Friday, June 8, 2012


O'Dwyer's Irish Catholic
Genesis of Lowell

Some guys golf.  Some guys watch football.  When I want to relax I research.  If I’ve got a few hours free, I might head to the library and scroll through some microfilm and old newspapers.  Because this is 2012, technology has opened up so many new venues. I now can do a great deal of research from my living room chair.   I think of myself as a CSI investigator.  I take out my flashlight and spyglass and begin the search for clues.  Though some may think this to be a strange pastime, I assure you there are many of us out there.  Friends who know of my secret life often share their findings.  Thus, over the decades I’ve amassed quite a collection of articles dealing with Lowell’s early Irish past.  This has gone on so long that sometimes when I find a new little gem I rush home to add it to the collection only to find I already have a copy of it.  (I shouldn’t admit this, but some of my photocopies are so old they are the old reverse negatives where the paper is black and the print is white.)
I feel fortunate to be in this time where new research about those early pioneers is reshaping the story of Lowell’s past.  I recall being a Park Ranger and giving tours of the Acre.  When I give that same tour today, the story has been reformed and reshaped to current facts.  The best part is that the story continues today. 
Much of what we think we know about the early Irish comes from period writings such as the Old Residents Historical Association, which is the forerunner of the Lowell Historical Society.  Most often these are prominent 19th century businessmen recalling aspects of their youth.  While much can be gleaned from the reminiscences, we get only the Yankee perspective.  There are very limited accounts of Lowell Irish writing their memories, but most often these are 2nd and 3rd generations.  Of course there was George O’Dwyer’s work, The Irish catholic Genesis of Lowell, written about 1920.  Thanks to O’Dwyer he went around collecting oral histories from some older Irish residents and their progeny.  In the 1980s was Brian Mitchell’s work, The Paddy Camps, which renewed interest of Lowell-Irish history.
Most recently we’ve had the expertise of the archaeological team from Queens University Belfast.   By collecting artifacts right from the early Irish camps, those early Irish are able to retell their own story.  Added to this Walter Hickey has devoted countless hours into researching the original records from archival sources.  Again, using these primary source documents takes away the “we think” and “maybe” statements that had to be used when discussing Lowell’s Irish past.  The work that is being done at the cemetery by recording data off the slate stones is yet another source.
With the third archaeological dig taking place at St Patrick’s this summer (July) and the subsequent investigation back in Tyrone at the Cummiskey homestead, one wonder what the next chapter in Lowell’s Irish past will tell.  It is time to collect these finds into some permanent status for those who will follow after us.
The following is the earliest mention of the Irish in Lowell to date.  It was recorded in the Chelmsford Phoenix, one of the areas earliest newspapers. 
Chelmsford Phoenix, December 16, 1825
RIOTOUS- On Saturday night a cry of murder was heard in a house in the part of Broad-street, occupied by Irish emigrants, when two watchmen proceeded to the spot to ascertain the cause.  As one of them entered the House, he was struck upon the head with an axe and badly wounded. An Irishman, we learn has been committed for examination, suspected of giving the blow.

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