Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Poem: Mill Girl

Our guest blogger this week is local poet Daniel Patrick Murphy

Google image
My aunt Catherine O'Connor Riley (her husband, my uncle Bill, was from the corner of Rock and Willie St. in the Acre) began to work in a cotton mill in her mid-teens and stopped in her mid-sixties. She worked from early morning until early evening, sometimes 12 hours a day 6 days a week. She had unassuming grit and iron determination and little freedom while working in the mill. This poem hopes, posthumously, to offer her a modicum of freedom.

Kathleen. Wake now.
Go weave your waving wings,
Taste the seeds, eat the buoyant blue,
Inhale the flaxflower scent of loom,
Sow your seeds in flight,
Flap your flaxen hair in air,
My butterfly, my Kathleen.

Dance up the airy ferns and rushes,
Dance up the fields of flaxflower bloom,
Wet your patterned wings with dampness,
Fly your supple self so fair,
Softly lace the darkened night,
When you were where,
My Kathleen, my siskin care.

Before you go, take one last dance in dreamy air,
Leave me lowly lapping wings,
Ascend and unfold.
Thread through growing light.
Let my fingers reach the dark,
When you were where,
My Kathleen, my linen queen.

--Daniel Patrick Murphy

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Wait ‘til You See This!

Colm, John, & Ronan
By the time most folks read this, the Irish team of archaeologists will be flying back home to Belfast.  A number of people have mentioned that they were disappointed that there wasn’t a dig this summer.  The project is not done and has entered its second phase.  Every working minute of this past week, the three archaeologists; Colm Donnelly, Ronan McHugh, and John Meneely have been on task.  Just a minute!  John made note that he was not an archaeologist, but a geologist.  I mentioned that in fear he reads this entry.  When I say they worked, I mean it, they worked  to the point of exhaustion.  To say the least they were completely nackered (Irish for super tired).

For the past week Ronan has been inventorying the artifacts from the past 3 years, all 1300+ of them.  Each and every one counted and prepped for analysis.   Each bone, shell, nail, or clay marble tells just a bit of the story of those who settled this place over 175 years ago.  What were their homes like?  What did they eat?  How did they spend their time?  It’s our own version of CSI. 

One of John's images from!/1manscan
Meanwhile Colm and John spent their time at the church.  John uses a camera that creates a 3D laser scan.  The science completely evades me.  John tried to explain using simple words for me but I just nodded my head trying not to look daft (Irish for foolish).  To get a clear picture at what he does you have to visit his Facebook page:!/1manscan .  These are not pictures, they are real scans done with a camera that uses a spiraling mirror that sends out light to an area and retrieves the data.  It does this using billions (yup, I said billions) of points of info and then John painstakingly puts it altogether into…..   I can’t describe it!  On day 2 John let me see what only 10% of the information he had collected the previous day could do.  There, on the computer monitor, was perfect image of the church, so I thought.  Then John could zoom on any given stone on any side of the church.  He could turn the church to any angle desired with a click of the mouse.  He could measure each stone, down to the grout lines.  And that was just a small piece of day 1.  When completed the viewer will be able to go up the stairs of the church, enter the main aisle, see a close-up of the altar, even the tabernacle.  Then you could take a walk around and view each window and look up to see the murals.  If you’re not tired yet you can go downstairs to see the original 1854 altar and then climb the tower to the bells and even dare to walk along the catwalk.  You can do all this from your living room chair.  This technology is the same type used on monuments such as the Statue of Liberty, and now St. Pat’s.  All because of Queen’s Uni. in Belfast and UMass Lowell, and of course Colm, Hugh, and, John.  This info is using the latest digital technology and isn’t just a toy.  Decades from now, when we’re not here, there still will be a permanent record of St. Patrick Church.

So what was Colm up to during all this time?  He spent his time carrying a wee (Irish for small) notebook.  The next part of the project is the publication of a book detailing the story of the church and surrounding grounds.  I have been a member of St Pat’s since birth.  I have spent part of my life in that building I know every nook and cranny.  That is I thought I knew until Colm came along.  He announced certain additions were added to the church.  I told him know.  He proved me wrong.  He showed me where windows once were, that I never saw before.  All this time he peppered me with questions.  When was…..?  Who made?  What color?  I knew so few.  How I wish I had listened with a better ear to the stories that my Dad told.  How he would sneak a cigarette up in the choir loft during Mass.  How the lower church looked when prepared for Christmas overflow crowds.  How the church that could hold 2000 people would be filled to overflowing for 5 solid nights with men for the parish mission.  Women went during the daytime.  I wish I listened more to Arthur Cryan’s stories, and Mr. Heafey’s, and John Donahue’s.  And of course Jack Flood could spin a tale or two.  Thirty years ago I listened to older gentlemen talking about life at St. Pat’s, now someone is asking me the questions.  Where did the time go?  It amazes me that it has taken an archaeologist from Ireland to see the value of what was done in this sacred space.  He is giving life to their shadows, acknowledging their works and labors. 

When the Irish first arrived they built their shanties on this spot, raised their children, worked their untold hours, and recited their Paters and Aves.  This is where they raised their children and from here they buried their dead.  The edifice we see today was raised in 1854, in a period of anti-Catholic bigotry.  Yet, when completed, the church was probably the tallest building in the area, its grandeur in stark contrast to the living conditions of the Paddy Camps.  Its steeple stood out across the city.  They built it as a sign of their faith in their church and their new homeland.

Angels from Queenship of Mary
window, St Patrick Church
So to Colm, John, & Ronan- slán abhaile

PS- John’s last name is Meneely.  He is related to the same family that forged the bells that are in our tower today?  Coincidence you think?  I say nay, just part of some of the strange happenings that have gone on during this endeavor.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Word of Thanks

The Crew: Walter, Karen, Connie, Pat, Maureen, Michelle
(the non-stoppable), Kim, Matt, Mary, & Brenda
The slate stones in Yard One are a treasure to the early history of the Irish in Lowell.  Time is beginning to have its effect on them.  Some stones which were pristine a decade ago are beginning to chip, break, and shatter.  The carvings on these stones tell us of the happenings of the first arrivals.  They are the men who walked with Hugh Cummiskey from Charlestown.  They are the women who went to the well that once stood in the front yard of the church.  They are the children, so many children, whose short lives would only be remembered in stone. 

For these reasons, and maybe some of their own, a great group of folks gathered to help prepare the stones for photographing and our October 12th tour.  The weather was perfect.  We cleaned every shamrock stone that has been discovered so far, all 20 of them.  I lost count of how many pails of brush and dirt we hauled away.  By the end of the 2 hours folks were a little sore, a little dirty, and completely exhausted.  I do not have the words to say an appropraite thank you. 

For those of you who missed out on the fun next Saturday we will be working on some other stones.  We'll meet in Yard 1 from 9-11.  

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cemetery Clean Up Dates: Saturday Sept. 7 & 14

Just a reminder that those who can make it are invited to join in the fun.  I visited the other day, and the crabgrass has overdone itself this year.  Stones that were visible in the spring have "disappeared."  Cemetery manager, Nick, and his crew have diligently leveled some of the stones that have once again begun to slip into the turf.  This is hard work, but it says much about the commitment they have to maintain the graves of those who laid the foundation for us to be here.  If you see them, please say thanks.

Ironically I just had knee surgery.  I actually began knee problems when I first started working on restoring some stones many years ago.  Not sure what I can do, but I will test it out.  The good Sisters of Notre Dame always told us to "offer it up for the souls in purgatory."  Somebody is bound to get their wings out of this.

Seriously, if you can come for a half hour of a couple of hours, any help would be appreciated.  The cemetery tour this year is Saturday, October 12th.  Dr. Donnelly will be arriving from N. Ireland in 2 weeks to begin photographing the stones as a permanent record for future historians.  The more stones we can prepare, the more he can photograph. 

The slate stones, especially the shamrock stones, are treasures that have been left to us from those first Irish pioneers.  The work of so many people over the past few years with the archaeological digs at the church and Tyrone, the new and groundbreaking research on Lowell's early past, and the work done in the cemetery have been leading up to this point.  I'm not an overly religious person but there have been too many coincidences.  So many people have given of their time, treasures, and talents, and now all is coming together.  We will soon be announcing what will be coming up in the near future!  (It's going to be a good!)

If you can join us we will be working from 9-11 am.  Bring something to drink, sunscreen, and maybe bug spray.  There is little shade in Yard 1.  Because we will be cleaning slate, we must use extra care.  No sharp tools or lawn edgers.  We can use plastic scrapers to remove grass.  Brushes should not be too stiff.  Knee pads.  Knee pads, and knee pads. 

Those who keep up with the Irish Cultural Committee on Facebook see that we have a spot to sign up so we can get an idea of how many will be coming.  If you can, please use this tool.