“I Saw San Francisco When it Was Only a Village”: The Voices of California’s Irish Pioneers

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Irish in the American Civil War

Laurence Macken was born in Slane, Co. Meath on 12th May 1828. In 1850 he was a young man just three days shy of his 22nd birthday when he landed in the California Territory, one of the thousands of emigrants and natives alike who had been infected by the gold fever that had spread like wildfire throughout the United States after 1848. The men who left their old lives behind to head West in pursuit of the precious metal would be immortalised as the “49ers”, and though most failed to find their fortune, they changed California forever. Laurence was one of those who never left. The Meath man– who remained a miner until 1871– died in Napa on 20th July 1907, having been a resident of The Golden State for nearly six decades. To mark his death that year, a relative recounted the story of Laurence’s journey to California, as part of a company of…

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