The Harp Without the Crown – Douglas Hyde


“I left Ireland to come to another country and I discovered in Butte I am in another Ireland”…”I feel as much at home here as I would in my native home”…. “I’ve heard of Butte the day I landed in America and they said, “don’t forget to go to Butte.”

Quotation and remarks given by Douglas Hyde, Ireland’s Gaelic League founder and future President of Ireland, at the Butte Broadway Theater April 6, 1906.

Hello, this is John Conlan, host of the Rocky Road to Dublin here on KBMF. Welcome to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown where I will be discussing Ireland’s Gaelic League founder Douglas Hyde’s visit to Butte in April of 1906.

The issues of land reform and independence continued to dominate political and economic discussions happening in Ireland during the early 1900’s. Many Irish political leaders felt that a proposed Home Rule for Ireland, that established dominion status and a limited local authority, would be a gradual step in the quest for Irish independence from England. Others, such as Douglas Hyde, felt that Home Rule wasn’t the only strategy that could achieve independence. He advocated for an Irish cultural revolution, which included a revival of traditional Irish culture, arts, and sports as an alternative to political legislation, such as Home Rule.

He founded the Gaelic League in Ireland in 1893 as an avenue for restoring Irish culture and language. It was dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the study of the Irish language, the distribution of publications in the Irish language throughout the world, and the re-establishment of traditional Irish culture and identity. .

In 1906, as President of Ireland’s Gaelic League, Hyde embarked on a 55 city fundraising tour of America lasting seven months. For Irish public figures, a tour of America presented opportunities for moral and financial support, especially for the Gaelic League’s Treasury which was nearly depleted. Hyde was met by huge crowds on his American tour. Butte and Anaconda were no exceptions because of sizable Irish populations. Butte was one of the last stops on the tour and he arrived there on the night of April 5,1906, for a speech the following day.

His talk was attended by over 1,000 people at the Broadway Theater, and rivaled an earlier Pittsburgh audience of 1,800 and the 2.000 attendees in Philadelphia, both much larger cities than Butte. Admission to the event was $1.50 and started at 8 P.M. The trip was sponsored by the Butte Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH) and prominent. Butte citizens of note in attendance were Butte Mayor McGinniss, J.J. O’Meara, and Bishop J.P. Carroll from Helena, as well as a hundred prominent citizens and public officials.

The Butte Miner Newspaper in the lead up to his talk described Ireland as…”the once great nation now fast falling into decay,” while the editorial page of the Butte Evening News optimistically stated, “his (Hyde) is a cause which knows no line of creed, breed, or politics, but which is broad and as big as the Atlantic.” Hyde would make the argument in Butte that, “a

nation without a language is a nation without a soul.” A revival of the Irish language and culture would bring back self-reliance and dispel any talk of Ireland as dysfunctional.

At 8:30 P.M. just before Hyde’s talk, the audience was treated to the traditional ballads “Athlone” and “Killarney” sung by Miss Frances Harte. Bishop Carroll gave the opening remarks to the packed house. The Anaconda Standard reported that, ”the audience was perfectly still in anticipation of this great Irish statesman and then rose to their feet upon his entrance for a minute standing ovation that grew to a torrent of applause that shook the building as only an Irish audience can give.”

Hyde was once described by the British News Chronicle, “as basically a common man, tall and grey-eyed and favoring a moustache, and wears a tweed cap.” The Butte newspapers portrayed him as, ”an elegant and polished speaker but yet sincere, thoughtful, respectful in his remarks and spoke in a delightful soft brogue with the face that lights up with the warmth of a Celt.”

Hyde told his audience, “if we could take a few hundred of you Butteites and transfer you to Dublin what a hustling,bustling city we would have “..” we’ve got the city and the country but need a lot of rustlers like I’ve met here.” He gave his respects to many on the stage that night such as the Copper King Marcus Daly and prominent citizens Ryan and Hennessey

Hyde spoke for two hours and detailed the League’s good work in restoring the Irish language and re-establishing local Irish industries. Hyde requested in his talk that Butte establish a Gaelic League. That request was accepted and a local branch was established just two months later and membership totaled one hundred. Hyde raised $40,000 from the entire tour and Butte was recognized for its huge contribution of $1,140, significant in proportion to its size. The entire American tour also collected 12,400 pounds of goods for Irish relief.

From all accounts it appeared that Hyde had a wonderful stay in Butte and Anaconda, where he also spoke at the Margaret Theater. In addition to his remarkable speeches, Hyde had time for an automobile tour of the area that started from the Thornton Hotel. He took in the sights of the Steward Mine and hoist operations and the area around Big Butte. He was impressed with the mountains and schools and wanted to record that, “I have heard how great Butte is and now I know it.” While in Anaconda, his enthusiasm for the area was tempered as he was horrified to watch a cloud of arsenic pour out of a smokestack 300 feet high and carried by the breeze to settle on a distant farmland.” Hyde’s diary noted, “ Montana is completely owned, almost body and soul, by the Standard Oil Company and other kindred corporations”….”they have succeeded in prompting any source of wealth that is worth anything – all the mines, the timber upon a thousand hills, the sources of all water and even the good valley land… and of course they own the newspapers.” Hyde also found time to visit Native American tribal members, most likely Cree, living on the outskirts of Butte.

His receptive welcome by the Butte community would suggest that Butte valued his message of Irish linguistic and cultural rebirth. It is important to note again that his stay in Butte encouraged a hundred people to form a Butte branch of the Gaelic League and he raised a considerable

sum of money for the study of the Irish language. The money raised in Butte and America went toward keeping the Gaelic League solvent for the next few years.

Butte’s positive reception for Hyde, shows a high level of support in Butte for the idea that an Irish cultural revival could be a meaningful strategy in achieving Irish independence. It was clear to Hyde and some of the Butte community that Irish independence needed to be based in Irish traditions and culture, or it would be meaningless. The visit by Hyde to Butte was another huge event in the city’s history. The Butte Irish had experienced one of Ireland’s most prominent reformers and proponents of independence. His approach differed greatly from the Home Rule proponents and militant Irish organizations, because he looked to the arts and cultural traditions as the basis of Irish independence.

A footnote to this story. Later in his life Hyde was chosen to become Ireland’s first President under the new Irish Constitution and was instrumental in guiding Ireland during its first years as a Republic. As testament to his character, he gave $5,000 from his American tour proceeds to the San Francisco earthquake relief fund established in 1906.

This has been John Conlan. Thanks for listening to this episode of The Harp Without the Crown.