Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Sanctuary Choir, 1922

The day before George Russell took this photo in June of 1922, the sanctuary choir was part of the annual show put on by the Saint Patrick’s Boy School.  This was the 40th year that the boys sponsored a variety show to benefit the work of the Xaverian Brothers.  Benefits of the show went to supplement the “meager salaries” that the Brothers earned from their “mission.”  The RKO Keith Theater on Bridge Street was filled beyond capacity.  Tickets had been sold out days ahead of the show.  The beginning of the show had the boys of each grade marching and performing intricate military drills to the thrill of the crowd.  The 100 member strong Sanctuary Choir took the stage with a series of hymns and chants.  The choir was made up of boys and alumni from the school, all under the direction of Brother Nilus. 
The definition of Parish has evolved over the decades.  Being part of the Sanctuary Choir was almost an assumption.  If choir wasn’t your choice there were a myriad of other choices.  There was the Matthew Temperance Society (senior and junior divisions), a debating team, and a literary society.  The Cadet band was considered one of the finest in the city.  The Holy Name Society also had a senior and junior division.  The feeding of the poor was the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  Many boys and young men served the parish by assisting at Mass as altar boys; their numbers rivaled those of the Choir.  At certain feasts, 80 altar boys would process into the church.  One of the most well-known societies of St Patrick Church was the Catholic Young Men’s Lyceum (CYML).  This was the male-only club that was means to draw Catholic youth away from the popular YMCA. 
The maintaining of Catholic identity was of major importance.  The rise of parochial schools, athletic, social, and religious clubs and organizations was meant to keep men and youth on the straight and narrow.  These were just the male societies.  Women and girls had many opportunities as well.  They were caught between two worlds.  They were second and third generation Americans in a fast changing America, yet still tied to the beliefs and culture of their ancestors.  The Parish was where the two merged.
This week’s blog was inspired by fellow historian and blogger, Eileen Loucraft’s ( ) post about the Russell Collection photos at the Center for Lowell History.  You can see the original Sanctuary Choir photo at their site.  ( ) The Archives of St. Patrick Parish also has a fine collection of Russell photos.  Details from these photos give us a glimpse into their lives and personalities.  You can see a YouTube video of the photos at .  You can see other videos by clicking the links to the right. 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Life on Gorham Street: the other Irish settlement

A second Irish settlement began evolving in Lowell's early years.  The Paddy Camps grew and developed into the Acre neighborhood as the Irish began their settlement in the 1820s.  By the 1830s the area around Chapel Street and Gorham Street took on its own Irish flavor.  Just like their neighbors, the Irish on Gorham Street opened their own shops and eventually had their own church, Saint Peter's.  After your shift at the mills ended you'd walk up Central, doffing your cap as you passed St Peter's and maybe stop by one of the shops before going home.

Philip Haggerty and his wife were well known in the area.  Both Irish natives, he was known for his fine singing voice, and she for her playing of the organ.  He not only played in every Catholic church in the City, but in almost every other denomination as well.  If there was an event, he was there to sing.  He was known to walk along Gorham Street greeting folks right up to the end of his 100 years.

He began by working with Terrence Hanover cutting wood for making caskets.  Being a good Irish son he lived with his mother and never married.  He was a member of the Irish Benevolent Society.  Upon his death he left $500,000 and real estate holdings all over the city.
If you did your shopping at McKearney's he would be sure to deliver your groceries for free.  He advertised English breakfast teas and fine meats.  He belonged to the Irish Benevolent Society, AOH, and Foresters.  Maybe it was on one of these deliveries he caught cold and died on congestion of the throat.  Two hundred friends and families walked from St Peter's to the cemetery.
If you were trying to get family members over from Ireland, Sheahan and his brother were there to help.  Tickets began at $27.50.  His shop was directly across from St Peter's Church.  There you could buy tickets for the dedication of St John's Hospital.  He arrived with his family during the Famine years from County Clare where he worked in the grocery business.  He must have worked very hard since he retired after working 25 years.  He was a devoted parishioner of St Peter's. 
Besides operating his store, James Owens worked diligently for the Naturalization Club.  An Irish native, he took his American citizenship seriously and helped over 900 people attain citizenship.  He was a strong Democrat and served as Alderman.  On the 4th of July he joined many other businesses by lavishly decorating their store fronts.  

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Dermot, Stuart, & Brian in Co. Fermanagh
I thought I'd give you a few updates: The guys who did the dig at St Pat's and Tyrone sent along a Christmas photo. Thought I'd share it with you. You can tell that neither cold, nor, rain, nor dark of night can stop an archaeologist from doing his task. Here they are working at a crannog (man made island) in County Fermanagh.

If you look at the right sidebar of the blog you will see some links to YouTube videos having to do with the Acre and St. Pat's. There is one that is a tour of the church. I hope to put up more on different topics. Send your ideas.

The Irish Cultural Committee that started at St Pat's Church 30 years ago will be posting this year's events for March. For those of you on Facebook why don't you like them so you can keep up to date?  Each year the ICC sponsors some great social, historical, and religious events. It amazes me that people still are not aware of the work they do.

 Lastly I'd like your input. Since starting this blog just over two years ago we've had over 20,000 hits. It may be time to finally get that website that I keep saying we need. The story of the Irish in Lowell needs to be preserved as much as each and every other group that formed the city. If you have any background in Wordpress or other such sites please drop a line.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Neighbors - the Irish on Gorham Street

The Acre was not the only place of settlement for Lowell’s Irish in the 1830s.  A growing number of Irish were moving into the area around Gorham Street.  Similarly to their fellow Yankee counterparts in the Acre, the Yankees along Gorham Street were not too welcoming to their new neighbors.  As a matter of fact, the summer of 1832 became quite turbulent in August between the two factions.
It appears that the locals were not happy with the goings on in Gorham Street.  The loud noises and brawls brought out the constables who counted 72 persons living in just one half of a house!  “Their want of cleanliness invites pestilence,” was the quote from the newspaper.  The decision was made that all inhabitants would be removed from the house, but the Irish had a different idea.  They refused to move. 
Rumors spread that a number of guns were kept in the house.  On the second night a crowd of about 800 gathered to witness the attempt to evict of the Irish.  Stones were thrown and 2 Irishmen were knocked down. The pleas of the constables were finally heard and the crowd dispersed when they saw there would be no more action that evening.   Five people were arrested.  Bail was set, and the accused were to appear at Court in Concord.  Some put the blame solely on the “Irish population who do not know how to conform to Yankee regulations.”
When September rolled around, the Irish were still in the house.  One of the young residents fell into a sewer and almost drowned.  A terrible “pother” was raised in fear that the little “darlint” may die.  Twenty Irish women gathered and “howled” loudly while the child struggled for his life.  A “stout Paddy” climbed down and dragged the child out by the heels lessening the probability of the “number of tenants in the house being lessened by one.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Walsh, the Bookseller

Observers of life in Lowell’s Paddy Camps of the 1830s describe in great detail the shanties of those early Irish.   They tell of housing made of whatever material that could be found.  They tell of pigs running wild in the streets, and of the dangers of trying to navigate the alleyways that made up the Camps.  What one doesn’t encounter as frequently are the mentions of the rising middle class of tradesmen and shop owners within the Acre.  Newspaper accounts and city directories tell the story of a small but growing class of Irish who open dry-goods stores and provide services not only to their fellow Irish, but to the Yankee community as well. 
One of these Irish entrepreneurs was Richard Walsh.  He was born in County Cork and there are no records to give us a guess of his age.  He arrived in Lowell in 1838 and boarded with a J. Walsh on Lowell Street (Market Street).  His first job was as a teacher in No. 19 School on Winter Street.  This was one of the so-called Irish Schools.  Classes were set up to teach Irish students with priest-approved teachers and texts, though funded with public money.  For this, he was paid $200 a year.  He remained with this job for four years, saving his money before opening a Catholic bookstore.
The Lowell Catholic Book and Periodical Store was located on the corner of Lowell and Worthen Streets.  There the growing Catholic population could pay their $2.50 yearly subscription for the Pilot newspaper.  Walsh sold a wide variety of prayer books, Bibles, school books, and “works of the most approved character.”  He carried newspapers from New York and Baltimore, two other strongholds of Catholicity in the early 19th century.  For a brief period, he carried a newspaper written by Michael Walsh, very likely a relative, called the Subterranean.
Walsh had another sideline job during this period.  He was a travel agent for those booking passage to and from Ireland and Great Britain.  His advertisement assured patrons that they could rely on him to get passage for their friends and family leaving Ireland with passage to Boston or New York.  Should emigrants change their minds, refunds would be given, minus a small fee.  Walsh’s advertisement speaks of false promises made by other agents and advises them “to take advantage of this old established office.”
In 1843, Father James Conway witnessed the sacrament of marriage between Richard Walsh and Ann Dineen at St Peter’s Church.  The couple moved in above the book shop.  A son was born the following year.  They named him John. 
The shop remained opened a few years, but then Richard, Ann, and baby John disappeared from Lowell, along with other Walsh families.  What happened?  No one can be sure.  There is a small hint.  The newspapers in 1849 were filled with advertisements and advise for those who were heading to California to seek their fortune.  Druggists were selling elixirs for the journey, and stores had gold assaying kits to bring along.  There is one small entry that states that a Richard Walsh was leaving for California.  Was this our Richard Walsh?  No other information could be found after this date.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Perceptions of the Irish: 1829 & 1857

This week's blog is from Walter:
In a blog published on 20 September 2012, entitled :Filth and Wretchedness”, Dave referred to an August 20, 1829 report from the Ohio State Journal (Columbus, OH) describing Lowell.

“There is an Irish village near by which realizes in wretchedness and poverty, every description, however exaggerated, which travelers in Ireland have ever given us.--Huts of barrels with mere apertures for window m—and then the filth within.  Women with faces indicating the free use of ardent spirits, with shrill voices, never uttered but to reprimand – and the scores of urchins that squall about you like so many vivitied [sic] inhabitants of the mud, they delight in, are sufficient to put to rest all our romantic emotions and remembrances, of Hibernia, the Isle of “Sacred Erin.”  These Irish are however seldom employed in the factories, having a better reputation for hard drinkers and good fighters than for industrious workmen.”

Today, while going through a roll of miscellaneous  newspapers in the collection of the Lowell Historical Society, I came across an article in the short-lived Lowell TRUMPET, dated April 18, 1857


“Volumes might be written about the Irish in this country, and even in this city, both pro and con, and ere long much will be written, either to the advantage or disadvantage of the prolific subject.  But we have little to say now, though in future we may enlarge upon it.

We now refer to the great and visible improvement that has taken place in the physical condition, in the intellectual character, and especially in the personal appearance of the Irish population of this city, within ten or fifteen years.

Fifteen years ago, scarcely an Irishman or an Irish woman could be found in Lowell who could read or write intelligibly, and the highest vocation which they aspired to, and the  highest which they were allowed, was that of a “mud-digger,” “hod-carrier,” or “porter,” on the part of the males; and that of a “sweeper” or “scourer” on the part of the females.  In fact, the Irish, then, were glad to do “anything” to save themselves from starvation.  They were refused employment in the mills, for their intellectual condition was regarded so low as not to afford them mechanical tact sufficient to enable them to “run” the simplest machinery; besides they were so filthy in their personal habits that no decent American could endure their near approach.  A tolerable looking Irish girl or woman was scarcely to be seen amongst the whole Irish population.

But, what a vast change has taken place!  A large portion of the present Irish inhabitants of this city would not suffer greatly from a comparison with a class of native Americans, either in respect to their physical condition, their intellectual developments or their personal appearance.  How has this improvement been brought about?” 

The TRUMPET indicated that the last question would be answered in the 'next issue'. Alas, it does not appear that there is a surviving 'next issue', so we may never know 'the rest of the story'.