The mission of LowellIrish is to collect and preserve the history and cultural materials, which document the presence of the Irish community in Lowell. As the first immigrant group in a city that continues to celebrate its immigrant past, LowellIrish will serve as an advocate to support a better understanding of the historical, political, religious, and social function the Irish played in the formation of the city.
This weekend my wife and I will drive into Lowell to
make our annual pilgrimage to the cemetery.Memorial Day had a different meaning when I was younger.In the morning we would usually walk from our
tenement on Broadway to Merrimack Street to watch the parade.World War
II was still fresh in many people’s minds, and veterans would stand at
attention and salute as each flag passed.Rows upon rows of soldiers marched in formation, and the vibrations from
the bass drums could be felt as the bands passed by.The afternoon would mean a drive out to the
My father’s parents were buried in the flats section of St.
Pat’s near the back gate.Most of the
year, it looks a little sad.There is
little if any landscaping and many of the stones have been overgrown with sod
and grass clippings.I always thought of
this area as the workers’ section; those who spent their lives in the mills and
factories and could not afford the grand marble or sculpted granite
crosses.But on this one weekend of the year,
many if not most of this section would become a field of red geraniums and
potted plants.All along Gorham Street
were flower stands where vendors would charge what they could to those who wished
to say their dead, “We remember.”Every
now and then, a small American flag would be stuck in the ground to mark the
grave of those who served their country. My mother’s side of the family, being French,
was buried at St. Joseph’s Cemetery (Cimetiere St. Joseph).Each year we cleaned the marble marker.I would walk around trying to translate the
French inscriptions, and ask my mother what each meant.We
would light candles at home or at church to remember those who went before us;
a practice my wife and I continue.
Today there are far fewer visitors on Memorial Day.The fields of flowers that would transform
the yards of stones into gardens are sparser than they used to be.The traffic that would clog the entry ways
into the cemetery don’t happen much anymore.We’re busier today.Our belief systems have shifted.Traditions have been forgotten, or maybe they
are just dormant for a while.
O'Connell Family Monument
One annual visitor to St Patrick’s Cemetery was Cardinal O’Connell.He was a regular celebrant of the annual Mass
at Saint Bridget Chapel in the 1920s.His
first act would be to visit his parents’ grave near the office area where his
limo would drop him off.He’d kneel at
the gravesite where he’d say a silent prayer and then proceed to the Chapel.Some locals recalled that as soon as Mass was
over he would be whisked out of town back to Boston and the “palace” he had
built for himself.