Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Day the Irish President Visited Lowell - 1920

Eamon de Velara
With the upcoming visit of Dr. Mary McAleese this Friday, it occurred to me that this is not the first time that a President of Ireland has come to St. Patrick Church.  The planning for her visit has been going on for weeks with agendas being confirmed, and protocols being checked.  This week’s visit is being co-sponsored by the Irish Cultural Committee of St Patrick Parish and UMass Lowell.  It has been a whirlwind of meetings and emails.  Things haven’t changed much from a similar event in 1920.
As the provisional president of Ireland, Eamon de Valera was on vigorous 19 month-long tour of the US seeking recognition of the Irish Republic. The purpose of his visit was to acquire a loan to help secure finances for the newly formed country and to seek the help of the American public in accomplishing these goals.  At times his itinerary had him visiting several cities in one day, making speeches to groups both small and large, and moving from one train station to another.  A committee of Lowell citizens wrote a letter in September of 1919 to de Valera petitioning him to visit the city.  A response came committing that he would arrive on Sunday, February 8, 1920.  Once word got out, it seems that every Catholic church, city dignitary and politician, every social group and fraternity and marching band wanted to join in.  The Lowell Sun tracked the President’s whereabouts day by day.  As the day of the visit drew closer, the city prepared itself.  Notices were posted about different Holy Name Societies preparing their marching orders.  Receptions were planned around the city.  A parade route was formed with each organization vying for its place to greet the President.
We are told that the skies shown bright blue on the day of the visit.  But February in New England is known for its frigid temperatures and winds, and that was what nature sent that day.  A corps of uniformed soldiers made their way to the train station on Middlesex Street.  They formed an honor guard for the motorcar that would carry him through the city.  He was set to arrive at about two in the afternoon.  Though a full agenda was planned, he was set to leave for Lawrence by 6 pm.  The crowd was estimated to be over 10 thousand that lined the route.  Many businesses had donned bunting and the Irish colors over the doorways and window fronts. 
As the fates would have it, his train had a series of delays.  There was no way to let the crowds know of the length of time they would have to wait in the cold.  Many tried making their way into the train station to get warm.  Others hid in the doorway along Merrimack Street.  The reporter of the day said few would leave their post.  Finally at 5 pm a cheer went up announcing his arrival.  The excitement passed along the parade route down Middlesex, to Central, to Merrimack, to City Hall, where a private reception was planned with speeches by a long list of politicians.  He was given the seat of the Mayor while the politicians spoke on. De Velara made his apologies and everything was cut short due to time.
Msgr. William O'Brien
There was one item on the list that was not deleted.  De Valera got in a car and was driven over to St. Patrick Parish where he had a private audience with Msgr. William O’Brien.  We have no idea what was said between the two men, but we do know that he was invited into the rectory for a small reception.  From there, he went to the main reception of the visit at Associates Hall.  It was now 7 pm.  The room could not hold another person.  Many stayed out in the cold just to hear his voice.  Mayor Thompson and Fr. McDermott of Sacred Heart introduced the President.  His speech came from the heart.  He spoke of freedom, the right to choose, and the right of a people to for their own government.  The speech was as American asyou could get, but tugged at the hearts of those who knew the Irish plight.  It was 9:15 pm by the time speeches were done and he was on his way to the next city, always working for the cause.
Please join us as we welcome President Mary McAleese on her visit to St. Patrick Church and Lowell on Friday, November 8th at 4pm.  Dr. McAleese will speak on the peace process and light a peace candle to be kept burning at the church. 

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