Workers descending into the west shaft
In The Weekly Transcript, an accident was reported as occurring near the west end of the tunnel on the 19th of January, 1857. A fuse had been lit, but the explosion did not go off when expected, so one of the workers poked his head out to check and was fatally struck by flying debris. The worker was only named as “an Irishman.”
Daniel Fourny of County Cork, Ireland was a laborer and died in 1857 as the result of a skull fracture, presumably from an accident in the tunnel.
Pat McCarty, another Irish immigrant, died in a rock slide in 1858. In the same rock slide another worker by the name of John Shean, also of Ireland injured his spine. He survived for much longer than McCarty but later died of his injury.
Michael Kehoe of Ireland died in 1861 due to inhaling carbonic acid.
Patrick Shay of Ireland died in an unspecified accident in 1865.
Michael Desrine of Ireland, a miner in the Hoosac Tunnel, died in 1867 from an accidental premature blast.
Timothy Sullivan of Ireland was killed on September 8th, 1875 in the cut near the west end. He was on a train bringing workers to North Adams, and upon leaving the tunnel he jumped from a car while the train was in motion, thinking that he could get home more quickly. He jumped against a steep embankment and was thrown back and under the train and killed. He was forty seven years old, and left a widow and six children.
Edward C. McNamara of Ireland, age 26, died of an unspecified accident April 16th, 1875.
Edward Rigney, age 21, a laborer from Ireland, died in an accident December 8th, 1874.
James Hanlon, a laborer in the tunnel, was killed near the west shaft August 4th,
187. His head was caught between the side of a car and a rock, and crushed. He was a young man who had no family, and came down from Canada to work. Given his last name, it is likely that James Hanlon or his forefathers came over from Ireland to Canada, and that James was one of the many unrecorded migrant workers that crossed into the US via the highly permeable US/Canada border.
James Gallagher, age 32, a miner from Ireland, died in an accident July 18th, 1874, while working on the enlargement for arch bricking west of West Shaft. He was injured by a large piece of rock falling upon him from the roof of the Tunnel. He had been a foreman of gangs for many years, and was reportedly much respected by all the men under his supervision.
A large piece of rock fell out of the roof of the tunnel, upon a laborer named Michael Casey aged 18 of Ireland, crushing him to death almost instantly. He was a single man, who had worked in the tunnel many years to support his mother. He died January 20th, 1874.
On the 15th of December, 1873, as the track was being replaced by the
trackmen in the bottom of the enlargement at the West Shaft, after a blast a large piece of rock fell from the roof of the Tunnel and struck Miles O’Grady of Ireland, killing him instantly. Michael Flaherty was badly wounded. His leg was so badly crushed as to necessitate amputation. James Barrett and Patrick Mulcahy were bruised and cut by the falling rock, though none of their injuries were serious. These men had been employed for several years as trackmen, and had the reputation of being industrious workers.
A giant gunpowder explosion on June 30, 1873, killed six men including, Henry Ferns, aged 13, a tool boy from Ireland.
Michael Cunningham, aged 34, from Ireland, died October 3rd, 1872 in a powder explosion.
An explosion killed John Ferns, age 34, of Ireland, and Patrick Shay, age 25, single, a miner from Ireland, on August 8th, 1871.
Patrick Menable, aged 26, from Ireland, died Sept 13th, 1869 from an unspecified accident in the tunnel.
Michael Johnson, age 25, of Ireland, and Richard Reynolds, age 35, also from Ireland, died June 30th, 1869 of an accident in the tunnel John Crager, age 23, a miner from Ireland, died July 2nd, 1869 from injuries caused in the same accident. A five man team was being lowered into the central shaft when a sudden increase in speed threw three men to the floor of the tunnel.
This list is by no means comprehensive, but includes many of the fatal incidents involving Irish workers. Despite prejudices to the contrary, many of these men were noted as being devoted workers who did this hard labor to support their families. Their efforts to complete the Tunnel left a lasting positive economic impact upon the area that continues to this day.
Cahoon, Charles. Hoosac Tunnel Accidents . Pdf. January 2, 2015.
Howes, Marc. “Interesting facts from 1819 – 1999.” The History of the Hoosac Tunnel. 2000. Accessed November 23, 2017. http://www.hoosactunnel.net/history.php.