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'.

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