Thursday, November 26, 2015

When Hurling was Played in Lowell

1920 Tipperary hurling team that played in Lowell
Last week for the first time since 1954, the national Irish sport of hurling was played at Fenway Park.  Called the fastest sport in the world, two of Ireland’s greatest teams Dublin and Galway faced off to a crowd of 28,000.  The number who showed up exceeded expectations, though they were small compared to the 80,000 that may be at a game in Ireland.  The history of the game goes back to ancient times, over 2000 years, and has its origins with the Celts arriving in Ireland.  The great mythical hero Cu Chulainn was said to have played the game.  The field at Fenway was converted to a pitch where players using a hurley (a thin wooden stick-like bat) batted a hard leather ball (called a sliotar) attempting to get it in the opponent’s net or goal.  It’s sort of a mix of soccer and field hockey.  There are four quarters with few time outs.  Players are constantly on the move.   The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), which sponsored the event, has a long history and promotes Irish sports in Ireland and internationally.

This led to an investigation to Irish sports in Lowell with some interesting finds.  The GAA was founded in 1884.  Just four years later, they sent 50 Irish hurling and other athletes across the US to gain support for the association and regain interest in the sport.  The athletes played in major cities and even spent time in Lowell.  Players marched through the streets of the city and were toasted at a banquet at the American House.  The players wore jerseys and green caps with the harp and shamrocks on them.  The games took place along the field by the river.  Many Lowellians welcomed the players into their homes.  It appeared that the game was already known in Lowell since teams were prepared to contest the “Gaelic Invasion.”  A notice appeared shortly after, that a team of young players was being formed at St. Patrick’s and practiced regularly on the North Common.

The greatest years of GAA sports in Lowell came in the early 1920s.  There was a great resurgence in Irish culture and language connected with the move towards Irish independence.  At that time there were 2 GAA teams in Lowell.  There was a Gaelic football team and a hurling team, named St. Enda’s ( a 6th century warrior-king from the Aran islands).  The team was made up of native and American-born players.  Most notable was William O’Reilly, who was a well-known player in Ireland before becoming a laborer in Lowell.  The Lowell team often played their rival, the Sinn Feiners from Lawrence at Spalding Field (Alumni Field).  The St. Enda’s team drew great crowds, over 2000 by newspaper accounts.  In 1921 they played a match of two 30 minute rounds against the Young Irelands of Boston.  The city had to offer special trolley cars on game day to service the crowds.  The matches must have gotten a little rowdy when a Lowell team played in Lexington.  The police told them to move on.  The players and spectators crossed the town line into Arlington.  The Arlington police told them to disperse and as the crowd fled an Arlington officer fired his pistol in the back of a fleeing Lowell player. 

By the 1930s interest had again waned and Gaelic football and hurling were no longer being played in the city.  Many in Lowell were former players who would still travel to Boston to watch visiting teams from Ireland and recount the old days of striking l’ash go leor (a strike of perfection).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Acre Memory - Thanksgiving

I grew up on the corner of Broadway and Walker Streets in the Acre section of Lowell. The block I grew up on was a set of tenements all connected with concrete paved space in between. Without knowing it, we may have grown up poor, using today’s standards. We didn’t have a car for many years, but neither did a lot of people.Many of my friends wore hand me downs. Mine were from my cousin Armand. I never fell for my mother’s trick of trying to get me to wear my sister’s old mittens. The oversized jars of peanut butter and big blocks of cheese should have been a giveaway. But when it came to holidays, my parents spared no expense.

When I hear folks spin yarns of Thanksgivings of long ago, they’re infused with images of moms wearing aprons, wiping hair away from their foreheads with flour covered hands. My mother was no Martha Stewart. Her kitchen philosophy consisted of if it came from a can or a box, it was homemade. We would be dismissed from school early on the day before, and my mother would have my sister and I walk from St. Pat’s School to downtown Lowell to buy some supplies. We’d go to Kresge’s and Woolworths to buy bridge mix, a blend of chocolate covered peanuts, raising, and caramels. (Do they even make that anymore?) Thanksgiving was also when peach blossoms would appear, those wonderful salmon shaded sweets filled with peanut butter. I recall one year carrying the goodies into the kitchen after making the 1.5 mile track from downtown (How often and easily we made that walk without even thinking about it!) only to find my father sitting at the kitchen table.  Why was Dad home so early? Over supper they told us he had been laid off yet again from Raytheon, but we’d still have a good Thanksgiving. After all we had bridge mix!
The night before the feast my mother, being French Canadian, would begin her stuffing. The smell of sage brings me back to those days. I loved looking at the bright yellow box with the turkey on front. The next step was the washing of the bird. Because neither of my parents had much of a culinary background, they both hated the chore with the slippery leviathan once landing on the floor. The house would be spotlessly clean, even to the point of the winter curtains being hung. There was an excitement and an air of anticipation. Stores closed their doors early. Folks went home, and stayed there. This was a day for family.
By the time I woke on Thanksgiving morn the house was already abuzz. Every pot and pan was put into use. My job was to set the table with the fine paper tablecloth and napkins we picked up at the 5 & 10 the day before. The good china, the set my parents bought in 1953 that had a gold crown to commemorate Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, was taken out. The silver, which was used twice a year had to be cleaned. It sounds fancy, but these were the only pieces of value my folks owned, and besides, it was a holiday.
All stores were closed, except one, the packie (for those of you outside the Merrimack Valley it’s the liquor store). If you knew the right people you would go to the package store and even though the law said there should be no liquor sales, you could buy what you needed. In my house it was the smallest bottle of brandy you could get. It was for the eggnog, you understand. It was a necessity.My mother, who never drank, would have her one shot of eggnog and brandy as she cooked. Within minutes she would declare the house too hot and open all the windows. Weighing 90 something pounds and under 5 feet, that one little nip would make her tipsy, or so she thought.
My mother was from a family of 13 kids, my dad from 7 kids. We had family, lots of them.Sometimes too many, now too few. In hindsight, it’s interesting that the 2 families never met. They would alternate holidays. (Was there something going on I was blind to?) The Macy’s parade would start off, often with a bagpipe band. Maybe because with a last name like McKean, but the whole family would stop to hear them play Scotland the Brave. When it was done everyone would return to their given task. One by one the family members arrived. Just as the Underdog balloon would come into view my mother would call me to the kitchen, tell me to bundle up, and bring 2 dinners to my memere and pepere who lived down the street. I’d whine. She’d command. I’d plead to see Underdog; she’d take a shot of eggnog. Their house was 4 doors down, but I’d turn it into the Long March. Memere would open the door, I’d put the dishes on the table and attempt to run out.Underdog was on his way. In her thick accent, she’d say thank you a million times, but I was too busy to hear or even give her five minutes of my time. I regret that.
Back at the ranch people were just sitting down at the table and I’d squeeze in. Then began the beautiful tradition of Grace. My mother would ask for someone to begin. Silence. My mother would look at my father. Dad would begin, “Jesus Christ almighty.” Before you think he began the prayer, no, that was his response to anything. Then my mother would command me to begin. It was the same scenario every year until adulthood. Being a product of parochial education, I knew what to say. What I wanted to say was, “Over the lips and past the tongue…. But that would have gotten me a hit on the noggin. Instead I began, “Bless us O lord and these thy gifts….” This was followed by the lifting of glasses. Most families had wine, we had cranberry juice. Without getting into it, my mother didn’t allow wine (just her stash of eggnog). We had all the traditional foods most American families had, along with my mother’s specialties. Celery with cream cheese, pickles, and pickled onions. Haute cuisine, Acre style. Like most families the meal would be done within 8 minutes. Then men would retire to the TV room, the women to the task of scrubbing and cleaning.
My dad was not a giant TV sports fan, but he was on Thanksgiving. He’d have me take my place by the TV to turn the channel. My father’s philosophy was that children were made to change TV channels, since these were the days before remote. Thankfully there were fewer channels. Since he imbibed tryptophan, he would soon be asleep. If I dared changed the channel, he would immediately awaken and want the game back.
The meal was not done until dessert was served. My mother’s theory was that there should be as many desserts on the table as you had guests. The table would be laden with apple pie (from Table Talk), pecan pie (from Aunt Cis), mince pie (from Table Talk), pumpkin pie (from Aunt Cis). The one creation of my mother’s was the mandatory Jello. She’d stand there with plates of wiggling Jello, holding it like she won a Betty Crocker medal. If you didn’t put a blob of it next to your pie, she’d be heartily disappointed. After the meal Ma would put the fruit bowl on the table. My mother wasn’t much of a nutritionist, and we didn’t have a lot of fruit, but this was not for eating, it was for show.Everyone knew you needed a fruit bowl on the table at Thanksgiving. That was accompanied by nuts, not shelled, but with the shells. Then the contest of where the nutcracker was would begin.
One by one folks would leave with a paper plate filled with enough food for a few days, including jello. Dad would be back to sleep; he did that a lot. Ma would be in the kitchen cleaning up, but next to her was her eggnog. Quiet would descend on the house.
As the years passed, fewer people would come over. We all went our separate ways, even losing contact with some. Soon my parents were the grandparents sitting at my wife’s and my table. We kept some of the old ways, but started some of our own. Now there are even fewer at the table. As the gray hairs on my head multiply I think more of those days. The nice part is that I still have cousins whom I love dearly and have reconnected with others over the past year or two.
Be thankful. Give the day its due. “Bless us O Lord….”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

NEW Genealogy Information- Lowell Police Court Naturalization Records

Walter V. Hickey at work!

In the last few months, LowellIrish has released  tens of thousands of names of interments, inscriptions, burial purchases, and civil war burials of 19th century Irish and Irish-Americans living in Lowell, many not recorded in any other location.  Those interested in genealogy or researching Lowell's Irish past finally have a central location to find previously unpublished material.  It is with great pleasure we now add the Lowell Police Court Naturalization Records for certain periods in the 19th century.  Major thanks goes to Walter Hickey for sharing the decades of work he has compiled here.  We ask that that any genealogists share our website so we can better disseminate these important records. 

Lowell Police Court
Naturalization Records
1838-1854; 1885-1906

The Naturalization records of the Lowell Police Court prior to September 1906 are broken into two major groups, each with several series.

Group I---1838-1854
            Arranged annually by Volumes (Years) and thereunder by Number, for example: 1838-1; 1838-2, etc
NOTE: There are no records,1855 through 1884. The court could not grant citizenship during those years.

Group II: 1885-1906

            There are two major sub groups:  Regular and Minor Series

A.  The”Regular”papers:
First series, 1885-1890
First Series, 1890-1896
Second series, 1896-1899
Second Series, 1899-1902
Second Series, 1902-1906

B.  The “Minor Series” :
Minor Series, 1885-1892
Minor Series, 1892-1897
“Minor Series” papers were filed by those individuals who ARRIVED in the United States under the age of 18.   The age of the applicant did not matter.  If he arrived before his 18th birthday, he was considered a Minor for naturalizaiion purposes.  A Declaration of Intention was not required.


Between 1838 and 1853, there 959 naturalizations in the Lowell Police Court, 826 of whom were Irish.  The remaining 133 were primarily English & Scots.
The top Five Irish Counties  were: Cork – 127; Tyrone – 102 ; Leitrim – 79; Cavan – 67; and Roscommon – 52.

These records were extracted from the dexigraph (negative) copies held at the National Archives on Trapelo road in Waltham, MA.  They were photographed as part of a WPA project in the late 1903's.  A combination of the negative image AND the handwriting left many words (mainly place of birth) illegible or at best questionable.

Subsequent to this extraction, the original papers became available at the Massachusetts State Archives.  On Saturdays over a couple of years, these were examined to clarify many ( but not all) unclear entries.  The original papers also contained Declarations of Intention (DI) as well as requests for Duplicate (DU) Certificates.

Despite this cross referencing, there are still many relying on the “best read” of the extractor.

Many spellings appear to be phonetic and should be checked in various reference sources, such as:
Listings of Irish place names in the eight  volumes of Missing Friends
Lewis, Samuel. A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. Vol. I. London, England: S. Lewis and Co., 1837.  [, also
Lists of Towns & Townlands by County in Internet search enignes

For more on the filming of the “dexigraphs” by the WPA, see:
A Gold Mine of Naturalization Records in New England
By Walter V. Hickey ,
The INDEX to these is available on

Images of the petitions are also on

These extractions are posted by series on in alphabetical order.

A special word of thanks to Barbara Saunders and Karen Hickey for their efforts in preparing these records for posting to the internet.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Our Doughboy

Fr. Lowell Sun
In honor of Veterans' Day guest blogger Rosemary K Nunnally writes this very moving piece about a personal connection  to this week's holiday. 

An old, faded, undated newspaper clipping of a soldier in his World War I uniform – we called him “our doughboy”.  My father knew the doughboy was his mother’s cousin but not a first cousin.  We knew his name was Michael Connolly; he came from Inisheer, Aran Islands, County Galway and he had lived in Lowell.  My father said the family story was that he died after the Armistice ending the Great War.

My father hoped I could discover who Michael Connolly was and what had happened to him.  In the days before I had a computer, this search involved writing letters, visiting libraries and scrolling through microfilm.

Michael Connolly (Conneely in Ireland) came to Ellis Island on May 3, 1913. He initially went to his brother Patrick in Woburn, MA and then to his cousin Coleman Connolly at 40 Agawam St. in Lowell. Michael worked at the US Cartridge Company in South Lowell.  He filled out his Draft Registration card in June of 1917. Being single and age 28, he was soon drafted.  By October, Michael was at Camp Devens where he was naturalized on June 25, 1918.

The following month, July of 1918, Michael went overseas with the 3rd Machine Gun Battalion, 1st Infantry Division.   Michael was killed in action October 9, 1918 near Sommerance, France. He died in the last offensive at the end of WWI in the Meuse-Argonne forest.  Michael had
stepped on a land mine. He was initially buried on the battlefield. He was later buried in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne, France. He is buried in Plot C, Row 17, Grave 35. At this cemetery, covering 130 acres, rest the largest number of our military dead in Europe, a total of 14,426 men. Most of these soldiers gave their lives during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  They were reinterred here from battlefield graves.

News of Michael’s death was printed in the Lowell Sun on November 14, 1918.  On November 20, his cousin Coleman Connolly received a letter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts expressing sympathy that “Private Michael Conneely had been killed in action with the American Expeditionary Forces”.  These dates followed the ceasefire that ended the war on November 11 and may have caused the later confusion that Michael had died when the war was over.

Michael Connolly was my great grandfather’s second cousin.  We remember this Irishman on Veterans Day for his service to the United States.

Text Box: I had flowers put on Michael’s grave on November 11, 2001.