Hurley Family Emigrant Letters

Repository: Cork City and County Archives

Identity Statement

TitleHurley Family Emigrant Letters
Archive ReferenceIE CCCA/U170
Web Link to this Entry
Creation DatesAug 1871-Jan 1938
Extent Medium141 items


Creator(s): Hurley, Michael and Denis

  • Administrative History ↴

    Brothers Denis Hurley and Michael Hurley were from a farming family at Tawnies, near Clonakilty, County Cork. They emigrated to Nevada in the United States in 1873 and c1871 respectively (U611/1 and /2). Michael Hurley (1845-1926) worked initially in Gold Hill, Nevada as repair foreman for the Virginia and Truckee Railway and later in a similar capacity at a railway near Lake Tahoe (U170/1). In 1881 he moved to Oregon to work on the railways there. He spent some years working in the railway at Spokane Falls, Washington State, before moving to San Francisco, California where he spent the rest of his life (U611/14, /28). Michael appears to have invested heavily in mining stocks that did not pay much dividend (U170/ 83, /88). Denis Hurley (1849-1938) became one of the most prominent citizens of Carson City, Nevada. Following his arrival in Nevada, he worked with the Virginia and Truckee Railway for many years before obtaining employment as a prison guard at the State prison in c1912 (U611/63). In c1887, he married his wife, Maggie, also an emigrant from Ireland, in Carson City. His wife died of typhoid in 1910 (U611/59). Active in politics, in c1913, after a number of attempts, Denis was elected as a Commissioner of Carson City (U170/58). In 1925 he was elected as Chairman (Mayor) of Carson City Council (U611/89). Denis made several investments in stocks and shares, and was at one stage a director and stockholder of the Nye and Ormsby Bank (U611/44). In his final years he worked as Bailiff of the U.S. District Court for Nevada. A man of great religious commitment, he was active in the Catholic Church and became a 4th degree Knight of Columbus in 1923 (U611/82). Evidently highly literate and well-read, Denis in his letters makes many observations on events local, national and international.
  • Archival History ↴

    The Hurley Family Emigrant Letters, reference U170, were donated to Cork City and County Archives in 1974.
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: Hurley, Michael and Denis ↴

    The major part of the present collection comprises of 122 letters home to Ireland from Michael and Denis Hurley in the United States over a period of 77 years from 1871 to 1938. The majority (117) of the letters are written by Denis Hurley, although Denis does regularly pass on news of his brother Michael. The earlier letters are mainly addressed to their parents at Tawnies, Clonakilty, and later on to their brothers and sisters, and finally to a few of their nieces in Clonakilty and Timoleague, County Cork. The letters have been arranged chronologically.

    The letters reveal much about emigrant life in the United States, in particular the experiences of those who migrated to the Western states, usually after arriving on the East coast (U170/2). At the time, these states had a very large number of emigrants from all around the world, many of whom worked in the mining industry and the railroads (U170/1, /3). Although often optimistic about living conditions, the letters reveal the hardships facing emigrants (U170/45, /52, /92). Despite these hardships, neither Denis nor Michael seem to have considered returning permanently to Ireland, ‘…to struggle on an Irish Farm…’ (U170/49). The letters make frequent observations on poor living conditions in Ireland, such as, the cost of land, high rents and low prices for crops (U170/13, /14, /15, /20), although some later observations about Ireland are more optimistic (U170/62, /90).

    The brothers maintained strong contacts with Ireland through their correspondence and through newspapers sent from home (U170/4), and they kept an interest in Irish affairs, and often wrote of their support of the Home Rule movement (U170/21, /61, /62, /67). Later on, Denis supported the Irish Republic for which he subscribed funds and spoke at meetings (U170/75, /82). Denis’ concern for Ireland during the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War is apparent from some of his letters from that time (U170/73, /74, /79-/85), including a mention of the death of Michael Collins in 1922 (U170/79).

    Many letters also mention major events in the United States and Europe, such as; the economic recession of the 1890’s (U170/22-/24), the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, which Michael Hurley survived (U170/54, /55), the First World War (U170/68-/71), the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s (U170/73, /74), the Spanish Civil War (U170/119) and various U.S. elections (U170/11, /20, /31 /43, /52. /72, /93). The effects of the Great Depression of the 1930’s feature in much of the later correspondence, and Denis’ observations illustrate the depth of the problems faced by the United States during this period (U170/101 – /106, /108- /118). Although Denis at this time was fortunate to be in secure employment, his hopes were dashed of visiting Ireland for the Dublin Eucharistic Congress in 1932, partly because the value of his banking stocks were reduced during the depression (U170/106, /112). In the event, neither brother ever returned to Ireland.

    The remainder of the collection includes a few documents related to the estate of Denis Hurley following his death in March 1938, an 1885 financial statement of affairs for Thomas Hurley, general merchant, Clonakilty (U170/130), and a letter from John Hurley to Clonakilty Union in 1897 concerning the valuation of his property (U170/131). Also found are 2 items related to the death of Mrs Mary Hurley, mother of Denis and Michael, including a list of expenses incurred at her wake and funeral (U170/133). The collection also contains 2 letters from a Marie Collins in Connecticut, United States to the Hurleys in Clonakilty. The final sections of the collection contain portrait photographs of Denis Hurley, and newspaper clippings, one of which is a public notice by Denis announcing his standing for election as a Commissioner of Carson City (U611/141).

    The collection is a valuable source for the history of Irish emigration to the United States in the late 19th century and the early 20th century, in particular documenting the experience of those who continued their migration westwards rather than remaining in the more traditional Irish urban centres such as Boston, New York and Chicago. The collection documents the response of Irish emigrants to the daily struggle to make a living in a new country and their coping with being away from friends and family with little likelihood of ever seeing them again. It also documents the Irish/Irish emigrant response to some of the political, social, military and economic events in the United States, Ireland and Europe, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    Collection is made up of 8 sections.
    A: Letters from Denis Hurley and Michael Hurley from the United States (1871-1928)
    B: Estate and Death of Denis Hurley (1934-1939)
    C: Thomas Hurley (1885)
    D: John Hurley, Tawnies (1897)
    E: Mrs Mary Hurley, Funeral (1899-1900)
    F: Letters from Mary Collins (1899-1900)
    G: Photographs (1890-1930)
    H: Newspaper cuttings (1899-1910)

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Open by appointment to those holding a current readers ticket.
Creation DatesAug 1871-Jan 1938
Extent Medium141 items
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids Descriptive list Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

There are no Allied Materials

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteBrian McGee
Rules/ConventionsISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottawa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions2007