Californians gathered on Saturday, June 1 for the Third Annual Commemoration Ceremony, in memory of the innocent victims of the Irish Hunger, also known as the Great Irish Famine.
The ceremony was held at the California Irish Hunger Memorial, in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery at Twenty-Six Mile House in Stanislaus County.
Ireland’s Great Hunger of 1845-1851 is one of the most catastrophic famines in modern history. The given cause was the failure of the potato crop, on which most Irish were solely reliant for food, due to a Europe-wide blight. However, there was enough food produced in Ireland during the years of 1845-1851, to keep most of the victims alive; but that food was taken from the Irish by (mainly English) landlords as rent. Keeping it for themselves meant sure eviction from their land and therefore sure starvation.
Saint Joseph’s Cemetery is located on the Stockton-Sonora Road. Twenty-Six Mile House was the name of the tiny community. The first settlers there were two Irishman named Dillon and Dooley. The two built a barn and maintained a change station for horses for the Kelly and Reynolds stage line. Later Dooley operated a four-horse stage line from Stockton to Knights Ferry.
By 1870 the little settlement reached its peak. It was granted a post office on May 2, 1870. James Nolan, native of Ireland was its first postmaster. Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church was built in 1886 on land donated by Nolan.
Twenty-Six Mile House was an important stop for people going up to the Mother Lode. In addition to the hotel and tavern, there was a livery stable, a weigh station, a dance hall, a school and a general store. Most of it burned down during a suspicious fire in 1894, but the church and cemetery remained. Today, only the cemetery remains.
This lonely little burial ground is the final resting place for many of the Irish pioneers of that region. Brennan, Hennessy, Fitzgerald, Nolan and Kelly are just a few of the family names throughout the cemetery. The Brennan family serves as current caretakers of the cemetery.
The memorial was the concept of the Irish Cultural Society of Stanislaus County and the San Francisco Chapter of the Irish American Unity Conference. The memorial was donated by San Francisco’s Campaign for a United Ireland and the Brennan Family.
This year’s Keynote Speakers were San Francisco Consul General of Ireland, Robert O’Driscoll, Russell Fowler of 10th District Assemblyman Heath Flora’s Office and Father Morse of Saint Mary’s, Oakdale.
Russell Fowler on behalf of Assemblyman Heath Flora, presented the Irish Cultural Society of Stanislaus County with a resolution, lauding the organization for its work commemorating the innocent victims of the Great Irish Hunger.
Consul General of Ireland, Robert O’Driscoll, stated “It is fitting that today’s commemoration is taking place in California, the Golden State, to which many emigrants aspired as they left Ireland behind and traveled to America to start their new lives. There is a phrase inscribed above the main entrance to Jessie M. Unruh State Office Building in Sacramento which reads: ‘Bring me men to match my mountains.’ This phrase was taken from the first line of ‘The Coming American’ by Sam Walter Foss, a poem published in 1894 and it well captures in my mind the huge opportunity that California presented to the Irish immigrants fleeing the famine and experiencing persecution in the Eastern cities.”
The Consul General also pointed out that the ceremony serves a unique purpose.“It is an honor to join you today to honor those who died in the Great Famine and also those who left Ireland’s shores never to return,” he said. “We cannot ease their suffering, but we can ensure that they are never forgotten