Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Knights of St. Patrick (One returns home)

The Knights sash returned to Lowell
In the latter half of the 19th century right into the 20th a myriad of fraternal and social groups sprang up among Lowell’s Irish. Each parish had its own societies to take care of their poor and to set the young ones on the right path. There were also organizations outside of the church itself that saw to it that the Irish were taking care of their own and were passing on their culture. A brief listing would include: Emerald Associates, Lowell Irish Benevolent Society, Young Men’s Catholic Library Association, Ancient Order of Hibernians No. 1, No. 2, & No. 3, Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, American Society of Hibernians, St Patrick’s Temperance Society, Immaculate Conception Temperance Society, Father Mathew Total Temperance Society, Sargeant Light Guard, American-Irish Historical Society, The Celtics, Irish Catholic Order of Foresters, The Emerald Club, and Catholic Young Men’s Lyceum. The list is far from complete as organizations grew and passed away according to needs, interests, and politics.
One of the longest lasting societies was formed in 1869 and called the Knights of St. Patrick.  It was “organized for the purpose of encouraging social and manly exercise.”  The group had their annual cycle of events; summer outings at Willowdale, being part of the city parade on the “glorious fourth,” marching through the city streets on St. Patrick’s Day, and regular meetings with speakers on numerous topics. 

During the summer the group often played baseball and football.  There were even horse races where the prizes were horse whips and blankets.  Those attending the banquets on St. Patrick’s Day often numbered in the hundreds. In the morning they attended Mass then marched wearing black clothing, tall silk hats, white gloves and the Knight’s sash.  The “supper” began at 9 pm and carried on into the wee hours.  Toasts were a regular feature recalling the heroes of freedom and democracy from their adopted home and Ireland.  Pictures of St. Patrick, Daniel O’Connell, and Robert Emmet made the backdrop of the head table.  Regular suppers were held throughout the year at locations like the St. Charles Hotel and the Farragut House.  American author, Mark Twain, was invited to speak at one of their suppers, but had to decline.  He did write a lengthy letter commending the Irish and the pursuit of freedom in their new home.  On one of their summer excursions in 1871, the carriage that was bringing them to Tyngsboro overturned near the bridge.  Their commander, who was injured and strapped onto a chair was drowned along with the horse that pulled the wagon.  Fundraisers were held throughout the year.  One raised almost $300 for St. John’s Hospital.   In 1876 the Knights were the largest Irish organization in the city.

As the decades progressed the membership aged and began to wane.  There were several attempts to rejuvenate the group.  Notices were printed in local newspapers reminding the children of Irish immigrants that the goal of the club was to keep their heritage alive.  For most of its life the Knights were a men’s only group.  Near the end women were invited to join.  Soon the only mention of the group was in members’ obituaries.  Those who remained would wear their regalia to attend a funeral and accompany him to the grave.

The last mention of the group was made in 1926 for the funeral of their last commander, Owen Corbett, ages 93, a native of Co. Clare.

An original Knights of St. Patrick sash has come home.  The sash will be on display at our Walking Tour on Saturday, March 11 at 10 am.  Meet at LNHP Visitor Center on Market St.  (If you have photos, diplomas, or items that record the history of the Irish in Lowell or the Acre neighborhood.  Let us know.  We will give them a good home.  Other items donated this year are neighborhood and family photos and old St Patrick School report cards.)

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