Friday, September 30, 2011

Will the real Hugh Cummiskey please stand up?

Hugh's signature as it appears on his naturalization record.

Sometimes I think I have a touch of OCD.  I remember once I read a Tony Hillerman mystery novel.  I was hooked.  Within a couple of months I had read every single piece the man ever wrote.  Did I stop there?  No.  I made a number of visits to Arizona and followed the route the main character, Jim Chee, followed.  My wife would wonder why I was driving out of our way to get somewhere, but I knew what I was doing.  Jim Chee rode this highway and stopped at this rest stop.

Just as I thought I've recovered from my addiction, Hugh Cummiskey pops up, or I should say Hugh CummiskeyS pop up.  Yes, you read it correctly.  I was sitting in Mahon's Hotel in Irvinestown.  The team was out at a local pub.  By this day every muscle in my body was crying out in agony so I snuck away to my room.  I came across a note we had made weeks earlier of a second Hugh Cummiskey, this one in Boston, but at about the same period.  Were they related?  One was a labor leader, the other a ship's pilot.  Ever since we came back, we've made little inroads as to who Hugh2 was.  That's when the little voice in the back of my head started speaking to me.  It said one word, "Google."  And that's what I've been doing every night since then.  The last name of Cummiskey is not that common.  The first name Hugh is not uncommon, but it's not Patrick or Mike either.  So you figure the name Hugh Cummiskey must be unique.  Nah!  There are more Hugh Cummiskeys than you can shake a stick at, and they're all over the place. 

Right now I'm following one line on Prince Edward Island about the same time period as Hugh1.  I'll call him Hugh3 (though there are more Hughs in this family).  One of the streets where Hugh3 lives is Dromore (the area in Ireland where Hugh1 is from).  One of Hugh3's family has the last name of Sherry (Hugh1's wife's last name was Sherry).  Hugh3's family moves to Lowell for a short period.  So obviously they're the same family!!!  Nah!  At least no proof yet. 

On another note, just got an email from Colm.  Irish America magazine just published a nice piece in their magazine.  Some of you may know IA magazine as one of the leading journals of Irish culture on both sides of the Atlantic.  Take a look:  We made the big time!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cemetery Walk

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor..... wait.  That's for mailmen.  But it's similar for those who give tours where the advert says rain or shine.  Actually, the sun was out, and it was a little tepid by the time we finished up.  The LAOH began with their Mercy Drive dedication.  Led by Donna Reidy, 3 stones of Irish immigrants who have been laid to rest without benefit of a marker to remember them, were dedicated.  Seeing the field of tri-colors of previous dedications, gives you a great visual of all the work Donna has done over the years.

The year 2011 marks the beginning of the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War.  Those who are regular readers know the extensive work that has been done for the past few months gathering the names of Irish Civil War vets interred in St. Pat's.  Eileen, Walter, and myself have been gathering not only burial info, but regimental and family info where applicable.  These were real people with hopes and dreams who experienced the battlefield.  Many of them took America as their new home and picked up arms to show their commitment.  It is only right and just this be done in their name.  The cemetery office was given a copy of the spreadsheet which is 90% complete.  (Hey, it was a bigger job than we could imagine, but we couldn't let it go.)  We hope those who are searching for ancestors will find some benefit from our labors.  Eileen and Walter spoke at several of the CW vets graves.  Next year we will begin dedicating CW stones for those who are missing markers. 

9th Reg Recruitment Poster
Hugh Cummiskey was 82 years old when he passed away from this his home on Adams Street.  He referred to himself as a "gentleman" in his later years.  Lowell had changed greatly from his arrival in 1822.  By the time many of the Irish had moved out of the Acre for the new neighborhoods of Pawtucketville and the Highlands.  Three daughters had become nuns.  One remained unmarried, and the last had her family.  He lived with his wife Rose.  As old age approached I imagine he would sit in his home staring out the window at the tower of Saint Pat's, his memory drifting back to his home in Crossan.  Walking the tree lined lane to his homestead.  Weeding the garden behind the house.  Looking over the rolling hills and mountains as he brought the cows to the next pasture for feeding.  Colm and I shared this image and thought it appropriate to take a stone from the Cummiskey homestead and place it in Hugh's final resting place.  Walter and I shared the honors of doing so. So Hugh now rests with a little piece of his home.  The circle closes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Cross and the Shamrock - Back in print!!!!!

There are a lot of unsung heroes when it comes to honoring our forebears.  I thought I'd make a list, but if I did that you know what would happen.  Each year as the tour finishes all those great folks who turn out, some year after year, say thanks and how much they enjoyed the walk.  While I nod my head in appreciation, I'm thinking Domine non sum dignus.  (Parochial school Latin sticks with you.)  All I do is collect stories others have shared.  I recall walking the cemetery about 20 years ago and seeing glimpses of slate stones under the sod.  Volunteers joined me in the cemetery uncovering the stones one by one.  Soon we had 1500 names from the very earliest pioneers collected with all the inscriptions left by them.  There were poems, prayers, and petitions to the saints.  It was like looking through a window into their lives. 

Now I was hooked.  I kept asking George Merritt for more info, but he said there was nothing else, unless I wanted to look at 2 old books he had.  What???  Breaking every oath an archivist takes, I kept those books at my house for over a year (Confession is good for the soul right?  And besides I was young and naive.)  But those books, which were quickly deteriorating with age and mold, contained 8000 names of burials before records were kept.  Again, another window was opened.  Now we know more of what occupations they had, what were the causes of deaths, and the numbers being interred. 

Folks started asking for tours and that's when Catherine and John Goodwin forced me to start.  That was over 15 years ago, and folks still come for our walk through time.  It was also Catherine's idea to do a book, and thus came The Cross and the Shamrock.  About 1500 copies of that book were sold or given to libraries etc.  It went out of print- until now.  Donna Reidy is one of those unsung heroes.  Donna's dream is to help restore the oldest stones that are in need of repair.  It costs money.  So I have donated the rights to the 2 books we have on Irish history in Lowell to the AOH for the express purpose of restoration of the stones in Saint Patrick Cemetery.  It will be on sale at next week's tour.  It's a nice little piece with some interesting stories.  Pick one up.  (Think Christmas gifts!)  And know you will help preserve the past.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

CEMETERY TOUR - Saturday, September 24 at 10 am

Our annual tour of the St Patrick Cemetery will be on September 24 at 10 am.  As has been past practice we begin with the AOH dedication of stones of forgotten Irish immigrants as part of their Mercy Drive program.  Donna Reedy and the AOH have taken on the task of remembering forgotten Irish who are interred in the cemetery in this yearly memorial.  The tour starts immediately after and takes about an hour to 90 minutes.  This year we will be honoring some of the Irish Civil War veterans and visit some new stones that you may have passed before.  The story of the Irish during the CW is fascinating.  Blog readers know we have been doing research to remember these soldiers and honor them in this 150th anniversary year.  We will also place a stone taken from Hugh Cummiskey's homestead into his burial site.  Hugh will rest in a bit of earth of County Tyrone. 

I started giving tours 16 years ago.  I was but a young lad at the time.  I was thinner, had more hair, and more energy.  Catherine and John Goodwin used to join in.  Some folks come out yearly and could probably give the tour themselves.  For those who have asked, the AOH has reprinted the cemetery book onto a CD.  All proceeds will go to helping restore the stones.  All rights have been handed over to them, so that we can start restoration.  By the way the tour goes out rain or shine so maybe I will have a chance to show off my Wellies!  Please pass on the cemetery tour info.  Every year we get calls and emails weeks after the tour asking when it will take place.  We send out plenty of notices and pay the Sun for advertising, but it just seems to pass folks by.  So, spread the word.

Don't forget the Lowell Cemetery is also giving their tours in September.  If you haven't been go.  What a great way to cover the history of early Lowell. 

Walter and I are becoming consumes with the search for the Cummiskeys.  We just spent a wonderful day in the Boston Public Library looking at faded microfilm of old newspapers.  Walter gave up his day off in search of Hugh2.  yes, I did say Hugh2.  Turns out there were Hughs 3 and 4 and maybe more.  Like my own family, they had no imagination in naming their children.  They had a few names and stuck with them through the century. 

There was a great article in the Globe.  Thanks to Dave Raddigan for his interest.  Follow the link:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Reality Check

I'm trying to resume my normal schedule.  Within twelve hours of getting off the plane from Dublin, I was in front of 26 new students.  Tomorrow night I begin my adjunct instruction at SNHU.  I am fortunate that I love my work.  The word vocation comes from the Latin voco- meaning a calling.  I think that I have been called to teach and to teach teachers.  But I have been spoiled. 

There is an expression, "The glory of God is man fully alive."  If that is true I have lived in God's glory for the 11 days I spent in Ireland.  I wish I had words to express what I have learned and experienced.  A couple of firsts-
          - Wellies (Wellington Boots)  Hey I watch Masterpiece Theater.  I've seen the Basil Rathbone movies portraying Sherlock Holmes.  They always walk around with their Wellies.  So for a full week I envisioned myself with Basil Rathbone walking the moors.  In all honesty my Wellies came from WalMart and I did not wear my tweed jacket and cap.
          - Bangers and Champ-  Ok, it's just sausages and mashed potatoes, but doesn't it sound better saying "bangers and champ."
          - Magners-  Guinness, be gone!  Magners is apple cider with the mildest of kicks.  I downed my first within 5 minutes and learned to slow down after that.  Let us say it is too good.
          - Irish whiskey-  I'm not much of a drinker, but I had about 3 hours to wait at Duty Free.  They had samples of several types of whiskey.  So what do you do when you have time to waste.  Keep walking the circle of samples until someone notices it is your 5th visit.
And the experiences?  Well I have a new appreciation for the work an archaeologist does.  Folks keep asking if I'm over my jet lag.  Jet lag was not the problem.  The problem was fatigue.  Digging, scraping, shoveling, spading, hauling, kneeling and scraping, kneeling and digging, then holding onto the shovel to stand upright because my back gave out and knees refused to work.  I begged Stuart to just leave me in the hole and cover me with dirt, but he said that would compromise the site. 

For two years I've complained that I can't get a straight answer out of Colm or Ronan.  As the week progressed I found myself saying, "This is perhaps, maybe, sorta, could be....... ."  They have brainwashed me.

So again folks keep asking what was the best part of the trip?  With my whole heart I can say the folks I worked with.  To be given this opportunity by the University, to be in the presence of professionals who love their work and wish to share it with you, and most of all to be with a team of individuals with their likes and differences and to be part of the community.  That's what was formed- a community, a family of sorts.  There were times of sharing, teaching, supporting, and bonding.  That to me was what I will take away the most.  I miss them all already.

Now you may think this is the end of The Big Dig 2011.  No way!  Since our return Colm has had us investigating new leads.  How about a second Hugh Cummiskey!!!!  Say what?  Yup.  The Cummiskey clan was a lot larger than we thought.  Putting the pieces together may lead to new revelations to our Hugh.  On top someone who saw the BBC piece in N. Ireland has sent Colm a new lead on that side of the Atlantic.  I have decided to seek a sabbatical and become a full time Cummiskey investigator.  (Hey, I never thought I'd be at Crossan, so a paid sabbatical is not that far fetched.)

Lastly, don't forget the St Pat's Cemetery tour on Saturday, September 24th.  We've gone some new stories to share with you and we'll be placing a piece of Hugh's homestead into his grave.