Saturday, February 10, 2018

New Book: THE DAYS THAT WENT BEFORE US: stories & accounts of Lowell's early Irish

From the riot that started it all, to the rocky road to Boston.  From thousands taking the temperance pledge, to keening at an Irish wake. The Days That Went Before Us, by David McKean, recounts the trials and tribulations, tears and joys of the Irish pioneers of Lowell’s first immigrant group.  Using the latest research and primary sources, learn how the Irish became a political, religious, and cultural force.   
$12.95 + $3.50 s&h.   
Available from   or at the book signing on March 8th at the Acre Forum

Friday, February 2, 2018

A Few Vagabonds and Scoundrels

One wonders what Father John O’Brien, of patent medicine fame, expected when he accepted the call to Lowell.  Previous to arriving in the city he and his brother Timothy were stationed in Virginia.  There the two men became widely known for their work among the small, Southern, Catholic community.  The two brothers’ reputations grew as being spiritual and leaders of the Irish community who had settled in the Richmond, VA area to dig canals.  It was in Richmond that they were responsible for building St. Peter’s Cathedral, still there today.

Fr. John arrived in Lowell in 1848 but obviously held his former parishioners quite dear.  The priest also worked in the town of Martinsburg, VA, and that is where he met the McSherry family.  Richard McSherry’s father had emigrated from Ireland in the late 18th century.  Richard McSherry became a doctor and was one of the 50 Irish Catholic families in Martinsburg.  The McSherrys were also wealthy landowners and slave owners.  Dr. McSherry’s daughter, Cecelia, remained a friend of Fr. O’Brien as evidenced by a 4 page handwritten letter which was just discovered a few weeks ago.

The letter, written by Fr. O’Brien, was written in January of 1850.  He writes that the teachers in the school had erected a Christmas tree.  This is one of the earliest accounts of this new traditions.  They would not be popular for several decades.  He goes on to tell of hearing 180 confessions before Christmas and receiving $149 as an offering.  He does say that some members of the congregation had organized a sleigh ride and questions the money spent on such an event.

He further says that he had never “had charge of a more pious people,” but continues by saying “there are more than a sufficient number to give us a bad name.”  It was at that time that riots broke out within the Irish community of Lowell.  He continues by adding that “a few scoundrels and vagabonds will bring disgrace on a community by their lawless deeds.”  The riots of 1849 continued for several days with bricks and rocks being thrown and having the city constables called out.  He credits Fr. Theobold Mathew, the Irish Temperance priest, who was visiting Lowell with helping to quell the riots.  He finishes his letter by applauding the fact a young woman who had left the church returned and “had given up her Protestantism.” 

The letter actual opens by asking Miss McSherry about her health and telling her not to overdo things.  Cecelia McSherry would live 5 more years and die at the age of 39.

The letter gives us a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Irish community, their trials and hardships.  It is a rare artifacts where the Irish themselves speak of what was going on around them rather than their Yankee counterparts.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Confederate Soldier & Good Father John

Before Fr. John O’Brien, of Fr. John’s Medicine fame, arrived in Lowell in 1848, he spent many years in the Virginia. He and his brother, Fr. Timothy, are given credit by historians for supporting the small number of Catholics and actually building the cathedral before they left to come to Lowell. During his time in Richmond, VA he befriended the Dooley family. John and Sarah Dooley were Irish immigrants and part of Fr. John’s parish. They were part of the small Catholic population, but had become wealthy by becoming merchants. Their son, John, grew to be an ardent Catholic, supporter for Irish freedom, and adherent to Southern secession from the Union.
John originally started his studies at Georgetown, but with the advent of the Civil War he sought to join the Confederacy. He had to wait until he was of age, but eventually signed up with 1st Virginia Regiment. He quickly rose through the ranks and eventually achieved the rank of Captain. He fought in the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. It was during Pickett’s Charge the he was wounded in both thighs and taken prisoner to Johnson’s Island, Ohio.
 It was while he was a prisoner that he penned a diary of his life in the Confederate army and life as a prisoner of war. His journal is one of the most well-known accounts of the life of a Confederate soldier and life in a Northern prisoner of war camp. The reading is fascinating with details of camp life and the horrid conditions of prison life.
It was during his time at Johnson Island he wrote to Father O’Brien. Evidently the family had kept in close communication once the priest left Richmond to come to Lowell. There were several letters between the two men. Dooley was seeking Fr. O’Brien to intercede with the prison commander to gain his release. In 1863, Dooley received $50 from O’Brien, whom he calls his “generous hearted old friend,” in the hopes of obtaining a parole. The priest pleads with Dooley upon his release to come to Lowell “where I will have everything I may desire.” The plea did not work and Dooley suffers from his wounds.
 Another account is when Dooley met a Union soldier from Lowell. The soldier shared that he was a parishioner of Fr. John’s. And the two spoke at length. At some point Dooley asks how the Union soldier can be fighting for the North when it was clear that the South was on the side of freedom. The Union soldier tearfully responds that he joined the army for the money. He returns with blankets for Dooley, and the two never see each other again.
Dooley finally gets word of his impending release and sends a final note to Fr. John thanking him for his kindness and saying farewell. Dooley returns to Georgetown to pursue studies for the priesthood. In 1873 his battle wounds weaken him to the point where he never is ordained, but is still buried in the Jesuit cemetery at Georgetown.
The book is available at:

Saturday, January 13, 2018

John Burke's Cane

On stage he was known as Dublin Dan, the premier Irish comedian of American music halls in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Born as John M. Burke, he was a descendant of the great Guinness brewing family, he left his studies at Oxford to come to Boston to create a troupe of actors, singers, and dancers. This was the very dawn of the vaudeville age. Burke’s was not the only Irish musicale troupe of the time. Among others were MacEvoy’s Hibernicon, Harrigan’s Hibernian Company, and McGill & Strong’s Minstrel Company. Cities like Lowell had their “museums”, music halls, and opera houses. Some were quite legitimate, but most catered to the working class with earthy lyrics set to popular tunes. Burke’s career began in Boston in the 1870s making the Keith’s Theater circuit which evolved into engagements across the country such as New York City and Philadelphia. He married one of his troupe members who went by the stage name “Mrs. Annie Irish.” His advertisements which have survived give us an idea of what his show must have been like. For a mere 35 cents, 25 cents for children and 75 cents for orchestra seats, Dublin Dan would transform his audience from their lives of hard labor and meager living conditions to the lakes and fields of Erin. Through a series of hand painted tableaux spectators could see “a fresh and attractive array of novettes” along with the “Beauties of Ireland” and “the Lovely Lakes of Killarney.” A group of musicians and singers accompanied the scenes. Each took on a different character during the performance. “Erin’s Queen of Song, Miss Annie F Irish played the “Banshee Dearg.” There was also Patrick Fay as Shaun the Piper, James Shannon as the Coward Calanny, and B. Murray as the tourist. Of course the producer and director of Tableaux of Erin was John M. Burke as Dublin Dan the Guide. Burke’s advertisement claimed his show demonstrated the best of “minstrelity.” While Burke claimed to have made a world tour, he was known to have made several visits to Lowell, where he appeared at the Huntington Hall and the Music Hall. A reviewer of one of his performances in Lowell noted the admiration of the audience for Miss Annie Irish for her rendition of Moore’s Irish melodies. (Moore wrote The Minstrel Boy and The Last Rose of Summer.) It also noted the “active Irish boy” with his songs and closing with a “great acrobatic ending” which demanded an encore. The finale of the program was a jig performed by Dublin Dan and Miss Irish. Burke’s connection in Lowell does not end here. Many years ago in the attic of a house on Mt. Washington Street in the Acre was
found a gold topped cane. Inscribed on the cane is “Presented to John M. Burke, Irish Comedian, Feb 29th 73 by the Blumenthal Opera House, Prop. .... Wilkes-Barre USA.” The house at one time was owned by a family whose last name was Burke. Coincidence? Family member? No one knows for sure. Burke died at the age of 30 at the “Sisters’ Hospital” in Philadelphia. His wife quickly remarried another vaudeville performer. She and her children remained on stage for many years continuing Burke’s love of the theater. (Many thanks to Bill Mitchell for finding the cane and asking the right questions.)

Sunday, September 17, 2017

ST. PATRICK CEMETERY TOUR: Saturday, September 30 @ 10 am

Our annual tour of St. Patrick Cemetery will take place on Saturday, September 30 at 10 am. The tour will last 90 minutes. Please meet in the chapel area. In the past we've focused on the oldest stones in Yard One.This year we will have an entire new tour and walk the area around the chapel led by Walter Hickey. In the latter half of the 19th century the rising middle class of the Irish was making its mark in business, public service, and politics. Their monuments are testaments to the accomplishments and heritage.

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Sad Story of Brother Bonaventure

The darkened skies and rolls of thunder were a foreboding for the news the messenger was bringing to St. Patrick’s Rectory. The housekeeper could hardly be understood between her sobs and the raging storm. Fathers William and Shaw heard the banging on the door followed by the cries from the maid. Calming her down they finally made out the news- Brother Bonaventure was dead, a victim of drowning. There was little relief from summer heat in the 19th century. Combine that with the close living conditions in the Acre and the disciplined order of being a Xaverian Brother made for a trying life. The Superior of the Brothers, Brother Dominic, was a true shepherd of the flock of Brothers who taught the boys at St. Patrick School. It was August of 1896. His idea was to give them a respite from the heat, a little vacation at Lake Nabnessett in Westford. Mr. McGlinchey, a local, “thrifty” farmer, arranged for housing for the Brothers. On Monday, after dinner, the Brothers decided to go for a boat ride. All the Brothers got into the boat, along with the McGlinchey boys and a friend. As the afternoon progressed the rowers became fatigued and the fatal decision was made for others to take up the oars. As the boaters switched positions the boat suddenly overturned sending the group into the water. Panic struck the group. The McGlinchey boys, their friend, and Brother Bonaventure began making their way to shore, 100 yards away. The cries for help made Bonaventure and one of the boys turn around to help the Brothers who were flailing in the water. None of them knew how to swim. The two rescuers speedily made their way back to the upturned boat and got them to hold onto the edge of the boat. Brother Mark, who was stuck under the boat, was dragged to safety. Brother Eugene was going under for the 3rd time before he was saved. Brother Mark could barely keep his head above water. The entire lot was at the point of exhaustion. Brother Amandus, who was onshore, got another boat and started rowing out to those holding on for dear life. The group heard a cry and saw Brother Bonaventure “the pale face of Brother Bonaventure turn heavenward and then submerged below the surface of the water, a gurgling cry was all the sound he made and he never rose again in life.” The rescue boat could not find Bonaventure and quickly turned to those holding onto the upturned boat who had little strength left. The storm clouds moved in and the steady rain kept up through the night. Carriages arrived from Lowell including the Superior, Brother Dominic who had arranged the short respite. A number of local residents from Westford and parishioners from Lowell kept up the search. Undertaker O’Donnell also came. About 6 in the morning Brother Bernard found Bonaventure’s body. It was brought to the schoolhouse to lay in state on Suffolk Street. On Monday and Tuesday between twelve and fifteen thousand people came to pay their respects. “In the world” Bonaventure was known as William Guthrie. A quiet, spiritual boy from Kentucky, he entered the Xaverians at 19 and decided to give his life in service to others. He served as teacher for 7 years. Observers noted those who attended the wake, including many boys from the school, openly wept. He was truly loved by many who knew this gentle soul. The funeral, on Wednesday filled St. Patrick’s Church. As the body was borne from the school to the church his fellow Brothers chanted the De Profundis. The Mass was sung by Bonaventure’s own students. An observer said the only way to count the crowd was to say it was in the thousands. The funeral cortege wound its way to St. Patrick Cemetery for burial in the Brothers’ Lot. The crowd was so numerous many could not get near the grave. Father O’Brien recited the committal prayers as the body was being lowered into the grave. “Sobs of heartfelt sorrow” muffled the priest’s prayers. An observer noted that his kindly face will be missed and that many will utter a fervent prayer for the repose of his soul. Sadly the story does not end here. The Superior, Brother Dominic, who arranged for the Brothers’ rest was given the burden of guilt for the tragedy. Though the poor man was visibly moved in grief, he was quickly removed from St. Patrick’s without any notice or reason for doing so. Though nothing was openly said, the pastor, Fr. Michael O’Brien had words with Dominic. And Dominic’s superior in Baltimore openly held him responsible. Dominic went from being the Superior of one of the Xaverians leading institutions to a teacher at St. Mary’s Industrial School in Baltimore. A writer said Dominic carried his burden “quietly and obediently.” (The Brothers’ Lot at St. Patrick’s has not been located. If anyone knows where it is, please let us know.)

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Broadway Social & Athletic Club

Happy Kelly
It made the front page of the Lowell Sun in June of 1915.  The Broadway Social and Athletic Club held what would become the first of its annual banquets.  The club was formed the year before by a group of Acre neighbors who wanted a place to get together talk politics and have a game of baseball.  Originally the club was on Broadway Street itself, near where the White Electric building used to be.  The club soon relocated to what many will be remembered as the Marine Club or the Firefighter’s Club at the intersection of Fletcher, Cross, and Willie.

The club, though only a year old in 1915, grew quickly gathering athletes and politicians alike in its ranks.  Though located in not the most prestigious neighborhood of the city, some of Lowell’s most well-known movers and shakers sought membership cards.  Being a member not only gave individuals a chance to make contacts with city councilors or job potentials, but it also mixed different classes.  Most of its members resided in the Acre, but there were many others who lived elsewhere and whose roots began in the Acre.  Reading a list of members and attendees to that banquet in 1915 reads like a page from the Dublin white pages.  There were: the McCanns, O’Sullivans, Murphys, and Caseys; There were the Feeneys, Scanalls, Hessians, and Dohertys too.

Of that night the Sun said it “to be one of the most successful affairs of its kind ever held in this city,” and would be the talk of the town for many years.  The rooms on “upper Broadway” were festooned with streamers of red, white, and blue on the outside with a large welcome sign.  Inside potted palms and flowering plants filled the hall.  The evening started off with the grand procession by its members into the hall followed by a turkey dinner.  Mayor Dennis J. Murphy was in attendance while Rep. When It’s Moonlight in Mayo.  Francis Connor sang, Ireland, I Love You.  When Frank Clough finished his musical number the audience requested 5 more encores from him, perhaps to curtail the speeches.  It’s interesting to note how the speakers encouraged its younger members to seek education by attending Lowell Textile School.  Another speaker encouraged all to embody, especially the younger members, the goals of the club; “friendship, fidelity, and community.”  There was much talk of citizenship, love of country, the growth of bigotry in the country and believing in and spreading of false rumors in the news.  Little did these men know that in a few years many would be called to defend these rights and liberties in the Great War.
Walter H Hickey
Dennis A. Murphy, an Acre man himself, was toastmaster.  The speeches continued with club President McCann recounting the group’s mission to provide social events for a few friends, and how it had expanded, and even just purchased a summer camp exclusive for its members.  In between the speeches were a number of musical numbers.  James Dowling sang

Let’s not forget the other title in club’s name- athletics.  The North Common had been hosting ball games probably since the first days of Abner Doubleday invented baseball.  In the late 1800s the Columbians of St. Patrick’s Boys School was one of the first teams playing there.  Then the Emeralds and the Sanctuary Team from St. Pat’s.   As the Sun said in 1916, the Broadway Club boys, many from old St. Pat’s “is going to uphold the traditional valor of the Acre lads on the baseball diamond.”  The traditional rivals of the Acre teams were those from the South Common.  In the beginning crowds up to 3000 people would come to watch the games.  Soon those numbers triples.  The rivalry between the North and South Commons had been going on for 50 years.  A writer commented that those not wanting to watch the game could observe the 101 arguments that were going on amongst the spectators as to who had the better team.  Baseball wasn’t the only sport the club engaged in.  They sponsored boxing matches as well.

The competition got so bad that in 1916 it was commented that the North Common supporters should “learn to be good losers as well as good winners.”  It seems that spectators from the Club were interfering with the other team’s players.  They were warned that other teams would not want to come to the North Common if such activity continued.  It cautioned them to, “curb (your) over demonstrative partisans and insist on fair play.”  They were later described as “the Broadways, whose habitat is the North Common, are a fighting bunch willing to take on anything.”
For many decades the group sponsored dances (tickets cost 35 cents), political rallies, minstrel shows, and were active in wider community events.  They were regular marchers during 4th of July festivities.  Members marched wearing dark suits, and straw hats while carrying gold canes with American flags attached. 

Patrick Kearns, "Big Jack's Bartender"
By the 1940s the mission of the Broadway Social and Athletic Club had been reached. Its members were now among Lowell’s educated, political, and business leaders.  Soon the only mention of the club was in its aged members obituaries.  After World War II the club was sold and turned into the Marine Club.

The Photos: almost 30 years ago someone handed me a group of aged photos and said if I didn’t give them a home they were being thrown out.  That’s how a lot of things have come my way.  The photos are 3x4 inches in sepia tone, probably 30-40 of them.  In rough penmanship each is identified.  They are all of members of the Broadway Social and Athletic Club.  Probably the only artifacts remaining from a time long ago.  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

An Acre Memory- Easter

Easter on Walker St., 1960

There was a strict rule in my home on the corner of Broadway and Walker that you can’t have Easter without Lent.  It all started on Ash Wednesday when the Sisters would march us over to church to receive ashes on our foreheads.  We’d stand there comparing who had the biggest smudges like they were badges of honor.  It wasn’t uncommon to see most people in the neighborhood wearing ashes.  It was accepted that it was something we as a community did.  Not too long ago after wearing my ashes downtown, a teenage girl asked why I had something on my forehead.  Her mother shushed her out of embarrassment.  How times have changed. 

Before I continue I have to tell you that my mother was a strict observer.  As a matter of fact I found out many years later she often made up her own rules.  For example even though I was maybe 8 or 9 everyone in the house had to keep a strict fast for the 40 days.  This was not the church’s rule, but Ma’s rule which superseded any canon of the church.  Supper on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent were meatless.  That was no big deal we were used to that.  Lunch at school was always white American cheese with butter on Wonder bread.  That was it.  My friends would have peanut butter and jelly or tuna, but not in our house.  It was Lent!  There was a Sister on duty in the school cafeteria where we ate in silence.  If the smell of baloney (or is it bologna now?) wafted across the room, the Sister would make a bee line to the offender and remove the victual before mortal sin could be committed.  A soul was saved!

Suppers weren’t too different; maybe grilled cheese or tomato soup.  Because of my mother’s Canadian background we might have crepes with Vermont Maid maple syrup.   I don’t think there was ever a bottle of Aunt Jemima’s or Mrs. Butterworth’s in our home.  

Since we couldn’t eat anything between meals I came up with a plan on how to stretch supper out and fill my belly.  We’d have supper at 5 and then I’d run over to my friend Ricky’s house where they had supper at 5:30.  His Mom would invite me in and I’d sit at the table.  So for 40 days I ate 2 suppers almost every day.  Some Catholics used the fasting to shed some winter pounds.  Me?  I gained them.

My mother must not have been too good at math because according to her Saturday and Sunday did not count as Lenten fast days.  That meant a food free for all on weekends.  I recall one time I emptied out my piggy bank and bought one of those giant Hershey bars and ate the entire thing on one Saturday afternoon.  I was sure the belly ache I had was God’s vengeance for trying to outsmart Him.

When Passion Sunday would arrive every statue in church was covered in purple.  Palm Sunday was the Gospel that would never end, but it didn’t matter to us we’d be slapping each other with palm branches while it was going on.  Then on Good Friday there were the 3 hours of silence from noon to three.  I’ve heard others say they had to do the same, but I swear my mother invented it just to keep us quiet.
Without any exaggeration my earliest memory was of an Easter morning.  I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 but the trauma has strayed with me.  I’m sitting on the living room floor and my sister grabs my Easter basket.  It haunts me to this day.  Now that I think about it, this could be the reason why I still hide candy around the house.

Because of fasting regulation we could not eat for 3 hours before Communion, which meant the Easter basket would be in my room when I awoke, but nothing could be eaten until after Mass.  (This might have been the last of the Lenten disciplines.)  Our basket was a straw one from Green’s 5 & 10.  It had this terrible grass on the bottom on which any candy that was unwrapped would stay permanently stuck and you’d end up ingesting cellophane grass.  (We often found pieces of grass days later in the cat’s litter box.  Don’t ask questions.)  The centerpiece was a giant coconut egg, which some years was consumed on the same day.  (Read: bellyache)    Of course there were those gross yellow Peeps, also stuck to the cellophane grass, some robin’s eggs, and to fill in the rest of the basket at least 5 pounds of jelly beans.  One year I found empty peeps cartons in the garbage before Easter.  I asked who was eating candy during Lent.  My mother swore it was not her, then she’d put on her kerchief to go to confession.

We did not go out for Easter dinner.  My mother would never spend good money on what she could cook at home.  The menu was always the same baked ham basted in Chelmsford ginger ale (seriously, try it!), carrots, cabbage, and mashed potatoes.  Dessert was a bunny cake.  Yes, a bunny cake.  Two round cakes cut into the shape of a bunny’s face.  It sort of looked demonic with its black jelly bean eyes, but it was tradition.  The rest of the afternoon was filled with watching Victor Mature in The Robe, Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah, and Victor Mature in Demetrius and the Gladiators.   

My mother always received a one pound box of chocolates from Mrs. Nelson’s Candy House.  She’d bite the end off each one.  What she didn’t like she’d hand to my father for him to finish off.  I’d sit on the rug and sort my 5 lbs of jelly beans watching TV as Nero set fire to Rome and Victor Mature would battle in the Coliseum. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Grand St Patrick's Day Parade in Lowell - 1904

Edison Film, 1904
Each year after the opening Mass for Irish Cultural Week a few hardy souls brave the usually, frigid, often snowy, frequently windy weather that March throws at us and parade down Suffolk Street to Merrimac Street to City Hall.  The procession is made up of members of the AOH and LAOH, members of St. Patrick’s Parish, representatives from the Lowell Police and Fire Departments, and some folks who wish to preserve the Irish tradition.  At City Hall, speeches are made, anthems are sung, and the Irish and American flags are raised.  As the years pass it seems the numbers have decreased.  What many don’t realize is that they are carrying on what their ancestors began over 175 years ago in Lowell.  After their arrival in 1822, it did not take long before the Irish began celebrating their patron’s feast day. 

As the numbers increased so did the festivities, even causing problems in the mills with Irish taking unpaid leave to celebrate with Mass, entertainments, and toasts reaching far into the night.  The day was almost considered a holy day of obligation with every Catholic church having special liturgies.  Of course Saint Patrick’s, being the mother Church, would be filled with parishioners and those who returned to the family roots.  Mentioned is made in accounts through the 19th century of parades being formed and later more formal processions with bands and social groups being formed.  The mother of all these parades was held in 1904.  Days before the newspapers built excitement with posting of the routes and the many organizations that were to take part.  Court was even closed early so all could be part of the day.  Individual citizens and groups took it upon themselves to decorate street signs, store fronts, and homes with bunting and cloth flowers.
Edison Film, 1904

We’re uniquely fortunate that there is actually moving film of the parade itself.  (The Library of Congress has preserved the film at American Memory )  Thomas Alva Edison had begun sending crews around to record American events.  The clip is only 3 minutes long, but says so much.  The parade began by St. Michael’s Church down by the mills, hooking onto Suffolk to Broadway to City hall, to Merrimack, to Central, to Sacred Heart Church.  There were over 1500 marchers.  The city’s fire alarm sounded once to let the citizens who thronged the streets know the marchers were on their way.  The City police forces led the way many of them on horseback with the horses festooned with green carnations.  It was also noted the numbers of bouquets that were carried by many of the marchers, the city had not seen so many flowers before.  The officials of the parade rode in carriages.  Three full divisions followed the marshals.  Division after division of Hibernians from Nashua, Lawrence, Haverhill, and Chelmsford made up the first division.  Bands and fife and drum corps played patriotic and Irish airs.    “The Harp That Once Thru Tara’s halls” was a favorite of the crowd.  Drum majors threw their batons in the air stirring the crowd.  Military and veteran groups marched in formation dressed in full uniforms and carrying rifles.  Mr. McEvoy’s jaunting cart, direct from Ireland, was a must see.  The oldest Irish organization in the city, the Irish Benevolent Society, marched proudly as they had since the first parades in the 1840s. 

Edison Film, 1904
Saint Patrick’s Church’s fire in January of that year necessitated a move to Sacred Heart Church where everyone gathered for Mass following the parade.  (Die-hard parishioners still gathered in the basement of the church to carry on the tradition that began since the first Irish arrived.)  Following Mass, marchers and spectators alike filled every hall and tavern in the city to sing their songs and recite the deeds of their ancestors.  They promised themselves that the tradition would continue year after year.

When I read the account from 1904, I thought of how Lowell celebrates the Saint’s day today and how our culture will continue.  I recalled this year’s flag raising and the hearty souls who showed up.  I imagine what it was like 100 years ago and ask myself what our ancestors would say of us. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mr. Boott's Irish Gardener

Kirk Boott's Home (Mill and Mansion)
When Kirk Boot was given the task of managing the new mill town being built on the Merrimack, he was leaving behind the family mansion in Boston and the life of the socially elite to which he was accustomed.  Back in Boston, the Boot’s were well known for their mansion on Bowdoin Street and its fine art and architecture.  The family was also known for its beautiful gardens, greenhouses, and especially for their roses.  So it was providential in 1822 that when Mr. Boott was building his Greek-Revival mansion in East Chelmsford, soon to be Lowell, he would include space for the cultivated lawns and landscaping to which he was accustomed.  His blueprint for the construction of the Merrimack Manufacturing Company would include a landscaped entrance area to the mill along with plants and flowers placed between the different buildings.
 To achieve that end Mr. Boott brought John Green up from Boston to serve as his gardener and steward.  History does not tell us how the two men met.  Perhaps he worked for the Boott family in Boston?  John Green was born in Aughavading, Co. Leitrim in 1798.  He arrived in Boston in 1823 living there for a short time before settling in Lowell.  Green’s name appears in several histories of Lowell being listed as one of the prominent Irishmen of the period.  His first mention in Lowell was paying the poll tax in 1826.  His occupation was regularly listed in the Town/City Directories as gardener working at Boott’s.  After his death his son, John J Green, reminisced about his father being the superintendent of landscaping at the Merrimack and being part of the planning of the North Common.
When Mr. Boott died unexpectedly in 1837, Green continued working as a gardener at the 
Lowell Map, 1850
 “Company farm.”   In Boott’s will, he bequeathed Green $72 in wages, a very hefty sum for a gardener.  Later Green was listed as “botanic physician.”  He became a US citizen and started acquiring property.  He moved into a new home on the corner of Willie and Cross Streets where he lived for the remainder of his days.  The 1850 census showed he owned $10,000 in real estate.  Few Irishmen of this period had such holdings.  By the time he reached the age of 60, John Green considered himself a “gentleman.”  One can imagine him in his garden on Willie Street, pruning and weeding.  Then he would stroll through the North Common making his way to Saint Patrick’s Church for Mass.  His niece, Anne Flynn, moved into the home to act as his nurse.  Upon his death he recognized her help by granting her a small stipend.  His will divided his properties among his survivors, but his final hope was that the family would remain together and share the holdings.  In 1866 he joined his fellow Irish pioneers in Yard One of St. Patrick Cemetery.  His brief obituary, obituaries not even being common practice at the time, testified to his fine character and reiterated the bond he had with Mr. Boott almost 30 years previous.   He left Ireland a poor man, but died wealthy in more ways than one.

His son, John J Green, was a member of the Lowell chapter of the Irish American Historical Society, which attempted to preserve the Irish history of Lowell.  Unfortunately none of the minutes of the group survive today that recorded the actual recollections of those early Irish pioneers.  In 1921 John J Green tried to persuade the city to memorialize the walk of Hugh Cummiskey and the first Irish laborers with parades, lectures, church services, and the erection of a suitable monument on the North Common. 

Not many people offer comments to this site.  Sometimes I think I'm writing for the cloud.  But I have an idea.  2022 will be the 200th anniversary of Cummiskey's walk.  How about we recreate the walk!  We'll work out  a route between Charlestown and Lowell and folks can sign up to walk a mile or 2 of the path!  Maybe we could finish with a group walk into Lowell from Belvidere?  Maybe we could put up that memorial they never got around to doing back in 1922?
Like John J Green, George O’Dwyer (author of Irish Catholic Genesis of Lowell), and others, the Irish Cultural Committee of St. Patrick Parish tries to preserve Lowell’s Irish past.  Please join us this March as we present the 38th annual Irish Cultural Week.!/LowellIrish