Sunday, April 6, 2014

April 6, 1822- Our Story Begins

SPECIAL EDITION!-  Over the last 2 weeks I've had a flood of emails from folks willing to share their stories or asking for a little guidance.  Bob Rafferty, creator of the video Made in Lowell, wished to mark this day, the anniversary of Hugh Cummiskey's arrival in Lowell with a special posting.

What is the most important day of the year to an Irishman from Lowell? No, there isn’t a punch line… unless you answered St. Patrick’s Day? If you did, then the joke is on you. Today, April 6th is the most important day in the history of the Irish of Lowell for it is the day that the first Irish set foot here. 

            Lowell was a much different place in 1822. For a start, it was named East Chelmsford. Most of the town was still covered by woods, swamp, and farmland. The Chelmsford Historical Commission has a lovely compendium of maps on their website ( and this one from 1821 paints a clear picture of the land that Hugh Cummiskey and his thirty men arrived at on April 6th, one hundred and ninety two years ago today:

Hugh Cummiskey was a man’s man. In his early 20’s he departed his home in County Tyrone, Northern Island to come to America. He made his home in Boston where he met his wife Rose, and ran work crews on jobs that changed the face of Boston. Early records show him working on a project to help flatten Beacon Hill for the construction on the State House; a project that employed a horse drawn railroad to take the debris removed from the hill and use it to backfill a swamp and create Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. In 1822, Cummiskey and 30 Irish laborers walked from Charlestown, MA to East Chelmsford, where they arrived on April 6th and were met by Mr. Kirk Boott, agent to the Merrimack Manufacturing Company. Boott and Cummiskey drafted a deal to widen and modify the canals that powered the Company’s mills. Take a moment and go back to that map. How many roads do you see? How many homes?  Buildings?  Establishments? You’ll observe mainly open farmland along a bend in the Merrimack River, and the 27 miles between Charlestown and Lowell was much the same. So imagine the walk that those 31 Irishmen took that day. They walked the edge of the Old Middlesex Canal, which had been built to move goods from the East Chelmsford (now Lowell) area to the seaport of Boston. The walk would have been dusty, and the men would have to be completely equipped with their own provisions. However, none of them were daunted by this.

            As a teen, a few friends and I got the bright idea that we were going to walk to Boston. Having ridden the commuter rail line to North Station, we considered the train tracks to be the most direct root so we filled our backpacks with bottled water and sandwiches and set out in early morning for a fun filled day in Boston. We hopped on to the train tracks at Red Bridge, behind E. A. Wilson’s workyard on Broadway, and off we went.  About 7 or 8 hours later we found ourselves at North Station…EXHAUSTED. We immediately bought train tickets home to Lowell, and slept the entire ride. We weren’t nearly the men that Hugh and his workers were.

Upon arrival in Lowell after their 27 mile trip (a marathon is only 26.2 miles) over rough terrain, Hugh and his men went immediately to work on the canals which would power the mills that made Lowell become the second largest city in Massachusetts. Employing the methods he had gained experience on in Boston, Hugh would lead his men to use the fill from the Suffolk canal to backfill swampland in Lowell… and if you’re reading this from an apartment in the Market Mills… that swampland was where your apartment building stands today…thanks to Hugh.   

Hugh brought water to the water powered mills of the American Industrial Revolution. He brought land were there was once swamp. His sweat anointed the land beneath the State’s Capitol building. And he was instrumental in bringing about the infrastructure of early Irish community in Lowell. So today, as you go about your day, lift a glass to those early Irish pioneers, and the man that led them here: Mr. Hugh Cummiskey.



  1. Hi, I just discovered your blog via a picture on the Lowell Sun's Facebook and I want to tell you I love it. I am not Irish, rather 100% French Canadian but I am also 100% Lowellian and your articles have so much history of the city and are so interesting. Thank you! :)

  2. We thank YOU. We know that folks read our entries, but the feedback is always a bonus. Soon we will have a new website where we can post more audio and visual pieces. We hope to make it a kind of virtual archives. We'd really like to hear more from our readers.

    Et merci beaucoup. Mes grandparents sont ne a St Poulin, QU.

    1. You are very welcome! I look forward to your new website. Your blogs are a real treat. : Ahhh and you have a little French in you also, tres bien! :) (Although I probably know more Spanish than French.)