Saturday, February 10, 2018
From the riot that started it all, to the rocky road to Boston. From thousands taking the temperance pledge, to keening at an Irish wake. The Days That Went Before Us, by David McKean, recounts the trials and tribulations, tears and joys of the Irish pioneers of Lowell’s first immigrant group. Using the latest research and primary sources, learn how the Irish became a political, religious, and cultural force.
$12.95 + $3.50 s&h.
Available from email@example.com or at the book signing on March 8th at the Acre Forum
Friday, February 2, 2018
One wonders what Father John O’Brien, of patent medicine fame, expected when he accepted the call to Lowell. Previous to arriving in the city he and his brother Timothy were stationed in Virginia. There the two men became widely known for their work among the small, Southern, Catholic community. The two brothers’ reputations grew as being spiritual and leaders of the Irish community who had settled in the Richmond, VA area to dig canals. It was in Richmond that they were responsible for building St. Peter’s Cathedral, still there today.
Fr. John arrived in Lowell in 1848 but obviously held his former parishioners quite dear. The priest also worked in the town of Martinsburg, VA, and that is where he met the McSherry family. Richard McSherry’s father had emigrated from Ireland in the late 18th century. Richard McSherry became a doctor and was one of the 50 Irish Catholic families in Martinsburg. The McSherrys were also wealthy landowners and slave owners. Dr. McSherry’s daughter, Cecelia, remained a friend of Fr. O’Brien as evidenced by a 4 page handwritten letter which was just discovered a few weeks ago.
The letter, written by Fr. O’Brien, was written in January of 1850. He writes that the teachers in the school had erected a Christmas tree. This is one of the earliest accounts of this new traditions. They would not be popular for several decades. He goes on to tell of hearing 180 confessions before Christmas and receiving $149 as an offering. He does say that some members of the congregation had organized a sleigh ride and questions the money spent on such an event.
He further says that he had never “had charge of a more pious people,” but continues by saying “there are more than a sufficient number to give us a bad name.” It was at that time that riots broke out within the Irish community of Lowell. He continues by adding that “a few scoundrels and vagabonds will bring disgrace on a community by their lawless deeds.” The riots of 1849 continued for several days with bricks and rocks being thrown and having the city constables called out. He credits Fr. Theobold Mathew, the Irish Temperance priest, who was visiting Lowell with helping to quell the riots. He finishes his letter by applauding the fact a young woman who had left the church returned and “had given up her Protestantism.”
The letter actual opens by asking Miss McSherry about her health and telling her not to overdo things. Cecelia McSherry would live 5 more years and die at the age of 39.
The letter gives us a glimpse into the everyday lives of the Irish community, their trials and hardships. It is a rare artifacts where the Irish themselves speak of what was going on around them rather than their Yankee counterparts.
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
John originally started his studies at Georgetown, but with the advent of the Civil War he sought to join the Confederacy. He had to wait until he was of age, but eventually signed up with 1st Virginia Regiment. He quickly rose through the ranks and eventually achieved the rank of Captain. He fought in the battles of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg. It was during Pickett’s Charge the he was wounded in both thighs and taken prisoner to Johnson’s Island, Ohio.
It was while he was a prisoner that he penned a diary of his life in the Confederate army and life as a prisoner of war. His journal is one of the most well-known accounts of the life of a Confederate soldier and life in a Northern prisoner of war camp. The reading is fascinating with details of camp life and the horrid conditions of prison life.
It was during his time at Johnson Island he wrote to Father O’Brien. Evidently the family had kept in close communication once the priest left Richmond to come to Lowell. There were several letters between the two men. Dooley was seeking Fr. O’Brien to intercede with the prison commander to gain his release. In 1863, Dooley received $50 from O’Brien, whom he calls his “generous hearted old friend,” in the hopes of obtaining a parole. The priest pleads with Dooley upon his release to come to Lowell “where I will have everything I may desire.” The plea did not work and Dooley suffers from his wounds.
Another account is when Dooley met a Union soldier from Lowell. The soldier shared that he was a parishioner of Fr. John’s. And the two spoke at length. At some point Dooley asks how the Union soldier can be fighting for the North when it was clear that the South was on the side of freedom. The Union soldier tearfully responds that he joined the army for the money. He returns with blankets for Dooley, and the two never see each other again.
Dooley finally gets word of his impending release and sends a final note to Fr. John thanking him for his kindness and saying farewell. Dooley returns to Georgetown to pursue studies for the priesthood. In 1873 his battle wounds weaken him to the point where he never is ordained, but is still buried in the Jesuit cemetery at Georgetown.
The book is available at: https://www.amazon.com/John-Dooleys-Civil-War-Americans/dp/1572338229