|The Knights sash returned to Lowell|
Sunday, February 19, 2017
In the latter half of the 19th century right into the 20th a myriad of fraternal and social groups sprang up among Lowell’s Irish. Each parish had its own societies to take care of their poor and to set the young ones on the right path. There were also organizations outside of the church itself that saw to it that the Irish were taking care of their own and were passing on their culture. A brief listing would include: Emerald Associates, Lowell Irish Benevolent Society, Young Men’s Catholic Library Association, Ancient Order of Hibernians No. 1, No. 2, & No. 3, Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, American Society of Hibernians, St Patrick’s Temperance Society, Immaculate Conception Temperance Society, Father Mathew Total Temperance Society, Sargeant Light Guard, American-Irish Historical Society, The Celtics, Irish Catholic Order of Foresters, The Emerald Club, and Catholic Young Men’s Lyceum. The list is far from complete as organizations grew and passed away according to needs, interests, and politics.
One of the longest lasting societies was formed in 1869 and called the Knights of St. Patrick. It was “organized for the purpose of encouraging social and manly exercise.” The group had their annual cycle of events; summer outings at Willowdale, being part of the city parade on the “glorious fourth,” marching through the city streets on St. Patrick’s Day, and regular meetings with speakers on numerous topics.
During the summer the group often played baseball and football. There were even horse races where the prizes were horse whips and blankets. Those attending the banquets on St. Patrick’s Day often numbered in the hundreds. In the morning they attended Mass then marched wearing black clothing, tall silk hats, white gloves and the Knight’s sash. The “supper” began at 9 pm and carried on into the wee hours. Toasts were a regular feature recalling the heroes of freedom and democracy from their adopted home and Ireland. Pictures of St. Patrick, Daniel O’Connell, and Robert Emmet made the backdrop of the head table. Regular suppers were held throughout the year at locations like the St. Charles Hotel and the Farragut House. American author, Mark Twain, was invited to speak at one of their suppers, but had to decline. He did write a lengthy letter commending the Irish and the pursuit of freedom in their new home. On one of their summer excursions in 1871, the carriage that was bringing them to Tyngsboro overturned near the bridge. Their commander, who was injured and strapped onto a chair was drowned along with the horse that pulled the wagon. Fundraisers were held throughout the year. One raised almost $300 for St. John’s Hospital. In 1876 the Knights were the largest Irish organization in the city.
As the decades progressed the membership aged and began to wane. There were several attempts to rejuvenate the group. Notices were printed in local newspapers reminding the children of Irish immigrants that the goal of the club was to keep their heritage alive. For most of its life the Knights were a men’s only group. Near the end women were invited to join. Soon the only mention of the group was in members’ obituaries. Those who remained would wear their regalia to attend a funeral and accompany him to the grave.
The last mention of the group was made in 1926 for the funeral of their last commander, Owen Corbett, ages 93, a native of Co. Clare.
An original Knights of St. Patrick sash has come home. The sash will be on display at our Walking Tour on Saturday, March 11 at 10 am. Meet at LNHP Visitor Center on Market St. (If you have photos, diplomas, or items that record the history of the Irish in Lowell or the Acre neighborhood. Let us know. We will give them a good home. Other items donated this year are neighborhood and family photos and old St Patrick School report cards.)
Sunday, February 5, 2017
|Duncan Rankin McKean,|
in Glasgow, 1880s.
The Irish were not the only Celts to help build the city of Lowell. Before anyone protests, of course the Irish were Lowell’s first immigrant group. That would make the Scots Lowell’s second wave of immigration. In one of Lowell’s early histories an 1833 writer is quoted as saying the Scots were, “the most intelligent of our foreign population.” The writer was a Yankee and it might be fair to say not a fan of the Irish.
To dig a little deeper, Lowell’s existence is partially due to the Scots. Francis Cabot Lowell himself had Scottish roots, and it was only after his 2 year stint visiting England and Scotland with his family that the idea of textile manufacturing on such a scale as he saw in Manchester and Paisley would come to America.
Scots had been living in the area since the time of the colonies. Before Lowell was Lowell, there were farmers and tradesmen from Ulster (Scots-Irish) in Chelmsford and Dracut. Even the Pawtucketville Congregational Church once identified itself as Presbyterian. As textile mills were erected professional workers who knew the secrets of the textile trade had to be imported to share their knowledge. James Sanderson, a native Scot, was brought solely because he knew had to dye skeins indigo blue, a color much in vogue at the time and not easily produced previously in America.
The major wave of Scots into Lowell occurred in 1828 with Alexander Wright. “A colony from Refrewshire, Scotland settled in Lowell and engaged in the manufacture of carpets. It included many sons and daughters of the Kirk of Scotland and was reintroduced from time to time by other immigrants.” (ORHA) Soon another group from Lanarkshire, Scotland joined the group increasing the Scots population and carpet manufacturing.
Like the Irish, many of the Scots chose to live among their own. One group settled along Market Street in areas called “Scotch block” and “Scotch Row” according to Lowell Directories. The tiny district includes name such as; McAlpine, Bosworth, McOvey, Johnson, McCreck, McArthur, Knowles, and Wilson.
With the Scots came their faith, Presbyterianism. They were the descendants of the Covenanters. By the 1860s there were enough to form their own church that was erected on Appleton Street on the corner of Davis, known as the First Presbyterian. An early account says that those who were “old school Presbyterians” were forming a society. It continues to say there were enough like-minded people to have already had a Sunday school. A Rev. Dr. Robertson was the preacher and succeeded by Revs. Calhoun and Rankin. That is not to say that there were no Catholic Scots as well. In St. Patrick Cemetery there are a number of 19th century graves with Scotland listed as place of birth. And don’t forget St. Margaret’s Church was actually names after St. Margret of Scotland.
They also brought their customs and traditions. One that continues in Scotland today and was first celebrated in Lowell in 1833 was Robert Burns Night. Celebrating Scotland’s most famous poet, they gathered, many of Lowell’s Yankee elite, to toast the bard and to share the haggis. A Mr. Waugh made the haggis, a sort of pudding made of entrails and boiled in a sheep’s stomach. The Ode to the haggis was recited and singing songs like, “O Willie brew’d a pack o’maut.” The evening ended with the traditional “Auld Lang Syne.” It must have been a rowdy evening since the writer commented that the other guest in the hotel must have appreciated the night coming to a close.
For many years Scottish athletic games were held here in the city. Mention is made of Scots in their “native costumes” (kilts) parading through the city with pipe bands and athletes marching to the athletic fields in Centraville. The local Caledonian Club sponsored the “annual games of the Bonnie Scots,” which drew athletes from U.S. and Canada participating in the caber toss and throwing the hammer. A world record for such was made in Lowell.
One of the last vestiges of Scottish culture in Lowell was Clan Grant 141 OSC (Order of Scottish Clans). There may have been other such organizations, but Clan Grant appears to have been the most active and most recent. Clan Grant held annual Burns Night dinners, dances, lectures, and gatherings which kept the Scottish tradition alive in Lowell. The last major function seems to have been in the 1970s with the Kiltie Pipe Band of Worcester and a number of singers entertaining a huge crowd. The officers of the ladies auxiliary appeared in their white dresses and tartan sashes. (Members of my own family once held posts in the organization.)
Many Scots who came to Lowell brought their skills to open shops and become entrepreneurs in the city. The Nesmith brothers, Thomas and John, who were Ulster Scots, became very wealthy in business ventures so much so they had a street names after them in Belvidere. The Bowers family originally came from Scotland and became owners of farm and dairy land in Lowell. Nineteenth century physician, Dr Shaw was born in Glasgow. The first ice cream manufacturer in Lowell, Alexander Cruichshank was born in the Scottish Highlands. Another Glasgow native, Alexander Cumnock, became nationally famous for his work in cotton manufacturing. A friend of Kirk Boott, John Waugh, along with fellow Scotsman, James Wilson, became the leading suppliers of slate roofing in Lowell’s earliest days. Many of these men remain in our history having had streets and buildings named after them.
One of the last Scots native to be recalled was James Johnston Mr. Johnston, a native Scot’s speaker opened a bakery on Westford Street. The family occupied the 2nd floor on top of the business. The family kept the business until the 1980s. In my family it was traditional at Christmas to go to Johnston’s to buy shortbread. On the day the bakery closed I went pleading to buy the shortbread molds, but the family rightfully held onto them.
Not all Scots would make it into the history books. My own grandfather was born in Milngavie, Scotland. His family had been working as calico printers for 3 generations. No wonder he made it to Lowell. His Scottish burr (accent) remained with him until the end. He was baptized in the Church of Scotland and converted to Catholicism to marry my grandmother at St. Patrick’s. He was known to break into, “Roamin in the Gloamin.” He never told why he left Scotland and had little contact with his family back in Glasgow except for a box at Christmas that contained dulse (seaweed), shortbread, and oatcakes.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
|Image from Pintrest|
My grandparents all passed before I became interested in genealogy. Since I never got to speak to them about our past, maybe that’s why I’ve searching all these years. Now my French-Canadian side was a no-brainer. Within a few hours I was able to trace my line back to the 17th century. Those French knew how to keep records. That’s how I found our 7th great-grandparents murdered their son-in-law. (But that’s another blog entry.) My Celtic side is a whole other story.
My father’s parents were both born in Glasgow, Scotland. His father, Duncan Rankin McKean, was a proud Scotsman. I recall him telling me, “Never let anyone know you’re part Irish.” My dad’s mother was Jenny Sweeney. Though born in Glasgow, her parents were born in Ireland, but emigrated to Scotland during the Great Famine. A number of years ago I paid a research group in Scotland to research the two lines. What I found was that Scotland did not require birth certificates or a census until the mid-nineteenth century. That left little to find out about the McKean line. The Sweeney line did not do much better. There was such a massive migration of Irish into Scotland during this period churches and the government could not keep up with the numbers. So after spending a few pounds I ended up knowing little more than I had before.
Then those awesome commercials started appearing on television. You know the ones where people send a swab of their DNA and they find out everything they wanted to know about their lineage. I thought this was the Holy Grail. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Before I forked over a couple of hundred more dollars, I checked in with Walter. Walter worked for decades with the National Archives, and he and wife Karen are top of the line genealogists. When I asked Walter about DNA testing he said to hold off. The whole thing is based on how much data each company has. Though hundreds of thousands might have swabbed their cheeks, how many of those share your DNA? His advice was to hold off until hundreds of thousands more add their data. Only then will the results show what I was looking for. Needless to say I ignored his advice.
Just before Christmas I got the results by email. Because I have the Y chromosome, the advertisement said my results would be deeper. I chose the Y-37 test, not the cheapest and not the most expensive, smack in the middle. I was really excited. The first page was a map of the world. It reminded me of something I drew for Sr. Agnes Mary, my 7th grade social studies teacher. My line starts tens of thousands of years ago in Africa. Wait, I’m African? Not really. The line moves into Asia. Wait, I’m Asian? No, the line moves to Europe and then Western Europe. I’m European! Eureka! Wait, I knew that. The next page was another map. It was of Western Europe with a large circle over Great Britain and Ireland. That was it. So I’m part Scot and part Irish. Whew! The code had been cracked. Not! There was one more page. It was a list of thousands of potential relatives that shared my DNA profile. According to the document each name shared a part of my genetic code. Each one was a potential cousin, or cousin of a cousin, twice, three, or even four times removed.
Each week since then I have received an email encouraging me to continue testing to find more results. I joined every forum I could to ask advice. Each response has encouraged me to continue testing to find more results. “Try the Y-64. If that doesn’t help go to the ultimate, Y-111. It’ll bring you right back to Cro-Magnon man.” Okay, that’s another exaggeration, but not too far from the truth.
So my search continues. Maybe one of my potential 10,000 cousins will hold the key. Or maybe I’ll take Walter’s advice and wait a few decades and try again.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
In the mid-nineteenth century, Alexander Carmichael went about the far regions of Scotland collecting ancient blessings, prayers, and poems of some of the last Celtic speakers in the area. He published Carmina Gadelica in 1900. Some are so old their source is unknown and may go back to pagan times. To read more from the collection visit: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/celt/cg1/
RUGADH BUACHAILLE NAN TREUD
THE SHEPHERD OF THE FLOCK WAS BORN
That night the star shone
Was born the Shepherd of the Flock,
Of the Virgin of the hundred charms;
The Mary Mother.
The Trinity eternal by her side,
In the manger cold and lowly.
Come and give tithes of thy means
To the Healing Man.
The foam-white breastling beloved,
Without one home in the world,
The tender holy Babe forth driven,
Ye three angels of power,
Come ye, come ye down;
To the Christ of the people
Give ye salutation.
Kiss ye His hands,
Dry ye His feet
With the hair of your heads;
And O! Thou world-pervading God,
And Ye, Jesu, Michael, Mary,
Do not Ye forsake us.
Friday, December 16, 2016
|My sister, Donna, and me. 1950 something|
My parents explained that Christmas was much different when they were young growing up in the Lowell of the 1920s. My father said he remembered very little except the deep snows of the seasons and actually seeing horse drawn sleighs still in use on Broadway Street. Ice skating on the Merrimack River was something every Acre kid looked forward to. When he was young there was an annual package delivered from Scotland. It was something his parents always looked forward to. Inside were tins of shortbread and oatcakes. He also remembered letters from cousins in Glasgow who asked for money to be sent home and requests for sponsorship so they could come to America. He also recalled the throngs at Midnight Mass and how people would keep warm for the long walk to church by having a few drinks on their way. My mother’s memories were more clear. Gifts were usually very limited. A scarf or hat. A small bisque doll. They used their own stocking to hang for Santa to fill. In it were wrapped candies, nuts, along with oranges and coins. A thing like an orange was very precious in this time. She kept that tradition up with my sister and me. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out reading in a history book that since the earliest days Canadian children were given fruits and coins to wish them health and wealth in the New Year. Their tree was never decorated until Christmas Eve and often was set up by her parents after all 13 children had gone to bed. Midnight Mass for my mother was at St. Jean Baptiste Church on Merrimack Street. A behemoth of an edifice it had a triple choir loft that reached to the very rafters of the church. She recalled the thrill of being so high up in the church and singing the hymn Minuit Chretiens (O Holy Night). Minuit Chrétiens c'est l'heure solennelle; Où l'homme Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous. Pour effacer la tache originelle; Et de son père arrêter le courroux. Right into her final years at some point in the season she would break into song, you could see her eyes fill as she returned to the joys of her youth.
One year we awoke to a scene directly out of a Hallmark card. Overnight we were blanketed in more than a foot of snow. Nothing was moving on the streets. At dinner time I had to make my way down Walker Street to my grandparent’s house to deliver their meal. In the freezing cold my mother warned me to hurry not so I wouldn’t get frostbite, but so that the meal could remain hot by the time I got there. The mince pie! Don’t drop the pie. My grandmother met me at the door and sure enough the pie was the first thing she checked on. Memere always had a sweet tooth. My mother would often catch her sneaking a brown paper bag home from the store which must have contained black and whites or maybe even a napoleon or a bismark. My mother would get on the phone and let my grandmother know she was caught red handed.
What was a perfect day was ruined when my mother announced that in the subfreezing Arctic cold snow laden blizzard we had to go to Mass. She knew there was a 5:30 Mass and it was a holyday of obligation which meant the fires of hell were promised to us who committed a mortal sin. The church was over a mile away. We bundled up for the long track. The four of us hit the streets. They were still covered in white. The lights of the candles in people’s windows reflected in the snow piles in front of people’s houses. I swear that not even one car passed us on the road during our journey. Looking in windows you could see families celebrating and sharing the joy of the day. We walked down the middle of the street in the dark since most people hadn’t gotten a chance to shovel yet. Even Cukoo O’Connell’s bar on the corner of School and Broadway was closed up. Probably the only day of the year it was. I imagined the street light turning from green to red were that way to celebrate the season. Don’t stop. Keep going. It’s Christmas. Just as the last of my energy and heat escaped my body we reached the church. My Dad grabbed the metal handle of the massive green wooden door. Locked! Locked? Locked!!! The four figures turned around. No one said a word. Maybe it was the sacredness of the moment or the fear of catching my mother’s wrath. We walked home. I felt the cold night through my black rubber boots with the dozen impossible buckles. My thoughts now are of the drum set waiting for me in the good room and the candy cane that hangs on the tree that’s ready to be eaten. I look up. There is my father looking up Broadway Street. He’s on my left. Next to me is my sister with her white rabbit fur muff to keep her hands warmed, probably thinking of attacking those same candy canes. On the far right was my mother with her fur lined black boots. Hat on her head as every good church going lady had at that time. She was probably saying her prayers for missing Mass knowing that dragging her family out on this special night was the right thing to do. The crunch of the new fallen snow the only sound to be heard.
It is like a photo in my mind. The four of us making our way home. We’re on Broadway Street right at the gate house over the canal. In the distance I see the candles in the windows of our apartment. Frost is making its mark on the glass panes, and if I squint the orange glow almost makes the electric candles look like stars. The street lights cast our shadows before us. I can see it now. I am right there. Our little family was together and we were going home. In my head I hear,
Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, All is bright.
A little Christmas challenge- where is your Christmas photo from your childhood?
Sunday, November 27, 2016
|1906 Woodbury organ at St. Pat's|
Music has always been at the core of Catholic worship. Hey, even the Bible tells us “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” That joyful noise is often associated with the organ. In the 1830s Bishop Fenwick of Boston wrote in his diary that 2/3 of Catholic churches had little or no singing, just the sound of the organ. He even complained that one immigrant church in Lowell (guess who) had what he considered “bad” singing. (One historian actually says it was not the Irish immigrants’ fault since they had been forbidden to openly worship in their homeland, and thus never had much practice in communal singing.) To help the situation, the Bishop, an amateur singer and musician himself, wrote a book of songs with lyrics to be used in the Diocese of Boston. (We weren’t big enough to be an Archdiocese yet.) Our parish archives actually hold an original 1830s copy of Fenwick’s work.
At St. Patrick’s we know that the original wooden church of 1831 had an organ. It was a second hand organ purchased from a Protestant church and was made by local musician Ebenezer Goodrich. In his year’s accounting of church expenses in 1840, Father James McDermott paid the church organist $40 for his services. Fr. McDermott bought another organ in 1847 for the cost of $1400. That one was made by George Stevens. It had 22 registers (or stops) which refers to the pipes that produce the notes. Ever hear of “pulling out all the stops?” There you go. It means to give it all you’ve got.
When the present church was opened, a grand building such as it is, it needed a grander organ. The E. & G. G. Hook organ installed in 1859 cost $3000, quite a sum for the time, and had 33 stops. There is a possibility this organ was powered by water to pump the bellows. The organ was in place right up to the fire in 1904 when it was destroyed. Some pipes were salvaged and put into a Chelmsford church. The organist at the time, Professor Johnson, actually entered the church during the fire to save some church music.
When the church was rededicated in 1906, the organ that was installed was considered one of the finest in New England, with no exaggeration. It is called a divided organ with the pipes being separated on each side to make a clear view of the grand stained glass window of St. Patrick preaching to the Chieftains at Tara. A February 1904 entry in the Lowell Sun described its installation. The Jesse Woodbury Company of Boston designed the organ to fit exactly in this space. The organ is of 4 parts; the choir organ with 11 stops, the pedal with 10 stops, the great with 11, and the swell with 15. A special addition was a sanctuary organ that was installed that was connected to the grand organ in the choir loft. Viewing from the floor, the organ’s pipes reach almost to the ceiling. What most people don’t recognize is that the grand round, gold-painted pipes they see are fake. The sound actually comes from the pipes behind those.
Taste in music has changed greatly over the decades. Many of my generation recall organist Charlie McGrail blasting out Holy God We Praise Thy Name. As soon as the priest intoned “Ite missa est.” (Go the Mass is ended) and the congregation responded, “Deo gratias.” (Thanks be to God.), Mr. McGrail would blast the life out of the organ with a grand recessional. You could feel the vibrations of deep tones hitting you as you left church. Today, the organ is not in condition to be played, but not for long. Father Crahen continues with his undaunting efforts to restore the church to its original beauty. Now that the interior painting, mural restoration, window re-leading, and other repairs have been completed or in stages thereof, the organ is the next task. The pipes are filled with dust and debris. Each of the dozens of pipes is labeled with its particular note and needs to be removed and cleaned and then artfully replaced. The massive bellows, which pump air into the pipes, have dried out and need to be replaced.
Many were filled with emotion at the school’s recent reunion when they saw Fr. Charles McGrail, former organist, now priest, celebrating Mass. Fr. McGrail spent many years at the keyboard leading the different choirs through the annual cycle of music of the church. Many wished they could hear the grand organ once again. Father Crahen has contacted many professional restorers who have given their assessments of what has to be done. They all tell the same story. It desperately needs work. But they also all tell another story. The Woodberry organ at St. Pat’s is a true treasure. There are few left of this quality left and needs to be revived and played once again to the glory of God.
Please contact Father Crahen at St. Patrick rectory if you are interested in the project. To the right of our blogspot you will see a list of YouTube videos. There are a couple of the organ being played in former daays.
Saturday, October 29, 2016
What I remember most is getting my paper, orange, trick or treat bag from Greens in downtown Lowell. I think it cost a nickel. It was nothing more than an orange paper shopping bag, but by night's end it would hold a bounty of cavity producing treats. My Dad was often given the chore of walking with us. It often became a history of the Acre lesson. Being an Acre Boy himself, he'd tell me this is where he helped light the gas lanterns when he was a kid. Or this is where the Keyes sisters lived and he'd run errands for them. We'd walk by Lovejoy's mansion where UMass is now. Everyone knew it was haunted, and I'd walk a little closer to him. He'd pretend to see ghosts in the broken windows. One year right in front of Lovejoy's it started raining, hard, and my little trick or treat bag got soaking wet and broke. I was in a panic. Do I stop and pick up my candy, or do I let the ghosts drag us in to Lovejoy's basement and my mother would never see us again? I did what any 6 year old would do. I cried. My father said another prayer to Jesus Christ Almighty, put as much candy into my little hobo hands as could fit, picked me up, and walked me home.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
|Ad in Lowell Citizen, 1860|
Sunday, the day of rest. How we observe the Sabbath today is quite different than our 19th century ancestors did. Or is it? Today a Sunday afternoon might be watching the Pats with a Bud Lite (okay, personal preference here). In the 19th century liquor laws were quite severe. Having a libation might put you before the magistrate if you were caught. In 1876 , a young Irish “lad” by the name of Caroline was found drunk by the seizure police (sort of a Sabbath police who checked on liquor imbibing on Sundays). He told the officers where he was served in his alcoholic delirium. Once he sobered up he swore he was only given birch beer. Even though he was only 16 he was kept in jail until his court date later in the week.
Over at P & J O’Rourke’s on Gorham St. they “found five buffers who looked as though they were having a good time and improving the Sabbath.” They also found a young man concealing a deck of cards (another breech of the law). At Tom Murray’s establishment he refused the officers entrance. They were about to leave when someone inside tripped over a dog causing the officers to force their way in. They took away quantities of gin and whisky. On a good note at Peter McSorley’s, when the officers checked on him they found him “pleasant and polite as usual” and no violations.
Meanwhile in the Acre: “The seizure officers accompanied by two from the regular force, made a descent Sunday forenoon on a vacant tenement in Mack's yard, off Market street. There were more than 50 men in one small room, the officers say, drinking from a washtub of ale, which was being served in schooners as fast as it could be ladled out. Such a panic as seized the crowd the officers have rarely witnessed. They blocked the doorway, jumped through five windows and a trap door in their eagerness to escape, and in doing so prevented the officers gaining an entrance until the proprietor of the liquor also had escaped. The officer found a barrel of ale, fixtures, the washtub full and four schooners full which had been left untasted in the crowd's panic to get away. The place was being run by a man who did not get a license for his saloon, nearby, and he had chosen the unoccupied tenement to ward off suspicion.” (Lowell Citizen)
Sunday, September 25, 2016
When I was a kid attending school at St. Pat’s, each March we’d learn Irish songs we’d sing at the annual reunion show. One was Oh the Days of the Kerry Dancing. Part of the lyrics goes like this:
Oh, the days of the Kerry dancing
Oh, the ring of the piper's tune
Oh, for one of those hours of gladness
Gone, alas, like our youth, too soon!
When the boys began to gather
In the glen of a summer's night
And the Kerry piper's tuning
Made us long with wild delight!
Oh, to think of it
Oh, to dream of it
Fills my heart with tears!
As alumni left Mass concelebrated by Fr. Frank Silva (alum) and Fr. Charles McGrail (former church choir director) they were greeted outside the school by step dancers. Later the young girls were joined by some slightly older dancers from the 1960s reliving their Kerry dancing days. As I looked on the crowd of over 150 alumni and friends, the words of the song hit home. Here we were, some of us decades later, returning to the place we called home for 8 years. The sun was lowering across the North Common as alumni from the 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90, and even the millennials made their way up the front steps of the school. Just as the song says, for some of us our youth has gone too soon. I stood there watching as graduates from each decade were called into the school. The most senior of us walked up slowly using the handrail, while the last group, representing the future, walked in taking 2 steps at a time.
There is something unique about St. Patrick’s. A fact that you may not know, St. Pat’s is one of the oldest continuously operating parochial schools in the country, starting in 1852. As Sr. Joanne stated, many colleges and high schools have alumni groups, but not elementary schools. Then why does St. Pat’s? I’m not sure, but I have a thought. As each group entered the school I thought of the paper chains we made when we were kids. We’d cut paper and glue them together making these long continuous lines. Seeing those in their eighties, sixties, forties, and twenties all mingling and sharing stories united us into a special union, that long line into the past.
When I attended St. Pat’s, tuition was $1 a week. That was a lot for many families in the Acre. Many of us lived in the housing or tenements along Broadway. Even then the Acre had a reputation, but maybe that is where we found our strength. The Sisters and lay faculty who taught us held us to a high standard and wouldn’t accept anything less. Maybe that’s why so many who were there last night can today count themselves among Lowell’s politicians, lawyers, government service workers, caregivers, educators, financial officers, skilled professionals, and on and on. (On a side note, I did notice a very high number of teachers in the group. Coincidence? And a high number of police and correction personnel. Another coincidence?) Folks who had not seen each other since graduation day greeted each other as if time had not passed.
That link, that chain, had not broken. Our time at St. Pat’s was built upon what the previous generation had left us. A major reason for the school being there today is because of the chain built by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and those alumni and friends who give of themselves today. The chain continues.
One of the lines in Kerry Dancing talks about the tears of recalling days gone by. More than once that evening I saw women and men wiping their eyes as they saw their old friends, either in person or old black and white photos.
A last thought. As I was helping to set up a few hours before the start, a young man, maybe 20 wearing a white t-shirt and arms covered in tats came to the door. I told him we weren’t open yet. He simply said, please. About 15 minutes later I encountered him again as he was leaving the building. I asked how his visit went. He was wiping tears from his eyes. His said, memories. I asked, Good ones? He replied, All good, all good. I’ll be back someday. Who said, You can’t go home again.
Thursday, September 1, 2016
Our Youth Build program, together with local artist Don Maker, is currently undergoing the restoration of the Dutton Street Mural across from the Worthen Restaurant in Lowell. In this mural you can see the Irish brick layer and the Nuns leading the children at St. Patrick’s. Work is currently underway. We have repointed all the bricks and created a blank slate to work from. Everyone has been hard at work. Once it is completed, a light installation will be included which will highlight the mural and light up the Worthen Restaurant Parking lot. Like all such projects, the restoration is costing Community Teamwork a large sum of money (over $35k). We are reaching out to people for help. Anything you could do to spread the word about this restoration would be much appreciated. There will be an unveiling of the completed project on September 28th – complete with food from the Worthen! You and your associates are cordially invited – time is 5-6:30ish. Below there is a link to a great article the Sun recently wrote and some information about how people can donate.
Dutton Street once housed Community Teamwork’s Headquarters with the mural above gracing the Worthen Street side of the building. In 2011, when the agency relocated its headquarters to the Bon Marche Building on Merrimack Street, the agency’s Youth Build of Greater Lowell program moved into the Dutton Street location.
The Dutton Street Mural was designed by Leo Panos of the University of Lowell (as it was called at the time) and created in the late 1970’s as part of a larger project to install ethnic-themed murals around the city. In celebration of the immigrant heritage of the city, other murals including Franco-American, Portuguese-American, and Polish-American were painted in different locations.
The original painting of the mural was done by summer workers in the Neighborhood Youth Corps. Later, in the 1980’s the mural was repaired and repainted with the design changing somewhat. Now more than 30 years later, under the artistic direction of Lowell artist Donald Maker, the students of our Youth Build Program will assist in the restoration of this visual record of Lowell’s rich cultural history.
The Irish-Acre mural facing Worthen Street is one of the last, if not the last, remaining mural from this era. The project is underway and will be completed by mid-fall. You can be a part of revitalizing this piece of our community’s history! Your gift of any amount will help support the cost of this project.
Follow the restoration on Twitter and Instagram. #DuttonStMural
Have a memory or picture of the mural? Share it with us!
Check out this great article and video : http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_30251971/students-join-local-artist-repaint-iconic-mural-lowell that recently appeared in The Sun!
Folks can donate online: http://www.commteam.org/you-can-help/donate/
By texting: COMMTEAM to 41444
By mail: Please send your check (payable to Community Teamwork) to 155 Merrimack Street, Lowell MA 01852, ATTN: Development Dept.
Thank you for reading all of this and considering our effort and passion about restoring this mural. Your help is so appreciated!