Author and New York Times Senior Editor Mark Balik gave the 8th annual Msgr. John J. Curran Lecture as part of Anthracite Mining Heritage Month. The free public lecture took place on January 18 in the Burke Auditorium. It was co-sponsored by the McGowan Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at King’s and the Anthracite Heritage Foundation.
Balik discussed the origin of the Molly Maguires, a secret society of Catholic Irish immigrants in the late 19th century. “The Mollies were among two million Irish who fled from Ireland during the Great Potato Famine, another million died from starvation,” said Balik.
In Ireland, the society had already created a name for itself by using violence to protest evictions from tenant landlords and their agents’ untraditional usage of land. When the Mollies committed their assassinations, they either dressed as women or wore straw outfits. Their faces were painted black and white to conceal their identities.
“They were dressing themselves up in these strange outfits just as the Mummers did. The Mummers were a group of actors who went door-to-door performing plays around holidays. The play always had two characters battle each other and one of them would die.
The doctor would save the fallen character. One of the actors would ask money from the household to pay the doctor. Once the performers gathered enough money, they would put on a grand party to bring the community together for a night,” said Balik.
Similarly, the Mollies went door-to-door to collect money to feed the starving during the Great Potato Famine. The landlords only made matters worse when they evicted farmers who could not make their payments with the lack of crop. To protect their fellow countrymen, the Mollies attacked these landlords.
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