A special observance on Saturday, May 19 saw California Irish communities and organizations remember the victims of the Great Irish Hunger at the California Irish Hunger Memorial. This year’s Second Annual Commemoration paid tribute to all those who suffered, those who died, those who survived but who lost family members, those who were forced to emigrate and those who remained in Ireland but suffered other forms of loss because of the Great Hunger.
Ireland’s Great Hunger of 1845-1851 (also known as the Irish Famine or An Gorta Mór) is one of the most catastrophic famines in modern history. The given cause of An Gorta Mór was the failure of the potato crop, on which most Irish were solely reliant for food. 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.
The memorial, located in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery was the concept of the Irish Cultural Society of Stanislaus County, San Francisco Chapter of the Irish American Unity Conference and the Campaign for a United Ireland. The Campaign for a United Ireland not only built the memorial, but also, along with the Brennan family, installed it.
Saint Joseph’s Cemetery is 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. Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church was built in 1886 on land donated by James Nolan.
The settlement at Twenty-Six Mile House lasted until the 1890’s. The church was the last remaining building until it was torn down in the 1960’s. The little cemetery that filled up around the church is all that remains today. 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 members are the current caretakers of the cemetery.
IAUC Member and Modesto resident Sonny Clifford commented “The Irish Cultural Society of Stanislaus County, should be commended for their tremendous effort and support for today’s commemoration.”