his mother in 1866, McCarthy felt free to venture west, where former neighbors from Cork described a better place and vast opportunities without the ordeal that immigrants too often endured in the big eastern cities. A mining town always needed another blacksmith, so the McCarthys traveled to Butte. Eventually, he and his wife went to Northern California, where Mary gave birth to two sons. Always in search of a better situation, Timothy McCarthy considered other possibilities.

Perhaps it was former Cork neighbors, working as miners, who drew him to Virginia City in 1872. He went there on a trial basis, and when he felt he could secure good employment, he relocated his family, including Mary, now pregnant with their third child. Money on the Comstock was good. McCarthy descended into the mines, where he worked

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