Archive for the “Irish in America” Category The Irish Roots Cafe

Mountain Charley McKiernan survives attack.
Mexican Silver Dollars Melted down to cover hole in his head.

From the book Irish Families on the California Trail
by Mike O’Laughlin

Mountain Charley was a most memorable Irish character in America.
I included special notice of him in the above book, and wanted to
share some of his remarkable experiences with you below.

In the California Hills
Charles Henry McKeirnan (also spelled as McKernan or McKeirnan), was born around 1825 in Co. Leitrim, Ireland. In California mountain men would boast of having known him, and children considered him a hero. One phrase often attributed to him was, Right wrongs nobody.
While in Australia and New Zealand his enlistment as a quartermaster in the British army came to an end. Word of the gold rush soon arrived and he quickly became part of a ships crew headed for San Francisco in 1848.

Comin Round the Mountain
A grizzly bear in the Santa Cruz mountains could easily weigh in at 1,000 pounds. It could take several shots to stop one of the beasts. McKeirnan was a bear hunter whose time had come. As he rounded the bend in the road, he came face to face with the huge grizzly he had been tracking. A few feet from him stood the enraged bear, offering a ferocious embrace. He fired immediately into the bears chest, then grabbed his gun by the barrel and clubbed the bear with it. His friend, Taylor, shot over Charley at the head of the bear. It was all to no avail. The year was 1854.

Crushed Skull
The bear took Charley’s head into its jaw. crushed his skull, and tossed him aside to go to the aid of her cubs which were being cornered by the hunters dog. Taylor, believing that old Charley McKiernan was dead, took off, to reload his weapon. He returned to find that Charley had been drug under an oak tree and left for dead. He was alive but paralyzed from the waist down. McKiernan later related that his ‘life had passed before his eyes’, and that he was conscious the whole time .. No one believed he would live long.

Life after Death
Doctors made a plate from Mexican silver dollars to cover the gap in his skull at his request. The bear had ripped a 3 inch x 5 inch section from the bone over the left eye to the frontal bone above it. The plate would be removed in about a week. Some say he had a continuing complaint of a headache from an infection. Others say a specialist from Redwood City either removed the plate in his head or found that a lock of hair (or abscess), was in the wound.

Wore A Hat
In any event he was operated on in San Jose in 1855 and an abscess was removed, and the complaints of a headache stopped. (Note that this was the first time in the ordeal that anesthesia had been used on Charley). He was known for always wearing his hat to cover the disfigurement, and survived the bear fight for 38 years. He died on January 18, 1892 from a stomach problem.
This story is true, but many variations of it exist today.
end of story.

For descriptions of all of my books go to:

A Good Christmas to All of you this year. -Mike O’Laughlin

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The Irish Roots Cafe
curious news and notes by Mike O’Laughlin

Letters from an Irish Immigrant. ( First in a series)
Key words: Castle Gardens, OKeefe, Boston, Jersey City, Brooklyn, Counihan, Lusid, Callaghan, Gortroe, Walsh
(From a series of letters from Jeramiah Moynihan uncovered during a renovation of the Bricin in downtown Killarney. Supplied generously by Johnny Maguire to me in May 1993. I have added the likely punctuation on my own – Mike O’L.)

Boston, July 3, 1867.
My Dear Father, Mother & Brothers,
I hope you will excuse me for not writing home before now. I had so much tossing and turning about from poast to pillar. I was for five weeks in Jersey City at worke and I could stop there for a long time. I wrote to Boston to my uncles and aunt and they were most impatient until I came to Boston. I went to worke to Uncle Michael and I could not stand him or is wife. I came up to Timothy Callaghan and he gave me work cheerfully and gave me more wages than I was wort. I suppose you know him he is Mick Callaghans son, he takes large contracts and employs a lot of men to work. I have nothing at all to say to him , everyting is different in this country from home. Girls can do a great deal better than men. I left Mary after me in Brooklyn, that is in New York, she got a very good place and I am very glad she remeant their. Johanna got a place outside Boston called Briton, it is a country place. There are a great many of the friends their, it was one Mrs. Walsh that got Johanna the place out their, her own name is Mara, from the Rock Road.

You gave me to much to do entirely in sending three of us into a country with doubth (without) manes or money and every person was surprised how bare we were. Every person was very kind to us but Michael Mara that is my Uncle, but I deny him to be my Uncle. My Uncle Gerry was every kind to me and Aunt Hanna is very she don a great deal for Johanna she dressed her out in great stile she is on the look out for a good place for Johanna. Mary is very well she writes very often once a week to one another. I am very thankful to Timothy Moynihan he gave me some tools what I wanted. I am very thankful to Gerry Counihan he is very well and not forgetting Ned Counihan.

Let me know is their much doing any person having any sort of way at home, it would be better for them to stop at home, the old country is much better than this country. I hope ye will hold yere grip, if I could get any thing to do at wheelwrithing I would do a great deal better. I am at floor laying with John Lusid he is very well.
I would not advise any person to come to America I could make up as much as would take me home again if you like. Timothy Callaghan is going home 20th July. Tell Denis Keefe and his friends his health is not good. (CONT….)

Dear Mother you need (not) fret nor be troubled about us it is now used to us. I cried and fretted a great deal when I landed at the Castle Gardens when I knew no(w) one thier and I had no(w) place to go to. Dan and Michael Moynihan of Gortroe behaved very well to us- that is Michael the black smith. I am very sorry that I came to Boston but it cant be healpt. If Johanna was in a good place I would go to some other place. Every person had great blame to you for sending Mary but she is lucky enough. I had a great deal to do on board the ship- they were so sick and knowing no one they were sick all the time nearly, I was very sick for the first week and from that out I got strong thank God.
I suppose you have Eugene to work, Tim and Con are well hope Andrew will mind the work. My best respects to all the friends and well wishers. I would write long ago but for Mary writing so often she did not send that letter down to me she told me their was so much grief in it. You can direct to Mary and she will send it down to me. I remain your affectionate son … Jeramiah Moynihan.
We Might be able to send you a little money in a few months but we were so bare for clothes.

About the author of this blog
Mike O’Laughlin is the most published author in his field. Since 1978 he has authored: 60 books, 40 CD’s and Videos, 300 podcasts, and over 1,000 articles. Having written books on every county in Ireland, he also publishes rare works in both Irish and English, including ‘The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters’ and the ‘Irish Book of Arms’. His works are found at

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