The Molly Maguires were Irish activists, some would say vigilantes, a labor movement that started in Ireland, Irish immigrants transplanted the Mollies to American anthracite coal mining communities in 19th Century. The Mollies spawned fierce conflicts pitting coal miners against mine bosses and owners. Several members of this secret society were executed by hanging in 1877-78 after (possibly false) murder convictions.
Writing Irish Luck, Chinese Medicine I struggled with how to depict the Molly Maguires: saviors or villains? There is a long history of gangs and crime families that gestate in immigrant communities and often no easy way for vulnerable communities to assimilate.
My grandfather worked as a “breaker boy” in the 1880’s when the family arrived Pennsylvania, he was six or seven years old. I based a character on him and in one scene the boy is outside of a mine, watching exhausted miners eat sandwiches covered in coal dust. The men are too hungry to wash and the dust coated their stomachs. The same dust they breathed that caused Black Lung Disease.
My great grandparents were eventually able to send both of their sons to school. My grandfather became a teacher but under less fortunate circumstances, he may have been forced to join the Molly McGuires. (Family lore has it that a distant relative ran away rather than execute a murder for hire assignment.)
Were the Mollies downtrodden coal miners, overworked, underpaid and in debt to the “company store” without options against despotic owners and corrupt politicians? Were they men who perpetrated violence, murder, and committed terrorist acts? What do you think?
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