Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Problems of Digging Up the Family Tree



Duncan Rankin McKean
I only remember him as an old man with a shock of snow white hair.  His face showed little sign of his 86 years.  His sky blue eyes gave the notion he had stories to tell.  He spoke with that distinctive burr that some born in Scotland would have, though I rarely recall him speaking of his youth in Glasgow.   He spoke so softly you had to listen to hear what he was trying to say.  The smile (some say a grin) was a permanent fixture on his face.  He was immensely proud of his Scottish heritage often telling his grandchildren not to admit to their Irish side from their grandmother.  (Research would show Clan McKean made many trips originating in Donegal and moving to Scotland over the centuries.)  He would sit in the chair in the corner of his apartment in the housing at 323 Adams Street, rarely having much to say.  It was only after he was gone we learned the truth of my grandfather’s story. 
Duncan Rankin McKean was born in the bleaching fields of the township of Milngivie, Scotland in 1875.  The family story was that he left at 16 to work on a cattle boat to make his way to Lowell.  That was all he would admit to.  But technology changed that as I went in search of my grandfather’s roots.  Both his parents worked jobs in the woolen mills.  He was one of 6 children before his father died when Duncan was still a boy.  The young mother was left with the children and her father in law to take care of.  The family situation declined quickly with the death of the grandfather leaving the mother alone.  Soon she is pregnant and gives birth to another child with a different surname. That surname reappeared soon after when she married a much younger man whose father owned the factory where she was employed.  It is at this point that Duncan leaves Scotland.  Under what conditions no one knows, but one can only surmise.  He was working in Glasgow as a shoemaker.  He traveled alone to Rhode Island where he continues the same occupation living with a family member, maybe an uncle or cousin.  The only possession he carried with him was a photo of himself taken just before he left.
He stayed briefly with family before making his way to Lowell where he worked at the Lowell Machine Shop.  He met Jennie Sweeney and they married at the Rectory of St. Patrick Church.  The day before the nuptials, he was baptized a Catholic forsaking the Church of Scotland.  He rarely entered another Catholic church again until his own funeral, but kept his promise and saw that all his children were raised Catholic.  He kept his King James Bible and told people, “You read yours, and I’ll read mine.”
Research can sometimes have its downfalls.  My grandfather, like so many others of this period, did not have an easy life.  The more I dug the more I found he was haunted by his demons.  He never saw his mother again.  In the 1900s there were pleas for money.  Then there were pleas for tickets for passage over, then the announcement that she was dead.  That’s when his name appears in police blogs time and time again.  His life took on a series of misfortunes.  Years later his wife died too soon, and that’s when he transforms to the kindly old man I remember.
Fifty years ago I was in the 4th grade at St. Patrick’s.  It was recess time.  We were out in the freezing cold.  The bell in the church tower began the funeral toll.  I stopped and turned to see them carry my grandfather down the steps of the church to the waiting hearse.  The school bell rang for us to line up.  I stayed in the yard.  Sr. Margaret Paul came over and asked why I was crying.  I told her that was my grandfather.  She walked me back to the line.  It is the last memory I have of him.
Should I have researched his story?  Should I have stopped when I saw what happened in Glasgow?  Should I have hid his life from my own genealogical accounts?  Maybe so.  When my aunts were still living I thought it wise to share his story and his encounters with them.  I was sorely mistaken.  They did not want to hear about his previous life, or merely wished to deny it.  They smiled and told happier stories of times past.  But his story is probably not that much different from others.  I cannot imagine going through what he did or how I would react.  So I share this with you and let you judge. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Poem- A Winter in Ireland

Portadown, geography.ie
In keeping with the season an entry from Daniel Patrick Murphy who writes: Mary Sweeney was a gentle poet with many children. She was born in County Cork, Ireland and immigrated to this country as a young woman and always wanted to visit her homeland but never had the resources to do so. I read some of her poems and the words in italics in my poem are her words. Mary Sweeney was the mother-in-law of a close friend of mine who is also a poet.


The characters of Deidre, Cuchulainn, and Oisin are well known figures in ancient Irish folklore.


Christmas In Ireland
(For Mary Sweeney, age 88)
I don’t know who came first, poets or friends.
Nevertheless, it was the funeral parlor
That caused me to meet Mary Sweeney.
She lay in a casket surrounded by
Flowers, family, and neighbors;
The scent of green distant mountains,
 Weathered valleys and waterfalls.
A seal was heard sounding,
A voice, yielding and mournful.
Coastal waters rumbled rhythmically.

 Blind villagers danced a reel,
Old Timmy lilted along.
Deirdre danced on the tip of a wave.
Cúchulainn and Oisín argued over
Who would be pallbearers.
Isn’t interesting how the sound
Of a poem begins like railroad tracks
And the train isn’t seen till the end.
Sure, God be thanked, we’re all together
Beneath one roof.

And the train arrived on schedule.
Flowers, family, and neighbors got aboard.
A seal sat up front, singing;
O, the cares of tomorrow must wait ‘til this day is done.
Several fine villagers sat down in relief,
Timmy had finally taken a nap
Deirdre sat next to Cúchulainn,
And Oisín kept notes. You and I smiled,
For didn’t we know,
There’s hope from the ocean,
But there’s none from the grave.

 As the train tugged uphill, we glanced backward.
Mary Sweeney stood there waving goodbye.
There was a shout for music, festivity and fiddles.
And her father placed a Yule log on the fire;
The countryside awakened with white.
Christmas bells rebounded over the valley below.
Mary was at peace, arrangements had been made
For her to stay a little while in Ireland.
--Daniel Patrick Murphy
blackthorncottage.co.uk

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Days That Went Before Us - films from the 1920s


Almost 30 years ago an older gentleman rang the bell at St. Patrick rectory and asked to see me.  He handed m a cardboard box.  Inside were 6 reels of 16mm film.  He told me they belonged to Fr. James Supple who served as a curate at St. Pat’s in the 1920s.  He was a friend of the family and left the films with them when the priest was transferred, possibly in the 1930s.  He had no idea what was on the films, and so they sat in the box for a decade or so.  An interested volunteer showed the fragile films in 1996, and they have sat in that same box ever since, until now.
Technology is not my forte.  Luckily it is for Bob Rafferty.  Bob heard of the films and is preparing a mini documentary for 2014’s Irish Cultural Week.  The films, which could disintegrate any day, have been digitalized along with a number of VHS tapes that have been gathering dust in the parish archives.  The films are going to be permanently archives by the Irish Film Board.  A gentle reminder that any of you out there with old pictures, booklets, uniforms, etc are invited to pass them to us to give them a home.  Most of our archives is made up of donations.  It amazes everyone that a parish that is approaching its 200th anniversary never bothered recording its own past.
The films the good Father left us are a window to life in the 1920s.  He took a trip to Ireland and recorded what he saw in places like Dublin and Glendalogh.  He has footage of soldiers marching down O’Connell Street, a fiddler outside a cottage, and a woman weaving on a spinning wheel.  He also has local scenes of kids coming out of the St Patrick Boys’ School, a girl’s group at Canobie Lake, and a Corpus Christi procession in front of the church. 
Here are some teasers to whet your appetite.


A few weeks ago Ed Furey gave a great lecture on architect, Patrick Keely.  Phil Lupsiewicz videotaped the event for us and uploaded it to YouTube.  Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B-1-WUS-vo   Thank you, Phil. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In the Deep of December


19th cent print, Google image
The weather was bitter the winter of 1831-32.  Northern temperatures had measured 16 degrees below zero for several days in a row.  Areas were reporting shortages of word and coal.  Boston reporters wrote of their concern of finding the poor and indigent frozen to death in their homes.
In Lowell conditions must have been much the same.  The poor of Chapel Hill and the Paddy Camps must have been suffering the same fate.  The earliest account of life for the Irish living in Lowell dates to 1829 where the “wretchedness and poverty {of} every description” was apparent.  The “village” was made up of “huts of boards elevated on banks of mud, chimneys made of barrels with mere apertures for windows- and then the filth within.”  The description in the Portsmouth Journal of 1831 backs this up adding that 500 Irish are living within an acre of land. 
But how did they survive living in wooden shanties where the wind would blow in between the boards?   Children and women often made their way through town gathering scraps of wood from the workshops of the mills and tradesmen.  Children also scurried along the railroad tracks hoping to find bits of coal that had fallen off the coal bins.  The archaeological dig that took place in the front yard of the church uncovered large amounts of slag that was produced by the burning of cheap coal.  It also produced shank bones from cows, the cheapest cut, and large amounts of oyster shells, another inexpensive food that would be bought by the barrel and kept for the winter for protein.
The plight of the poor, including the Irish poor, was not forgotten by the rest of the Yankee population.  The Irish were regular recipients of donations of wood from the Lowell Fuel Society.  An 1835 account praised Fr. Peter Connolly for his efforts in encouraging the Irish population to contribute to the fund as other churches had done.  It also commended him for encouraging the Irish in ways of “industry, temperance, and economy.”
Trying to keep warm led to dangerous conditions as noted by the number of fires and deaths by fire during such cold snaps.  The great fire of 1841 leveled 5 blocks of wooden buildings and shops right around St. Patrick Church.  The few remaining cemetery records from this early period show the number of deaths rise exponentially during the cold months.
So in this season, as you pass by the red buckets with the bell ringer, remember our forebears who huddled in their shanties, and drop a coin in memory of them.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Relics of Baltimore

Photo taken by Walter's Dad
Where’s Walter?  Since his becoming a man of leisure, one might assume Walter has been sitting on some recliner watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes.  Not so.  Walter has collected a lifetime of stories and leads.  Instead of resting on his laurels, he has been out and about following up on tips that only someone of his caliber could follow.  After years working in Special Collection at the Pollard Library and even more years at the National Archives, Walter is one of the most well versed Lowell historians around today.

His most recent finds have to do with the Baltimore Riot of 1861.  We all know of Ladd & Whitney, but what of the others in the 6th Mass.?  Earlier blog entries have mentioned Timothy Crowley, the Lowell native who carried the colors that day in April.  It was noted because he led troops through the city never dropping the flag, that many were saved.  (Hey, this is LowellIrish, I had to include an Irishman somewhere!). 

Here’s the latest from Walter-

The Drum
On a recent visit to the Massachusetts State Archives, while researching the Baltimore riot of 19 April 1861, an archivist mentioned that the Archives had the drum of the 6th Regiment.  When I expressed interest, she kindly provided me a photocopy of the artifact Description.

The drum was presented to Governor Andrew on 17 November 1882 by Henry J. White who was the drummer of Co. “I”, Lawrence Light Artillery, 6th Regiment. The Boston Journal of 17 November reported that the drum White carried was the only State drum in the regiment, all other drums being the personal property of the individual drummers.  When it came into his possession the heads were broken in, but General Schouler supplied new ones.  On arrival at Baltimore the members of the regiment were assaulted by the mob and White was knocked down with blows from two brickbats.  He was picked up and sent back with other members of the band to Boston, the drum being subsequently restored to him.  The Governor stated that the drum would be placed on the wall of the Executive Chamber over the flag of the Old Sixth.

The Musket
Moments later the archivist informed me that the musket of Charles Taylor was also held by the Archives and asked if I would like to see the donation record sheet.  Of course I said yes!

Four members of the 6th were killed at Baltimore, and a fifth died several months later from wounds received that day.  The four were Luther Ladd, Addison O. Whitney, and Charles A. Taylor, all of Lowell companies, and Sumner H. Needham of Lawrence.  Sergeant John E. Ames would also succumb to his wounds in 1862.  It was the death of Sgt. Ames which sparked my interest in this event.  Being a Lowellian I was of course familiar with the story of Ladd, Whitney and Taylor, but was not familiar with Corporal Needham.  Also unknown to me was the story of Sgt. Ames and the other forty-four men wounded at Baltimore and the actions of both the Massachusetts and Maryland legislatures.

Charles Taylor was and remains a mystery.  He joined the regiment in Boston as it was about to entrain for Washington.  His residence and birthplace are unknown, as is his place of burial in Baltimore.

The musket, manufactured by Eli Whitney,  was picked up after the riot in a house adjacent to the riot (presumably the house wherein Taylor died) and later held by  Wilson Post No. 1 GAR in Baltimore.  On 19 April 1881, the Post presented the musket to the Sixth Regiment Association, which in turn presented it to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be hung in the State House. In 1994  the musket was examined by a Military Appraiser and doubts were raised as to whether it was actually Taylor's.  The Sixth Regiment was equipped with muskets manufactured at the Springfield and Harper's ferry armories – not those manufactured by Whitney.

 The Mystery......
The Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Edson Cemetery was dedicated September 1905 in memory of the veterans of the Civil and Spanish Wars.  Today, only the base stands.  What happened to the Soldier?  He has been 'missing' for at least the past thirty years.  WHERE IS HE??


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Acre Memory - the Day JFK Was Shot


If my memory is correct it was one of those grey days of November.  Our teacher was Mrs. Dalton, the sole lay teacher for many years at St. Patrick’s School.  Mrs. Dalton’s daughter came driving up through the school yard honking the car horn.  She drove passed the steps of the school right under our classroom window.  Mrs. Dalton bolted to the window and opened it.  “He’s been shot.  The President’s been shot!”  The date was Friday, November 22nd 1963.  The classroom had just had a large black and white TV installed in the class.  Mrs. Dalton turned it on to see the grainy pictures coming in from Dallas.  The TV anchormen were getting mixed reports from their sources.  Mrs. Dalton left the class, probably to tell the nuns in the other classrooms.  Finally, the moment we all remember, Walter Cronkite made the announcement that JFK was dead.  Within minutes the bell of the church began to toll and kept up until it was time to go home.
I ran into the house expecting to break the news to my mother.  She was standing at the ironing board in the kitchen positioned so she could see the TV in the living room.  She was openly weeping.  I don’t think the television was off over the next 4 days.  Our usual Friday night trip to one of my aunt’s for the weekly card game was cancelled and replaced with my mother announcing we should all say the rosary for the repose of President Kennedy’s soul.  With the TV still on, we knelt by the couch and said our Hail Marys.   Instead of ending each decade with the Glory be, it was replaced with, “Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord.”
This all was happening while my dad was wallpapering the TV room.  We watched while Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested.  We watched while the crowds lined up for the viewing in Washington.  We watched while Jackie made her visit to the coffin.  On Sunday the wallpapering was nearing completion.  My folks had set up a card table in the living room, and we were given a rare opportunity to eat in front of the television.  The spaghetti was just served when my mother gave out a scream as we saw Jack Ruby shooting Oswald live on television.    No rosary was said for him.
One sound I and others will never forget would be the roll of the drums during the funeral cortege.  Catholic churches around the country had funeral Masses said for JFK on the Monday that he was to be buried.  St. Patrick’s was draped in black.  Six tall candles surrounded a coffin meant to represent the dead President’s.  The priest processed out clothed in their black chasubles.  We rushed home to follow what was going on in D.C..  There was Richard Cardinal Cushing with black cope incensing the remains.  Again the roll of the drums.  The salute of the young son.  The lighting of the flame.
The following day Sister Clair Cecilia announced the all the children would write letters to Mrs. Kennedy to express our sadness.  I remember telling her how proud we were to have a Catholic president and that we would pray for her and her family.  I ended by asking her to send me a pair of his rosary beads and I would keep them safe.  She didn’t answer.
Tucked away in a box in the cellar is a copy of the newspaper of the day he was shot.  There’s also a prayer card with a black border and a book called Four Days.  My mother said to hold onto them.  You will want to remember what happened.  Fifty years later I still remember.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Day the Irish President Visited Lowell - 2013

Ireland has long been known as the home of saints and scholars.  While Dr. Mary McAleese may not be canonized, she certainly embodies the qualities of both.  Dr. Bob O'Neil and Michaelene O'Neil, alumni of St Patrick School, extended the invitation to the former Irish president to visit the parish.  Her presence was genuine and warm; she put all at ease.  This woman, who was twice the president of Ireland, led the peace process, stands as a model for women leadership, and a devout Catholic made all her met her feel as if she had known them for many years.  Fr. Dan and Fr. Paul along with a group of other OMI priests welcomed her to the rectory where she took time for home made cookies and chat with the staff.  She then was taken on a tour of the Acre where she made connections with her own birthplace in Belfast and the mills of that city. 
After being introduced by Mayor Murphy, Dr. McAleese then addressed those who came to hear her.  She spoke of Patrick, peace, reconciliation, and Pope Francis.  The children of St. Patrick School joined her to light a peace candle in the church where it will be kept burning.  A small plaque next to it says, "So that justice and mercy may prevail in our world."  This is a quote that Dr. McAleese shared after the attack on September 11th.  It was a moving sight to see a former President with children lighting a candle in a church that has been home to so many immigrants. 

This entire evening was made possible by cooperation between so many groups; the Irish Cultural Committee, UMass Lowell, AOH, and the Ladies Sodality of St Patrick Parish.  The culmination was conferring of an honorary doctorate degree by Chancellor Marty Meehan at the UMass Lowell's Inn and Conference Center.  We cannot close without saying our most sincere thanks to all involved.  This is a fine example of how Irish culture lives on in Lowell.



As we walked the grounds of the church it occurred to me that a former President of Ireland was standing on the same ground that her fellow countrymen and women built their shanties nearly two hundred years ago.  We were honored to have her as our guest, and pray that her words will remain with us. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Day the Irish President Visited Lowell - 1920


Eamon de Velara
With the upcoming visit of Dr. Mary McAleese this Friday, it occurred to me that this is not the first time that a President of Ireland has come to St. Patrick Church.  The planning for her visit has been going on for weeks with agendas being confirmed, and protocols being checked.  This week’s visit is being co-sponsored by the Irish Cultural Committee of St Patrick Parish and UMass Lowell.  It has been a whirlwind of meetings and emails.  Things haven’t changed much from a similar event in 1920.
As the provisional president of Ireland, Eamon de Valera was on vigorous 19 month-long tour of the US seeking recognition of the Irish Republic. The purpose of his visit was to acquire a loan to help secure finances for the newly formed country and to seek the help of the American public in accomplishing these goals.  At times his itinerary had him visiting several cities in one day, making speeches to groups both small and large, and moving from one train station to another.  A committee of Lowell citizens wrote a letter in September of 1919 to de Valera petitioning him to visit the city.  A response came committing that he would arrive on Sunday, February 8, 1920.  Once word got out, it seems that every Catholic church, city dignitary and politician, every social group and fraternity and marching band wanted to join in.  The Lowell Sun tracked the President’s whereabouts day by day.  As the day of the visit drew closer, the city prepared itself.  Notices were posted about different Holy Name Societies preparing their marching orders.  Receptions were planned around the city.  A parade route was formed with each organization vying for its place to greet the President.
We are told that the skies shown bright blue on the day of the visit.  But February in New England is known for its frigid temperatures and winds, and that was what nature sent that day.  A corps of uniformed soldiers made their way to the train station on Middlesex Street.  They formed an honor guard for the motorcar that would carry him through the city.  He was set to arrive at about two in the afternoon.  Though a full agenda was planned, he was set to leave for Lawrence by 6 pm.  The crowd was estimated to be over 10 thousand that lined the route.  Many businesses had donned bunting and the Irish colors over the doorways and window fronts. 
As the fates would have it, his train had a series of delays.  There was no way to let the crowds know of the length of time they would have to wait in the cold.  Many tried making their way into the train station to get warm.  Others hid in the doorway along Merrimack Street.  The reporter of the day said few would leave their post.  Finally at 5 pm a cheer went up announcing his arrival.  The excitement passed along the parade route down Middlesex, to Central, to Merrimack, to City Hall, where a private reception was planned with speeches by a long list of politicians.  He was given the seat of the Mayor while the politicians spoke on. De Velara made his apologies and everything was cut short due to time.
Msgr. William O'Brien
There was one item on the list that was not deleted.  De Valera got in a car and was driven over to St. Patrick Parish where he had a private audience with Msgr. William O’Brien.  We have no idea what was said between the two men, but we do know that he was invited into the rectory for a small reception.  From there, he went to the main reception of the visit at Associates Hall.  It was now 7 pm.  The room could not hold another person.  Many stayed out in the cold just to hear his voice.  Mayor Thompson and Fr. McDermott of Sacred Heart introduced the President.  His speech came from the heart.  He spoke of freedom, the right to choose, and the right of a people to for their own government.  The speech was as American asyou could get, but tugged at the hearts of those who knew the Irish plight.  It was 9:15 pm by the time speeches were done and he was on his way to the next city, always working for the cause.
Please join us as we welcome President Mary McAleese on her visit to St. Patrick Church and Lowell on Friday, November 8th at 4pm.  Dr. McAleese will speak on the peace process and light a peace candle to be kept burning at the church. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Keely Society's - Ted Furey

Today's talk, Glorious Gems of Lowell: Patrick Keely's Legacy, which was part of the Parker Lecture series, brought an interested crowd to St. Patrick Church.  Founder and president of the Keely Society, Ted Furey, is a bit of a gem himself.  Ted is a treasure trove of information on the life of one of America's most famous immigrant-architects, Patrick Keely.  Ted is an artist and educator and has personally visited many of the remaining Keely buildings.  Thanks to Ted, an archive of photos is being built to record the remaining churches that were designed by Keely until his death in 1896, and later taken over by his son-in-law.  Because of age and neglect, many Keely churches have fallen into disrepair and have been razed.  Ted also is the director of the museum that tells the story of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, another Keely gem.  Ted, who lives in Connecticut, is no stranger to Lowell and has photos of other local Keely churches, such as Immaculate Conception and St Jean Baptiste.  Keely also designed the chapel of the Sisters of Notre Dame at St. Patrick's, and after the 1904 fire it was his

firm that did the reconstruction.  Ted casually looked around the church and quoted who did the carpentry; what firm made the windows; and even the style number of the stations of the cross.  Looking up at the side altars, Ted shared how difficult it was for the sculptor, Sibbel, to create the angel figures with the upright wings.  His passion and respect for Keely's work is obvious.  I wish we had a few more hours with him.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Man Who Built Dreams - Patrick Keely

When Father John O’Brien was assigned the pastorate of Saint Patrick Parish he knew the assignment would not be an easy one. The previous pastor had lasted about a year and asked to be removed. Let's just say life in the Acre was not easy for him.  It was 1848 and the famine Irish were filling the tenements and hovels of Lowell’s Acre neighborhood. Just a few doors down from St. Pat’s could be found St. Mary’s church. Was there really a need for two churches within yards from each other, or were other things going on within the tight knit, but often divided, community? What he found when he arrived in Lowell was not good. Those who remained at St Pat’s were very much the poorest of the poor. The neighborhood was riddled with tenements and shanties. The odors of open garbage and sewers permeated the mishmash of what was supposed to be streets, but looked more like  alleys. Most dwellings were overcrowded with more new people arriving daily. On top of all this the church was in poor condition. Though less than 20 years old there were problems with the building and with a growing population, Father John, as he was lovingly known to his congregation, knew he needed to do something grand to unite his people and give them a vision of what could be done.

He came up with a plan, actually several plans. He would eventually build a school for the neighborhood children. Education would lead the Irish into the mainstream. He also would want something done about health care; a place where the sick could go to be cared for. But his piece de resistance would be a new church. Not another small wooden one, but one that would announce to Lowell and the growing anti-Irish bigots that they were here to stay. He would build the grandest building Lowell could claim. There was only one man whom he could entrust to do the job- the Irish born architect, Patrick Charles Keely.


Courtesy: The Keely Society
Coincidentally, or was it, both men were born in County Tipperary, but it was Keely’s growing reputation as an ecclesiastical architect and builder that fostered his reputation. By the end of his life he would design over 600 churches and hundreds more rectories, schools, and municipal building up and down the east coast and west to Indiana. He was especially well known in the Archdiocese of Boston as the designer of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. At the time he visited Lowell, he was also working on the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Albany, New York. The two churches look amazingly similar with mild differences. This was a method employed by Keely as his popularity grew. Each church had its own unique style while maintaining a basic set of plans. This saved the parish money by using and reusing design plans with minimal changes. Keely would have left the plans with the church. In St Pat’s case these went missing decades ago. We are told that Keely made at least one visit to the Acre site, and the Sisters of Notre Dame employed him to draw up plans for their own school which needed expansion. In the spring of 1870, he designed a new chapel for the Sisters at the cost of $5000.
The Messenger, 1907
St. Patrick’s was not the only Keely building in Lowell. He also designed St Michael’s, St. Peter’s, St Joseph's extension, and the Immaculate Conception. Keely also offered a package deal bringing other artisans with him. For example, the murals in St Pat’s were done by Gustav Kinkelin. The altars were designed by the Joseph Sibbel Studio. When St. Pat’s suffered fire damage in 1904, Keely’s firm was once again called in to repair and improve the church structure. His son in law, James Houghton, had taken over the business and completed the renovations, employing local workers and quarry men when needed.

Keely’s Irish birth; his strong Catholic faith; his practice of hiring locals; and his reputation for honesty made him the first choice for many parishes and bishops. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY with a rather plain marker with just his last name to mark his resting place. He worked right up to the end, still refining plans and details until his death in 1879.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A History Mystery- the O'Brien Monument


O'Brien Monument, circa 1880
There are lots of little mysteries when doing a history of Lowell’s Irish.  Such as, why didn’t Hugh Cummiskey have a headstone?  Or, what happened to the tapestry that hung in the rectory until about a dozen years ago and simply walked away?  Even, what happened to Stephen Castles after he shot a boy on Lowell Street in 1849?  Some answers will never be found.  Others might have their solution with readers of this blog!
Right now I’m trying to figure out what was on the O’Brien monument in front of St. Patrick Church.  Oh, I don’t mean the granite slab that is their today, but the original monument.  When Rev. Timothy O’Brien, the brother of Pastor John O’Brien, passed away in October of 1855 the sense of loss to the community was great.  It was immediately decided to bury Timothy in the front yard of the newly constructed church.  Within a year an upright granite monument was erected over the grave.  Soon Father Timothy was joined by his brother, John, in 1874. The last to be interred under the monument was their nephew, Fr. Michael O’Brien, in 1900. 
The few photos that survive show the monument was a good size.  How were the bodies placed under the monument?  One small reference uses the word “vault.”  Were there stairs leading down?  A tunnel from the basement of the church to the vault?  There are no records to let us know. 
The last photo we have of the monument is from 1946.  It’s a graduation photo.  How many families took First Communion, Confirmation, May Procession, or graduation photos at this same spot?  Yet no others survive.  Our photo shows the obelisk had marble inserts.  There appears to be a Chi Rho symbol and the words Ioannes O’Brien.  The rest of the tablet is filled with unintelligible text.   What did it say?  What did it look like?
At some time around 1956 the monument was taken down.  The pastor at the time, Msgr. Hyder, made the decision believing that its age made it unsafe.  Not all parishioners agreed with him and questioned other motives.  When it was proposed that it be moved or even petitioned of by one parishioner to buy it, they were all refused.  Before anyone knew about it, the monument was ground into rubble and replaced by the current stone.  Those who can recall the monument are fewer than before.  And, so far, no one has added to its story. 
My earliest memory was that the stone was used by newspaper boys to sell the Sun on Sunday mornings after Mass.  They would stack their papers on the stone and stand on it calling out to those leaving the church to get their papers here.  Today few know it is the final resting place of three men who are responsible for much of the story of Lowell’s Irish.  It needs a good cleaning, and there are always plans to do some sort of landscaping or improvements.  Someday.
If you have any info on the O’Brien or have a story to share drop us a line.  We need to hear from you.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cemetery Tour - 2013

Many thanks to those who turned out for this year's tour.  We had about 55 guests.  Many thanks to the volunteers who prepared the graves.  And the same goes to Nick Logan, manager of the cemetery for lifting some stones and having the office open for us.  Nick also allowed us in the chapel to see the beautiful restoration of the vaulted ceiling and lighting,


Donna Reedy and the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians continued their tradition of dedicating another stone in memory of those who have unmarked graves. 

Walter Hickey presented the new research on St. Peter's Cemetery that once competed with St. Pat's for burials.  Through a located purchase book and countless hours of research the names of many of those who were interred in St Peter's are now available to future generations of those seeking ancestral information


One of our missions at Lowell Irish is to preserve the story of those who have gone before us.  Your participation in our tours will help keep their memories alive. 



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

One Family's Story

Eileen Loucraft gives us this week's entry.  Many of you know Eileen from her excellent blog; Lowell Doughboys and more http://loucraft.blogspot.com/.  She lends her expertise to many projects, including the work at St. Patrick's Cemetery.  Her research as a genealogist uncovered this family gem. One wonders how many others encountered similar experiences.  (If you have a story, please share it with us.  We're always looking for guest bloggers.)
My husband’s first known Irish ancestor on his mother’s side that made it to Lowell was a 2nd great uncle named John Neilon (1828-1907). We know this because a family letter written by his son, Edward J. Neilon (1871-1957) of the Fitchburg Historical Society to his first cousin once removed, Nancy Rouine (1901-1975) in 1953. This letter is a genealogical treasure trove of information. I’ll retell some of the highlights.
The Brig St. John
The Naylon (Neilon) family was living in Killaton in county Clare in Ireland during the Great Famine. The first Neilon to leave for America was Mary Neilon, the oldest child of Edmund “Neddy” Naylon and Mary Sheedy. In 1849 she boarded the Brig St. John in Galway. It was a true coffin ship. On October 7, 1849 it crashed near Minot Light near Cohasset, Massachusetts. Mary was not one of the survivors.

 There are many stories of the tragedy but Edward Rowe Snow in his book “Great Storms and Shipwrecks of New England” tells it best:

“The brig had been at sea for 33 days and was struggling to make Boston in a great storm. Minot Light was not lit that night. If it had been this wreck may not have occurred. In darkness the ship drifted south until it hit Grumpus rock and eventually went to pieces battered by the storm. At daylight crowds had gathered at the Glades house on Cohasset shore watching the doomed immigrants slide off the upturned hull to their deaths. Their screams plainly heard at the Glades house. With 30 foot waves no relief boat could be launched.

The cowardly Capt. Oliver managed to get the long boat launched. Although the long boat could carry 24 he only allowed 11 to get into the boat. The boat managed to get to shore. He refused the long boat to return for more. About noon the next day the wind going down, some citizens got a boat launched and as they heard no sound from the brig concluded that all were drowned and passed it to help the brig Kathleen in trouble further out. No other effort was made to assist the St. John’s passengers.

At that period, Ireland was experiencing one of its widespread famines and the British government was dumping the half starved victims on to the United States. Any old hulk was considered fit to carry Irish immigrants. Henry Thoreau, the Concord philosopher, wrote that he visited the wreck the day afterward and examines one of the brig’s largest timbers that had floated ashore and pushed his umbrella clear through it, it was so rotten.

Several harrowing events occurred for days after the wreck. The day after the wreck, an Irish woman appeared at the little cemetery near the shore and gazed at a long trench just dug. Beside the trench were 26 boxes containing the bodies of that many which had floated ashore. This woman stated that she had left her baby in Ireland with her sister who was expected to have come over on the St. John. To please her the tops were pried off of several of the boxes, and in one was the body of the sister with the baby resting on her breast. This mother died three days later from grief.”



Although the number and names of the dead are not certain the number of dead was around 99. Forty five Irish immigrants were buried in a mass grave in Central Cemetery in Cohasset. In 1914 the Massachusetts Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Ladies Auxiliary erected a Celtic cross to serve as a memorial to all the victims of the tragedy. Over 15,000 people attended the dedication. The picture below is my mother in law, Theresa Loucraft visiting the cross in 2003. She is Mary Naylon’s second grand niece and she lived in Lowell her entire life.
A few months after Mary was given up for lost, her brother John walked from Clare to Galway and boarded another coffin ship that was headed to New York. His mother pleaded with him not to go. It was a long rough voyage. Exhausted when he arrived in New York, he crawled into the hold of a sailing ship and settled down on some bags of flour, fell asleep and awoke in Boston. How he ended up in Lowell is a mystery. He married twice and his first wife is buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery. He lived in Lowell for a time but moved to Fitchburg, MA for work and spent the rest of his life there.

 Soon his other siblings make the journey across the pond to Lowell. His brother Martin and sisters Nora, Katherine, Margaret, Susan and Nance and at some point his mother. Most of the sisters marry Irish men and stay in Lowell - Martin Maguire, William Hallissey, Mike Lynch, Scollins and Patrick Rabbit. His sister Nance married an Englishman named Slater and moved to Australia when gold was discovered there. His only brother, Martin Neilon marries Margaret O’Brien and became the sexton at Sacred Heart parish.

 Lowell families that descend from this line include Rouine (Rouine’s Drug Store on Gorham Street), Higgins (Higgins Brother’s Funeral Parlors), Sullivan (Sullivan Brother’s Printers), Tucker and McLaughlin and many more!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Poem: Mill Girl

Our guest blogger this week is local poet Daniel Patrick Murphy

Google image
My aunt Catherine O'Connor Riley (her husband, my uncle Bill, was from the corner of Rock and Willie St. in the Acre) began to work in a cotton mill in her mid-teens and stopped in her mid-sixties. She worked from early morning until early evening, sometimes 12 hours a day 6 days a week. She had unassuming grit and iron determination and little freedom while working in the mill. This poem hopes, posthumously, to offer her a modicum of freedom.


Mill-girl
Kathleen. Wake now.
Go weave your waving wings,
Taste the seeds, eat the buoyant blue,
Inhale the flaxflower scent of loom,
Sow your seeds in flight,
Flap your flaxen hair in air,
My butterfly, my Kathleen.

Dance up the airy ferns and rushes,
Dance up the fields of flaxflower bloom,
Wet your patterned wings with dampness,
Fly your supple self so fair,
Softly lace the darkened night,
When you were where,
My Kathleen, my siskin care.

Before you go, take one last dance in dreamy air,
Leave me lowly lapping wings,
Ascend and unfold.
Thread through growing light.
Let my fingers reach the dark,
When you were where,
My Kathleen, my linen queen.


--Daniel Patrick Murphy

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Wait ‘til You See This!

Colm, John, & Ronan
By the time most folks read this, the Irish team of archaeologists will be flying back home to Belfast.  A number of people have mentioned that they were disappointed that there wasn’t a dig this summer.  The project is not done and has entered its second phase.  Every working minute of this past week, the three archaeologists; Colm Donnelly, Ronan McHugh, and John Meneely have been on task.  Just a minute!  John made note that he was not an archaeologist, but a geologist.  I mentioned that in fear he reads this entry.  When I say they worked, I mean it, they worked  to the point of exhaustion.  To say the least they were completely nackered (Irish for super tired).

For the past week Ronan has been inventorying the artifacts from the past 3 years, all 1300+ of them.  Each and every one counted and prepped for analysis.   Each bone, shell, nail, or clay marble tells just a bit of the story of those who settled this place over 175 years ago.  What were their homes like?  What did they eat?  How did they spend their time?  It’s our own version of CSI. 

One of John's images from www.facebook.com/#!/1manscan
Meanwhile Colm and John spent their time at the church.  John uses a camera that creates a 3D laser scan.  The science completely evades me.  John tried to explain using simple words for me but I just nodded my head trying not to look daft (Irish for foolish).  To get a clear picture at what he does you have to visit his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/1manscan .  These are not pictures, they are real scans done with a camera that uses a spiraling mirror that sends out light to an area and retrieves the data.  It does this using billions (yup, I said billions) of points of info and then John painstakingly puts it altogether into…..   I can’t describe it!  On day 2 John let me see what only 10% of the information he had collected the previous day could do.  There, on the computer monitor, was perfect image of the church, so I thought.  Then John could zoom on any given stone on any side of the church.  He could turn the church to any angle desired with a click of the mouse.  He could measure each stone, down to the grout lines.  And that was just a small piece of day 1.  When completed the viewer will be able to go up the stairs of the church, enter the main aisle, see a close-up of the altar, even the tabernacle.  Then you could take a walk around and view each window and look up to see the murals.  If you’re not tired yet you can go downstairs to see the original 1854 altar and then climb the tower to the bells and even dare to walk along the catwalk.  You can do all this from your living room chair.  This technology is the same type used on monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, and now St. Pat’s.  All because of Queen’s Uni. in Belfast and UMass Lowell, and of course Colm, Hugh, and, John.  This info is using the latest digital technology and isn’t just a toy.  Decades from now, when we’re not here, there still will be a permanent record of St. Patrick Church.

So what was Colm up to during all this time?  He spent his time carrying a wee (Irish for small) notebook.  The next part of the project is the publication of a book detailing the story of the church and surrounding grounds.  I have been a member of St Pat’s since birth.  I have spent part of my life in that building I know every nook and cranny.  That is I thought I knew until Colm came along.  He announced certain additions were added to the church.  I told him know.  He proved me wrong.  He showed me where windows once were, that I never saw before.  All this time he peppered me with questions.  When was…..?  Who made?  What color?  I knew so few.  How I wish I had listened with a better ear to the stories that my Dad told.  How he would sneak a cigarette up in the choir loft during Mass.  How the lower church looked when prepared for Christmas overflow crowds.  How the church that could hold 2000 people would be filled to overflowing for 5 solid nights with men for the parish mission.  Women went during the daytime.  I wish I listened more to Arthur Cryan’s stories, and Mr. Heafey’s, and John Donahue’s.  And of course Jack Flood could spin a tale or two.  Thirty years ago I listened to older gentlemen talking about life at St. Pat’s, now someone is asking me the questions.  Where did the time go?  It amazes me that it has taken an archaeologist from Ireland to see the value of what was done in this sacred space.  He is giving life to their shadows, acknowledging their works and labors. 

When the Irish first arrived they built their shanties on this spot, raised their children, worked their untold hours, and recited their Paters and Aves.  This is where they raised their children and from here they buried their dead.  The edifice we see today was raised in 1854, in a period of anti-Catholic bigotry.  Yet, when completed, the church was probably the tallest building in the area, its grandeur in stark contrast to the living conditions of the Paddy Camps.  Its steeple stood out across the city.  They built it as a sign of their faith in their church and their new homeland.


Angels from Queenship of Mary
window, St Patrick Church
So to Colm, John, & Ronan- slán abhaile

PS- John’s last name is Meneely.  He is related to the same family that forged the bells that are in our tower today?  Coincidence you think?  I say nay, just part of some of the strange happenings that have gone on during this endeavor.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Word of Thanks


The Crew: Walter, Karen, Connie, Pat, Maureen, Michelle
(the non-stoppable), Kim, Matt, Mary, & Brenda
The slate stones in Yard One are a treasure to the early history of the Irish in Lowell.  Time is beginning to have its effect on them.  Some stones which were pristine a decade ago are beginning to chip, break, and shatter.  The carvings on these stones tell us of the happenings of the first arrivals.  They are the men who walked with Hugh Cummiskey from Charlestown.  They are the women who went to the well that once stood in the front yard of the church.  They are the children, so many children, whose short lives would only be remembered in stone. 

For these reasons, and maybe some of their own, a great group of folks gathered to help prepare the stones for photographing and our October 12th tour.  The weather was perfect.  We cleaned every shamrock stone that has been discovered so far, all 20 of them.  I lost count of how many pails of brush and dirt we hauled away.  By the end of the 2 hours folks were a little sore, a little dirty, and completely exhausted.  I do not have the words to say an appropraite thank you. 

For those of you who missed out on the fun next Saturday we will be working on some other stones.  We'll meet in Yard 1 from 9-11.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cemetery Clean Up Dates: Saturday Sept. 7 & 14

Just a reminder that those who can make it are invited to join in the fun.  I visited the other day, and the crabgrass has overdone itself this year.  Stones that were visible in the spring have "disappeared."  Cemetery manager, Nick, and his crew have diligently leveled some of the stones that have once again begun to slip into the turf.  This is hard work, but it says much about the commitment they have to maintain the graves of those who laid the foundation for us to be here.  If you see them, please say thanks.

Ironically I just had knee surgery.  I actually began knee problems when I first started working on restoring some stones many years ago.  Not sure what I can do, but I will test it out.  The good Sisters of Notre Dame always told us to "offer it up for the souls in purgatory."  Somebody is bound to get their wings out of this.

Seriously, if you can come for a half hour of a couple of hours, any help would be appreciated.  The cemetery tour this year is Saturday, October 12th.  Dr. Donnelly will be arriving from N. Ireland in 2 weeks to begin photographing the stones as a permanent record for future historians.  The more stones we can prepare, the more he can photograph. 

The slate stones, especially the shamrock stones, are treasures that have been left to us from those first Irish pioneers.  The work of so many people over the past few years with the archaeological digs at the church and Tyrone, the new and groundbreaking research on Lowell's early past, and the work done in the cemetery have been leading up to this point.  I'm not an overly religious person but there have been too many coincidences.  So many people have given of their time, treasures, and talents, and now all is coming together.  We will soon be announcing what will be coming up in the near future!  (It's going to be a good!)

If you can join us we will be working from 9-11 am.  Bring something to drink, sunscreen, and maybe bug spray.  There is little shade in Yard 1.  Because we will be cleaning slate, we must use extra care.  No sharp tools or lawn edgers.  We can use plastic scrapers to remove grass.  Brushes should not be too stiff.  Knee pads.  Knee pads, and knee pads. 

Those who keep up with the Irish Cultural Committee on Facebook see that we have a spot to sign up so we can get an idea of how many will be coming.  If you can, please use this tool.