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Irish History Forum Discussion:     THE MOLLY MAGUIRES


There is a great deal written about the men alleged to be Molly Maguires. We know now that history has rewritten itself correctly, (now that the Pinkerton files are public domain, and the trial, mockery that it were, declared a travesty of justice) that the alleged Mollies were innocent of all crimes convincted. While those men may not rest in peace until they are legally exonerated (and perhaps I shall not as well) and their excommunications from the Catholic Church renounced, their absense of guilt is at least out in the open.

What is sometimes touched on, but rarely talked about, are the heros who stood behind the men. In so much as traditional history books write sagas on the fame of men, and give the women behind them an obscure paragraph halfway down the page, 'tis the same of the Irish women who with broken hearts and shattered dreams stood strong for their families as their men walked to the gallows.

Perhaps only women of Ireland can understand. Whether in the distant past or in recent time, it is perhaps only these heroines who watched their husbands taken into custody by the British, jailed and exiled, or worse yet, executed who can attest to true agony and despair felt by those simple Irish women in the hard coal fields of Pennsylvania as they watched their beloved husbands or lovers meet their fate.

In the mid 1870's, twenty good, pure Christian men walked to the gallows, their heads held high, victims of a county-wide smokescreen that hid the true villians - the rich coal barons and railroad owners and their English backers - from public view. It is sad enough for these men, all of them in their prime, to have had their lives cut short.

But for these men, just like those brave souls in Ireland who fought long and hard - and are still fighting - to overthrow British oppression, the travesty of justice did not only result in the loss of their own lives. In many cases, they left behind women and children, sisters and mothers whose lives were never the same. Generations later, the impact of the Molly Maguire trials and their murderous outcome still resounds in the coal regions.

Why ye may ask, would executions that happened in the 1870's still be a force today?

The answer lies in the stigma that is attached to the crime. How those women must have managed in those dark days when their husbands were taken, I can only imagine. There was little enough food or clothing or housing for the families when the man of the house was working, let alone to have him torn from his role as breadwinner and protector then jailed.

The Workingman's Benevolent Association - the WBA - the union for which the alleged Mollies were accused of committing murderous acts, had little enough when it was active. It had no real funds to support the famiiles of striking miners, let alone those of the accused. Besides, the arrests and the witch hunt that surrounded these and the upcoming trials and executions literally busted the Union and cut short any help it could have provided.

The bigotry and prejudice that was generated by the wilde and false accusations towards the Irish miners did not only victimize them. The families, perhaps more so then those poor souls who were hung, were even more the victim. The lies that were propagated by the coal companies, Franklin B. Gowen and his henchmen, the newspaper editors who were in the back pocket of Gowen, the Pinkerton Agency, and even the Catholic Church and its priests (not all but many) violated the lives and rights and futures of the families of not only the executed but many others whose men fought for union rights.

The poor starving families, women and children, who were left in the aftermath of the legal massacre, had nothing. The wives and mothers and children were left to their meager resources. Most of them were turned out of the company houses for they were unable to pay the rent. Young boys, called the breaker boys, already forced into work to help their starving families, now became the breadwinners. Lads still wet behind the ears, who should have been in school or out playing with friends, were drafted into the mines to pick slate, mind the mules, open the doors of the shaft for the coal cars, and worse. Many were killed or maimed on the job. It was a dark cruel time in American labor.

And what of the women? They were forced to make a way for their families, depend on the charity of friends and family, or worse. The reprecussions of poverty of spirit and abandoment of hope felt by these women and their children lives on in the coal region today just as I am sure it does in Ireland.

Some women, like Annie Carroll, wife of executed James Carroll, held their heads high and spat in the face of the coal barons and all the rest who so heartlessly and unscruplously robbed them of their husbands, brothers and sons. Some - women, like Nannie O'Donnell and Mary Anne Kehoe - fought back with tongue lashing and eyes flashing, making sure the world knew they knew their men were heros. And somehow, someway, all their families survived and thrived.

These women were true heroines just as their Irish sisters across the sea.

But others, shamed or frightened or beaten into silence, hid behind darkened doors and shuttered lives, fearful that their connections with the name of Molly Maguire would forever blemish them. As a result of discrimination and its impact, families began to dissassociate themselves from any relatives, be it husband, brother, son or father, who were named a Molly. Even the Church told its members...if ye wished not to be excommunicated yerself, divorce yerselves from anyone involved in the Molly Magures secret society.

And yet, even those women, who hid their association with a Molly, they too were heroines, for their self imposed silence and estrangement, must have cost them dearly. There is perhaps nothing worse than to be forced to love and mourne those we love in shame and hiding.

Today, many Irish-Americans, whose roots once they immigrated to America were grounded in "County Schuylkill" ('tis just one more Irish county - if ye ever visit and stay awhile, ye will know why Laughing), cannot trace their ancestors because families would not admit their relationship to anyone labeled a Molly. Famlies were divided, feuds were born, and Irish geneology suffered greatly. Schuylkill County had more Irish immigrants than it is often realized...and they are scattered o're the United States and the world...(the % is very high...I will pull it from my research and post it ). Many descendants are unaware that their Irish roots include a "Molly" because the informations was striken from family bibles and oral histories.

Some families today still remain secretive of their "Molly" connection out of embarassement. What a sadness, for these men, all of them, were heros and their women, heroines.

I am proud to be a descendant of a Carroll. While I have not yet established a connection from my immediate Carroll family to Jimmy Carroll, who was executed in Pottsville on June 21st, 1877, I am sure it exists. Our family was one of those I believe hid their direct ties for fear of reprecussion. As a result, it has made my search for my roots into Ireland almost impossible.

But as a daughter of Erin, I salute and hold dear all the Molly Maguires stood for. They paved the way for my family to be able to survive, for my relatives continued in the coal mines until the late 1960's when the King Coal's reign ended in an economic crash that left this county in a tragic state of unemployment and poverty that continues to this day.

But that is another story for another day.

Last edited by Maggieofthegypsies on Sat Jun 04, 2005 3:08 pm; edited 1 time in total

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