Arizona Irish

Diarist Mim Murphy Walsh cultivated a bit of Ireland in the young state of Arizona.

Mary Eileen Murphy Walsh's first impression of Tucson was not auspicious. The desert city would become her adopted home for 45 years, but the first time she saw it she couldn't get out of it fast enough.

"Woke up in Arizona," she wrote in her diary of March 7, 1916, "bleak enough scenery, not as bad as the Colorado desert though. Got to Tucson at 10:30. Very hot, sleepy dusty town. Men lying asleep on (alleged) grass. ... Had an awful dinner and left at 2:30."

But if the native of green, green Ireland was not initially enchanted by the Old Pueblo, she couldn't help but take note of the romantic Wild West just outside its borders.

"Passed Indian encampment near Tucson," she recorded, "also several real live cowboys; after that desert, broken at long intervals by so-called towns, some of which consisted of only one house and a tent. Each 'town' had a sign-post stating the altitude which increased rapidly until ... we were nearly 5,000 feet high."

Mary, known as Mim, was journeying by train with her husband, Paddy, from Los Angeles via Tucson to Bisbee. The Dublin pair, married not quite three years, planned to set up housekeeping in the Warren district of the mile-high mining town, in hopes of curing Paddy's tuberculosis. The plan was to return to Ireland, probably within the year.

When Mim's old officemates in Dublin heard in the fall of 1915 that the young couple was forced to depart their homeland, they sent these good wishes: "We hope your exile will be short and we assure you of a hearty cea'd mile failte (thousand welcomes) on your return to dear old Ireland."

But except for a short vacation in 1950, that return would never take place: Mim and Paddy's American exile was to be lifelong. Paddy was still coughing up blood after a year's sojourn in Arizona's dry air, and they mournfully decided against the "probable folly of going home when we had intended," Mim wrote in her diary on February 10, 1917. When Bisbee's copper mines went bust at the end of World War I, they migrated not back to Ireland but to Tucson.

They lived in the West University neighborhood from 1919 until Paddy's death at 77 in 1963, and Mim's death at 83 the following year. There, despite their personal sorrows, the "lively Irish couple," as Mim's obituary would call them, created an exuberant outpost of Irish culture in the American desert.

THEIR HOUSE, SAYS THE Rev. Kevin McArdle, "was the place for people from the university. There would be literary evenings and discussions about books. They were very well liked." Father McArdle, 83, a Dublin man now retired to St. Margaret's Parish, first met the Walshes when he arrived in town in the late '40s. "Always on St. Patrick's Day they'd have dinner and talks. I never did see him play violin, but (their friend) Marylka Pattison played the piano. He would sing; everybody would sing."

Mim and Paddy had an uncanny knack for discovering fellow Irishmen in Arizona. On New Year's Day 1929, Mim wrote, "After Mass we found ourselves in the midst of an Irish crowd--the Hunters, the Nelsons and the Barrys, all full of wishes for the New Year." They knew Irish priests galore, especially once Tucson's Catholic bishop began making recruiting forays in the '40s to St. Patrick's Seminary in County Carlow, Ireland. The Walshes' longtime pastor at All Saints downtown, started in 1913 to serve the new wave of English-speaking Catholics, was a Father Thomas Connolly.

A steady parade of visiting Irishmen and women wound up at the Walshes' little bungalow at 919 N. Fifth Ave., including distinguished authors of the likes of Dubliner Oliver Gogarty.

On September 12, 1921, Mim reported a typical Irish discovery, this one D. Tucker, a new assistant prof in the UA English department: "an Irishman, Royal University ... and of course Catholic though not blazoning the faith ... warned by Archbishop Hanna to keep it as dark as possible. We went for a long drive and shouted with laughter a good part of the evening. He's comical and knows many people we know."

In the early years, the Walshes even staged Irish plays in local churches and halls. A playbill from St. Patrick's Day 1921 has them both acting in plays of the Irish literary Renaissance, J.M. Synge's radical Riders to the Sea and Lady Gregory's The Rising of the Moon. Their close friend Hester Hunter, an Irish journalist who would open an eponymous bookshop in Tucson, joined them on the stage. The double bill program had a slightly subversive political objective: to win American support for Irish independence. It featured a recorded address by Eamon de Valera, self-proclaimed president of the putative Irish Republic, then fighting the British for independence.

But the Walshes didn't confine their social life to fellow natives of the Ould Sod. By day, they worked in their business, Paddy as a certified public accountant, and Mary intermittently as the bookkeeper; by night they devoted themselves to an astonishing array of literary soirées, concerts, movies and plays. Many a university party of the '20s, '30s and '40s was enlivened by the Walshes singing Irish songs in the parlors of Tucson's gentry, and Paddy's playing his violin.

"In the evening tried our new traditional Irish songs," Mim noted in her diary of January 1, 1934. At a party at Tony De Sanchez's on March 19, 1934, "We sang and played Irish songs for hours to their great delight."

The Walshes' university connections helped them play host to a visiting authors of the stature of Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg and Sherwood Anderson, according to Mim's obit.

Yndia Smalley Moore, a pillar of native Arizona society, became one of Mim's closest friends.

"They were just a darling couple, just jewels," says Moore's daughter Dianne Bret Harte, who was raised on Fourth Avenue, a block away from the Walshes'. Into their old age they retained their charming Irish lilts, she said. Paddy was "very handsome, with steely eyes and white bushy eyebrows. Mim was like a cameo; she wound her hair around her face. She had a soft look ...

"At evenings at their house and ours there was always lots of music, lots of university people. ... They sang a lot; they always sang these Irish ditties together. They were so cute and lots of fun."

BESIDES LEAVING BEHIND a host of admiring friends, a few of whom are still around to bask in the memory of those cozy Irish evenings, Mim bequeathed an extraordinary document of her life: her diary. Housed now in the Arizona Historical Society Archives, the diary begins on the day of her wedding in Dublin on July 29, 1913, and ends 51 years later, just a few days before her death on December 8, 1964.

Its thousands of hand-written pages chronicle Mim and Paddy's great journey across the waters to a new land, their work in a rough mining town and their life in a Sunbelt city that mushroomed from 20,000 souls when they got here to around 212,00 at the time of their deaths. (Moore donated the diary and some letters to the Society after Mim's death; it did not become accessible to the public until the early '90s.)

A well-read and witty diarist, Mim was always sure to comment on tragedies in war-torn Ireland, to give an insider's view of Tucson's Irish community and to chronicle the doings of the city's incipient artistic institutions, from the Temple of Music and Art and the Scribblers' Club, to the Fox and Lyric movie theaters. Her tongue is by turns tart--remember that "alleged" given to Tucson's grass--and melodic. Always the Irishwoman, she sings the praises of tea ("It's astonishing what that first cup of tea in the morning can do") and documents her bouts of melancholy.

Above all her diary is the record of a marriage. Mim fretted constantly about Paddy's health ("P. coughing all night" is a recurring motif) and after he finally died she could scarcely bear it, wailing over "the loss of my dear old man!" In the last lonely year of her life, Mim gave up the diary and instead wrote a series of daily love letters to "My Dearest Paddy," the man she had loved for 50 years.

Their story began in Dublin, early in the morning of July 29, 1913.

"A(nnie) had me up at dawn after a sleepless night," Mim reported. "We had breakfast, Jack joining us. Mine was a cup of tea which nearly choked me. Felt the unreality of what was to happen--I, M(ary) M(urphy), going to be married this morning. Impossible! Dressed carefully but dazedly and wished again that A had let me choose my own dress and hat. Perhaps then I should not feel so like a cardboard figure."

This lively character, hardly cardboard at all, was already 31 years old, and about to marry a man four years her junior. Mim's diary woefully neglects her life pre-marriage, but Father McArdle says she was born in Cork, in 1881; her obituary notes that she went to college, an unusual feat for an Irishwoman of those years. She herself wrote that she had gone abroad on her own to work as a "woman clerk" at a London bank until 1909, when a family illness brought her back home. She nursed the patient, most likely her mother, until her death around 1910. After that, Mim worked for an accounting firm in Dublin, before agreeing to the proposal of marriage from 27-year-old Dubliner Patrick J. Walsh.

Paddy was late to the wedding, in a church near Dublin's St. Stephen's Green, and Mim's sister Annie fretted, "What can be keeping Paddy?" But he did show. "And there, suddenly, he is," his blissful bride wrote. "How nice he looks! And how steady his voice when he says, 'I will!' and how mine querulous." And after a wedding breakfast, "bye and bye we're on a train, Mr. and Mrs. Paddy Walsh on their way to a honeymoon in Glennalure."

Despite the nervous bridegroom making a strategic error by wondering aloud "whether we had done wisely in uniting our lives"--reducing the bride to tears and prompting a hasty retraction--the newlyweds had an altogether romantic idyll. Paddy read aloud from Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and they walked hand in hand to Glendalough, "glen of the two lakes." But Mim dreaded returning to real life, which loomed ahead in positively Victorian fashion. As part of what she called her "marriage bargain," she was to give up her independent New Woman's life, and become a glorified live-in housekeeper for Paddy and his intimidating widowed father. They called him the Boss. The house, in Sandymount, a seaside suburb south of Dublin, was big, and full of furniture.

"The house occupies me fatiguingly all day," Mim wrote on August 20, just weeks after the wedding, "and sometimes late into the evening. ... I cope desperately." When the dour maid quit, Mim took on the cooking, which she'd never attempted before, eliciting praise from the Boss so lavish that "I have a sneaking suspicion he is being sarcastic." She loved her new husband, and their evening walks along Dublin Bay, but he was away at work all day in the city, teaching at a technical college. Lunchtime often found her with a book propped "up against a sugar bowl and I give myself over to weeping."

But as she would throughout her diarist's life, Mim also took note of what was going on outside her doors. In November and December, she recorded the growing strife in an Ireland itching to be rid of its English masters. After the Irish Transport Workers went out on strike, she noted "terrible poverty among the workers' families." And she was developing a keen sensitivity to Paddy's physical well-being. He caught a terrible cold in January 1914 and "could not shake it off. I was worried to death ... (he) was left with a cough and a delicate appearance."

It was Paddy's health that would eventually break up the difficult ménage à trois, as Mim called it. Paddy came down with another bad cold in July 1915; this time the hoarseness lingered. In late August, a doctor found tuberculosis in its "very preliminary stages" and advised a move away from damp Sandymount to higher ground. Devastated, Mim called it "the very worst news." But worse was yet to come. In late September came a much grimmer second opinion: Paddy "had better 'clear out' to California."

Feared as tuberculosis was in those days, doctors couldn't do much to cure it. Typically they recommended that patients move to mild, dry climates, and drink in the sun and fresh air. Dublin in the 1910s had the highest death rate of any city in Europe, and Ireland as a whole has always been the antithesis of dry. Suffering "agonies of mind," the Walshes prepared at once to depart for California.

By November 26 the couple was on a ship sailing out of Dublin Bay, seen off by Mim's sister Annie and her old office girlfriends, Paddy's older brother Joe and his friend Jim. Joe sailed with them as far as Liverpool. Standing on the English dock, Joe gazed at the transatlantic liner bearing his little brother away, "watching until the end." The gang reassured themselves this was not a classic American wake, since Paddy and Mim intended to return. In fact, they would never live in Ireland again.

ON AN EARLY FEBRUARY evening in Los Angeles in 1916, an Irish couple burdened down by suitcases disembarked from the train. They had no idea where to go. In New York, kindly Brother Soorley from back home had met their ship at the dock, booked them into a hotel and showed them around town. A raft of cousins on West 105th Street had entertained them for an evening. And during a cold two-months' sojourn in Blue Mounds, Wis., they were surrounded by "dozens of relations." But here, at the far end of the American continent, their Irish contacts ran out.

Patrick and Mary wandered the streets of this strange new American city until a kindly policeman pointed them in the direction of Flower Street, where the boarding houses bloomed. They took a room for $3 a week. The long, bewildering evening was just the beginning of a long, depressing month. Simply put, there were no jobs for the enterprising young pair. Mim applied to a newspaper ad without response, Paddy was successively turned down by a Mr. Laidlaw, a Mr. Kelly, a Mr. Guthrie. Luckily, they could hear Mass at St. Vitram's and the incipient movie capital was full of cheap picture shows and parks where Mim could read and write letters, her lifeline to home.

"Getting tired of wandering around city aimlessly," she wrote after several weeks. Worse, Paddy's "voice not improved." And the city was plagued by "fogs nearly every night," its damp weather hardly beneficial for a tubercular.

But they did have Irish contacts in Warren, a district in the copper mining city of Bisbee. They read in the public library that the place was "very dry, warm and nearly a mile high, so should be suitable." With a population of more than 25,000, it was bustling, one of the biggest cities in the four-year-old state of Arizona. Even better, with a war on in Europe, its copper mines were booming. A Mrs. Bailey of Warren wrote encouraging them to come. And on March 7, after the short, unhappy stop in Tucson, they did.

Mim found the strange landscape "bleak."

"Warren is a small town surrounded by high hills, all bare and naked," she wrote. "The sun seems to scorch hotly all the time. Nothing grass by prickly cactus." Bisbee itself, reachable by trolley car, was "congested and ugly."

At least there was a lively Irish community. A Catholic parish for English speakers, serving the loads of Irish miners, was even called St. Patrick's. Run by a French curate named Father Constant Mandin, "a nice little man," the congregation was so devout they were building the elaborate new church that still stands today, the old one being "very dilapidated."

The Irish in town duly paid their respects to the new arrivals. Mrs. Bailey introduced her mother, Mrs. Tiernan. A Mrs. Burns told of her Irish nephew on the European front. A Jack Gallagher just might be the friend of Miss Annie Needham, Mim's office friend back in Dublin. Mr. Hickey was a Tipperary man in the dry goods business. The "amusing" Mr. McKinny was editor of the Bisbee Ore newspaper. The Brophy clan--Mike, Jimmy, Tommy--was everywhere.

"Mr. Kelly, big Kerryman out here for years, visited in evening," on March 13, 1916. "Talked politics and Irish to Paddy." The next evening, the Walshes returned the call. "Mrs. also from Kerry," Mim reported, "harassed-looking woman with a squad of noisy none-too-clean kids. Lots more talk of politics, but nothing about the introductions Mr. Kelly promised."

If Mr. Kelly disappointed, so did the other contacts. Paddy daily sallied out in search of work but inevitably, as Mim tersely put it, "none forthcoming." By St. Patrick's Day, they were "melancholy in the extreme." Mim was at her most laconic: "Started for Mass, but priest ill, so there was none. The choir lady played 'St. Patrick's Day' in Dead March time and we said a short prayer and disbanded." A box of shamrocks from brother Joe arrived late, their green leaves "turned to dust."

Mim confided to her diary: "Feel I ought to begin work for my living again and would do so gladly if I got a chance." She dashed off a few verses and a story to the Irish World, which all too soon rejected them. Then, one month after their arrival, she landed a job.

She had gone into the Phelps Dodge store for provisions and a Mr. Kehoe unexpectedly offered her a "post as assistant to the bookkeeper." The hours, as she later discovered, were "stupefying": 9 to 6 Monday through Friday, 9 to 8 Saturdays. She took the job, though she worried about the "scrappy" dinners her new job would mean for the frail--and still unemployed--Paddy. And her first pay, she noted grimly, was a pitiful "$4.82 (for six days)," after deductions for store purchases and a savings account.

Mim's personal troubles were interrupted by the Easter Rising, the aborted Irish rebellion that roused her Irish patriotism as nothing else had done before. "First news of Irish 'rebellion," she reported breathlessly on April 26, 1916. "10,000 (!) Sinn Fein have seized the Dublin Post Office and other buildings and are holding them successfully against Royalist forces." The next day: "Rebellion still flourishing. Very exciting."

The end, when it came, was a blow. May 1, 1916: "News in today's paper of surrender of Irish forces to overwhelming odds. ... Bitterly disappointed and uneasy also." She had good reason for her fears. The rising had been carried out in the Walshes' hometown, and many people they knew were among the prisoners. The English executed in quick succession 15 of the leaders. By May 3, Mim wrote: "We can scarcely believe the news it is so horrible. ... Swore hatred of England and have started prayers for her downfall and utter crushing in the war (against Germany). Cannot think of anything but the events of home. That is the real center of our lives, not this deadly place."

The world news temporarily pushed her own life off the diary page. But Paddy by this time had signed on at the Copper Queen mine office, at a decent salary of $143 a month. For a while, they both worked, but Mim suffered attacks of "quinsy," a disabling throat illness. When she asked for a raise in November and didn't get it, she quit, counting on Paddy's salary to keep them solvent. Paddy had begun tuberculosis injections, and he was plagued by colds that laid him up for weeks at a time. And he was still thin at 131 pounds. She resolved to build him up: "Hope to make him stronger now that I am free to cook properly."

The Walshes' Bisbee years filled up with Mim's studies of French, Spanish and Irish, Paddy's violin-playing, lots of books, walks in nearby "cañones," picture shows in town, evening lectures and Southwest adventures like the outing to a ranch in a friends' car "for barbecue and dancing. ... An immense crowd. All sorts of queer people, including one cowboy in costume, sheepskin chaparrals, etc. Laughed a good deal and started for home at 11:45. Moon rose just as we left. Mr. Redondo drove like one possessed and it transpired that he had just a little 'bootleg.'"

But life in the mines was hardly idyllic. Occasionally miners died in accidents below ground; labor strife eventually culminated in the infamous Bisbee Deportation of July 12, 1917. In cahoots with mine owners, the sheriff "deputized" 2,000 vigilantes and kidnapped striking miners from their beds. Almost 1,200 were shipped by train to a remote New Mexico location and dropped off without food or drink. Mim and Paddy happened to be starting a train vacation to Los Angeles the same day.

"Went down to do business necessary (for trip). Found town like Sunday. Special deputy sheriffs ... arrested all strikers and had them interned." That night, when she and Paddy boarded the train to LA, they found many miners "who had escaped deportation."

The mines would later let the Walshes down as well. In late 1918 Mim took a job she liked at the Copper Queen office, for $110 a month, doing payroll and bookkeeping. The sudden postwar downturn in the copper market took its toll, and many in Bisbee lost their jobs. Mim's boss told her he "had to yield to representations which had been made to him about the alleged wrong of having a married woman employed. He was very flattering about my work but parted with me all the same."

By May 1919 Paddy learned he too would be let go. The Walshes found themselves "in a rampant state of discontent." On July 1, 1919 they were on the road to Tucson in their Ford.

PADDY first signed on as a bookkeeper at the UA, while Mim took a job in Lawton's accounting office. By 1926, Paddy had picked up a CPA and put out a shingle. Despite his proud, boldface ad in the city directory announcing "Walsh, P.J., 104 N. Court CPA," the early years were hard, with Mim fretting "no work, no money" and "work very slow, no income tax at all." But things eventually picked up, and their accounts included such prestige businesses as the new El Conquistador Hotel.

They moved into their little bungalow on North Fifth Avenue in September 1921 ("Like our new house very much ... large bed on the porch and very comfortable") and stayed more than 40 years, using it as the setting for their countless parties.

When they grew old, their gift for friendship yielded rewards. They never had children of their own, but they were blessed by a host of younger friends who looked out for them, notably Father McArdle and Yndia Moore, whose many kindnesses Mim duly recorded.

The good life ended in September 1963, on a trip to Laguna Beach, California. On the evening of September 23, friends stopped by the rental cottage for dinner. Afterward, they "took us, at P's urgent request, down by the sea." The next morning, having seen the ocean one last time, Paddy was found dead in his bed, killed by a pulmonary aneurysm. Mim's frantic diary note for that day describes how she "could not wake P, when I called him at 10 for breakfast." Back at the house in Tucson, delivered by the kindly California friends, Mim found "flowers, food, noise, drinks, confusion, but God help me, no Paddy."

After burying him in Holy Hope Cemetery, Mim outwardly carried on, valiantly keeping up her social engagements, staging a final St. Patrick's dinner and even, one evening, getting up at a nightclub and belting out a rendition of "Galway Bay" with the club's tenor. She made fun of her own sorrow in her daily letters to Paddy, calling herself "poor old Mrs. Gummidge." But her grief was profound.

On their wedding anniversary, at the age of 82, she reminisced about their honeymoon.

"I've been thinking of our wedding day and of Glennalure and of The Picture of Dorian Gray which you were reading aloud to me down by the stream ... and I've been remembering July 29, 1950, when we drove in the rain across the mountain from Glendalough to the same hotel, strangely diminished in size and splendor. ... And I've been remembering many other anniversaries in our long life together, which now seems to have been so short ... only God knows how almost unbearable it is to be without you."

In a few months, Mim too was dead, brought to St. Mary's Hospital by a catastrophic foot infection. But even in the last entry she ever wrote, on December 2, 1964, six days before her death, she took her mind off the excruciating pain by looking outside of herself. Ever the movie lover, she concluded her 51-year diary with a pithy review.

On television, she reported to Paddy, she watched "a good long movie, Korean war picture, The Rack. Walter Pidgeon, Tee Marion, other well-known actors. Took my mind off (pain) for couple of hours. Going to bed reluctantly again. Mim."

Margaret Regan wishes to thank the helpful staff of the Arizona Historical Society Library and Archives, where the Mary E. Walsh papers are kept; she also wishes to thank Dr. Katherine G. Morrissey, UA professor of history, and Megan Doughty Mulligan, UA doctoral candidate in history, for alerting her to the existence of the Walsh archive.

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