English caused Irish to come to the copper district

Copper Country's past and people

Along with Cornish immigrants to the Lake Superior copper district came thousands of Irish. Whatever grievances the Cornish had against the English crown and its church, it was nothing compared to what the Irish suffered. For the Irish, it had begun centuries before, and devasted the Emerald Isle.

When King Henry VIII declared himself the head of the church in England in 1534, it was because he wanted to divorce his wife. She could not deliver him a son and heir to the throne.

But Henry did not let it rest there. He demanded everyone in the realm recognize his supremacy over the church and any opposition, perceived or real, was dealt with harshly and quickly. Many of Henry’s most able advisors were put to death. Thomas More, a humanist, devout Roman Catholic, Chancellor of England, personal friend of the king, and one of the most brilliant legal minds in Great Britain, was put to death for refusing to recognized Henry’s primacy over the Church. Henry’s ill-thought out declaration threw the entire realm into bloody chaos. But Henry’s hammer fell hardest on Ireland.

For centuries, Ireland had resisted English attacks and advances, but Henry’s demand that the Irish recognize Henry and his church was just too much. For this and other political reasons, the Irish Earl of Kildare led a revolt against the English which, was brutally crushed by Henry. He was declared King of Ireland in 1542.

Although Cornwall and Devon had been brought under English control in the 1300s, whatever autonomy they retained was eliminated by Henry. English interference in Cornwall, Devon, Wales, Scotland, and elsewhere caused everyone to suffer to some degree, but Ireland suffered the most under English rule, and it did not end with Henry’s death. His daughter, Queen Elizabeth, who inherited the throne in 1558, was worse.

To increase English control over the Gaelic clans and to keep them from organizing, Elizabeth sent English settlers to Ireland, and gave them large land tracts cheaply. She also forced the establishment of the Anglican church.

For centuries Ireland suffered wars, confiscations of large land tracts and plantations. In the 1600s, the English initiated the first of the anti-Catholic laws, which stripped the Irish Catholics of their rights to vote, own property, worship, vote, speak their native Gaelic language, even to own horses or firearms. They also resulted in more land confiscations and transfer of ownership to more English, and now, Scottish, settlers.

Irish land agricultural producers became peasant farmers, and much of the food once produced for the Irish was now exported to England. Ireland, now decimated by poverty, was struck again when the Corn Laws were enacted in 1815. They were designed to keep the price of food grain (“corn”) high to favor domestic producers, and imposed steep import tariffs on imported grains, making it too expensive to purchase from overseas, even in times of bad crop harvests.

The Irish, faced with inflated rents charged by absentee landlords who often demanded rents higher than the peasant farmers earned, could not support theselvs. Then came the Poor-Laws of 1838, which initiated Work Houses for those who could not meet English demands for money.

Despite all that England did to suppress manufacturing, Ireland was rich in other resources, including metal. Mining in Ireland, like in Cornwall, began in the bronze age, and there is much historical evidence to suggest that it was the Irish who taught the Cornish the skill of mining.

Those miners who could afford to emigrate, did. In large numbers. Many of them set their hopes on the United States, and when the Lake Superior copper district was opened to mineral mining in 1843, many began arriving in the new mining district. It was in 1845 that Irish migration to America became a flood.

The potato famine that struck Cornwall in that year also struck all of Europe, but Ireland, again, suffered the most. Potatoes grew well in Irish soil, they were cheap to produce, and were the staple of the Irish poor. With the loss of potatoes, the unaffordable prices of grains and cereals, thousands of people soon died of starvation. This, while the English continued to export Irish produce to England and overseas.

During the famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1849, approximately one million Irish died of starvation, disease and sickness. Another million emigrated, and Ireland’s population plummeted between 20 and 25 percent.

One Irish immigrant in America, wrote a letter to the London Times in1850, which encouraged Irish citizens to emigrate.

“I am exceedingly well pleased at coming to this land of plenty,” the letter stated. “On arrival I purchased 120 acres of land at $5 an acre. You must bear in mind that I have purchased the land out, and it is to me and mine an ‘estate for ever’, without a landlord, an agent or tax-gatherer to trouble me. I would advise all my friends to quit Ireland — the country most dear to me; as long as they remain in it they will be in bondage and misery.”

The Irish joined the Cornish, and German, immigrants in becoming the pioneer settlers of the Lake Superior copper district, bringing with them vast amounts of knowledge and experience in technology, acquired from the British Industrial Revolution, which had begun in Cornwall.

They brought something else to the the copper district, something just as important as mining and milling expertise. They brought with them a determination to build a community that included freedom of worship, the right to purchase land. The right to an honest day’s labor for an honest day’s wage.

The Irish immigrants, who had suffered far more under English rule than had the Cornish, sought America because its Constitution limited the power of government, and guaranteed the rights of freedom denied to Great Britain and Ireland citizens. While not many Cornish became naturalized citizens by comparison, countless Irish did.