Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Rum Hole on Market Street

Patrick Cummiskey Jug
James Gallagher owned a shop on Market (Lowell) Street that sold clothing and accessories.  That was by day, by night Mr. Gallagher had another profession, rum dealer.  In 1845, upstanding citizens who had taken the pledge asked, “Is there no way Mr. City Marshall that this breathing hole of hell can be stopped?  The rum hole in question was known to openly sell even on the Sabbath!

The history of temperance in the 19th century had its ups and downs in the city and the state.  To point out Mr. Gallagher as “the” rum hole on Market Street is unfair.  There were untold numbers on Market Street and throughout the city.  As soon as one was closed down another would open.  The Acre and along Central Street were the most notable places to find them.  There were waves of hundreds even thousands of individuals in Lowell taking the temperance pledge, followed by periods of quiet tolerance of imbibing.  Fr. James McDermott of St Patrick and later St Mary churches was a promoter of the pledge and was noted by Protestant clergy as a model for his people.  It’s interesting to note that one of Lowell’s premier Irishmen, Hugh Cummiskey, took the pledge and donated money to purchase temperance medals to be distributed to oath takers.  Yet a short time later Rose Cummiskey (Hugh’s wife perchance?) is caught selling liquor.
The term “drunkard” was used multiple times on a daily basis for decades in the local papers, often attached to an Irish surname.  Trying to a keep a tally of the numbers arrested and the $2 fine often attached to it became laborious.  In any given month there weren’t just dozens, but dozens of dozens.  Males were not the only perpetrators.  Females were listed as well, sometimes being found passed out in alleys or having to be dragged out of rum holes.  Mrs. Ryan was one of the female operators of one such establishment in the Acre.   Repeat offenders could be given a higher fine ($3 or $5) and others were sent away.  A sad case in the 1850s was that of a father and son repeatedly being arrested for drunkenness and petty crimes.  The writer said the son was a “chip off the old block.”
Those who frequented such places had to be on guard since there were many occasions of patrons being beaten and robbed.  Even innocent citizens passing by had to be aware of who was loitering near such places.  Gangs would assault men beating them and removing their “purses”.  The perpetrators were often identified as being Irish “ruffians”. 
What did the citizens of Lowell think?  Was this an example of prejudice against the Irish, or the reporting of a problem of society at large?  There are a number of articles noting the lack of temperance in the city, almost to the point of outrage.  Some of these articles do point to the Irish population directly and the decline in the city’s morals with their increasing number.  On the counterpart there are voices that speak out about the good work being done by the likes of the Fr. Mathew Temperance Society and other organizations.  Added to that there are voices that speak of the problem belonging to society as a whole and ask how to solve the conditions that could bring about such conditions.
How would we have reacted living in Lowell and seeing such conditions?
The Parish Archives contains a number of ceramic jugs and bottles from this period.  One of our prized possessions is a ceramic jug from Patrick Cummiskey’s store at 83 Market Street (probably a nephew of Hugh).  We’re always looking to increase our holdings.  If you have photos, printed items, or artifacts that tell the story of Lowell’s Irish or the Acre, drop us a line. 


  1. Thanks once again for weaving together what some consider dry, boring research you have done over time into another interesting blog that paints a picture of the early Irish experience and the prejudice they faced in Lowell and other US cities, David. You think with the troubles caused by the early infighting between Irish from Dublin and those from Cork coupled with this Temperance period is when what I would consider an offensive slur "Paddy Wagon" (i.e. police wagon) came into common usage? Even on occasion today I have heard TV news reporters using that term causing me to dash off an email to the station.

  2. Tom, many thanks. I appreciate feedback.