The Taunton Daily Gazette, Friday, 26 June 1985
US Patriotism Helped Irish Endure
By ALLYSON HARRIS
There once were signs in Taunton saying "No Irish Need Apply."
But ironically, a Civil War between America's earliest settlers from England changed that. Irish immigrants and
Irish-Americans in New England joined the Civil War by the thousands.
"The Civil War made the Irish-Americans respectable," Dr. William Hanna, a history teacher at Taunton High School, said. "They
supported the union wholeheartedly. The natives loved to see that."
At the time of the war, a Rev. Daniel Hearne was said to have climbed to the top of St. Mary's Church one evening before more than 2,000 people to hoist an American flag. Rev. Hearne made a stirring speech, shouting that if secessionists tried to lower the flag, they would have to go over his dead body
and the dead body of every Irishman in Taunton.
The Irish people's unwavering patriotism helped erase the discrimination earlier Tauntonians practiced against them. As the first major group of immigrants to arrive in Taunton, the Irish faced barriers like any outside group does when it comes to a new country.
And because of the potato famine and lack of land from which they fled, the Irish emigrated to America in huge numbers, placing a strain on the social services in America.
Hanna, whose grandfather's grandfather arrived in Taunton from Ireland in 1854, has researched the history of the Irish, concentrating on those in Taunton.
Not only was the failure of the potato a major impetus for the Irishman's flight from home, dwindling land played a significant role as well.
"Children in Ireland had no hope of inheriting land," Hanna said. "Most
rented from English landlords."
Although Irish starting arriving in Taunton as early as the late 1600s, most moved into Taunton between 1820 and the late 1850s. The potato famine, which started in the mid-l840s and continued until the early 1850s, brought the greatest wave of Irish immigrants to the city.
Although the potato was easy to grow, Irishmen had miniscule farms on which to grow them. Land was repeatedly subdivided to pass on to children.
Hanna added that Irish people didn't enjoy farming. When they arrived in America in the 19th century by way of Boston and New York, they congregated in urban areas and worked as laborers.
In Taunton, most came from rural parts of Southern and Western Ireland, areas hardest hit by the famine.
"They look jobs on the railroad and as dockworkers," Hanna said. I'm sure you'd find some working along the Taunton River."
The first generation was virtually a laboring class. After studying the
city directory printed in 1850, Hanna found only one Irishmen with a professional occupation - that of an insurance salesman. Irish women, especially widows, frequently made a living by running boarding houses, working as
domestic servants and taking in laundry.
In major cities like New York and Boston, the Irish lived in slums. Taunton was less congested, but there were distinct Irish neighborhoods nonetheless, Hanna said. Some of the more prominent ones were the British Block on Washington Street near the Mill River, the Third Street area off Somerset Avenue, and the King's Court section (the present day Boys' Club).
Love of education
While the Irish didn't bring working skills to Taunton from their homeland, they did carry over a deep love for education. They sacrificed to build schools and to educate their children.
"Many ethnic groups were interested in making enough money to live comfortably," Hanna said. "But the Irish would sacrifice pay that a child would earn to have him go to school. That's why there was a push for parochial schools."
In 1891, Taunton's Irish, including the grandparents of Ms. McNamara,
opened the city's first parochial school - the Immaculate Conception School in Whittenton - with six grades and 420 pupils. Many of the teachers were Irish nuns who lived at St. Mary's Convent at St. Mary's Square. Most students were Irish, but there were also French-Canadian pupils.
In 1907, St. Mary's Elementary School opened, and four years later, St. Mary's High School was established by the
Irish. Other ethnic groups started parochial schools in later years.
After the Civil War, the city saw more skilled Irish-Americans, such as machinists, but also more and more Irish teachers. Some of Taunton's Irish educators who achieved national recognition are:
-Rev. Thomas J. Conaty, the first rector of Catholic University, Washington, D.C., later named the first bishop of Los Angeles.
-Rev. Joseph R. N. Maxwell, a writer, poet, and the first man ever to serve as president of New England's two Jesuit
colleges, Boston College and Holy Cross.
-Maxwell's brother, Dr. Clement C. Maxwell, president of Bridgewater State Teachers College (now Bridgewater State College).
-Rev. Edward Coyle, ordained in 1904, won teaching honors at St. Charles College for more than 50 years, attended St. Mary's Seminary, Catholic University, St.
Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., and St. Edward's Seminary in
The second and third generations of Irish in Taunton also saw other professions. Dr. Joseph Murphy, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, came to Taunton some time in the mid-1850s to early 1860s, according to Mary E. McNamara, publicity chairman and director of The Greater Taunton Gaelic Society,
A teacher of anatomy in Dublin, Murphy came to Taunton at the suggestion of Father Hearne, who had known him in Ireland.
Murphy's son became a physician, married a physician, and had a son who also became a physician. He in turn had a son, Joseph, who became a physician.
At the turn of the century, the Irish achieved political clout in Taunton.
John O'Hearne was elected mayor in 1901. He was followed by John B. Tracy (1906-1907), Leo Coughlin (1920-1925), Dr. Andrew J. McGraw (1926-1929, 1932-1935), John Fitzgerald (1940-1941), John Parker, now a state senator (1947-1953),
Joseph Chamberlain (1954-1959), Bernard Cleary (1960-1963), and Joseph Flood (1954-1959).
By the 1950s, Irish-Americans had expanded their power in the city.
"The Irish filled the fire and police departments as they did in a lot of
large cities," Hanna said.
The lives of the Irish in Taunton centered around the Catholic church and their families. St. Mary's, the mother church, was the first organized parish, gathered in 1831. It was erected by 150 Irishmen, who despite their poverty, raised $2,000 for the construction.
The cornerstone of the present St. Mary's Church was laid in 1854. But the Civil War intervened, and the building wasn't completed until 1868.
Architect Patrick Keely from County Tipperary, Ireland, designed St. Mary's. Known for his Gothic designs, he went on to plan 600 Roman Catholic Churches, including 15 cathedrals.
Several other Irish-founded churches followed St. Mary's - Holy Family (1858), Sacred Heart (1873), Immaculate Conception (1882), and St. Joseph's
(1900). St. Paul's was founded in 1904, but Miss McNamara wasn't sure whether it was founded by the Irish alone or several ethnic groups.
The first mass said in Taunton is believed to be on Feb. 10, 1828, when Father Woodley traveled from Providence, R.I. to the British Block, the home of pioneer Irish who worked at the Taunton Print Works.
Most of the priests assigned to St. Mary's and later Catholic churches were Irish or of Irish descent. Years later, some served on the national level. Today, Taunton native Rev. Monsignor Daniel F. Hoye lives in Washington, where he serves as the General Secretary of the National Council of Catholic Bishops.
Most of the early nuns who taught at the Immaculate Conception School and St. Mary's School were either Irish or Irish-American, according to Miss McNamara. Many advanced in their orders, serving as school principals, heads of convents, and on college faculties.
The first recorded baptisms of Irish-Americans were in 1830. Popular names were Mary Ann, Mary Ellen, and Bridget for the girls, and Thomas, John, and Michael for the boys.
Parishioners of St. Mary's bore the names of Nugent, Love, Hassett, Middleton, Galligan, Roache (Roach), Kinsella, McSorley, Murphy, Coyle, Kelley, McFadden, Scanlon and Flood, among others.
In talking about anything as personal as a group's ethnic background, there is likely to be some disagreement. Hanna said he found that many of the early Irish immigrants didn't like to talk about their lives in Ireland.
"The whole emphasis was to become American," he said, noting that the Portuguese and Italian immigrants went "farther to preserve their ethnicity."
Propelled to fight
He explained this tendency among the early Irish immigrants was a major reason they joined the Union Army so quickly in the Civil War.
"They saw America as their country first," he said. "They came from oppression."
Miss McNamara agreed that the early Irish were very patriotic and valued freedom. But she differed with Hanna about the downplaying of their Irish heritage. She said that the language barrier facing other ethnic groups in itself helped preserve their ethnic identities.
But she stressed that the Irish were always proud to claim their heritage.
"The Irish were very active in organizations in Boston," she said.
The Charitable Irish Society first established in Boston in the 1700s still
exists, she said. And in Taunton, the Irish either founded several organizations or were the most predominant ethnic group in its membership
They were the St. Vincent de Paul Society (the first one being at St. Mary's in 1865), the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Knights of Columbus, Daughters of Isabella, Queen's Daughters, Temperance Society, National Council of Catholic Women, Catholic Order of Foresters, and The Greater Taunton Gaelic Society.
The Gaelic society was organized in 1965 to preserve the cultural heritage of the Irish people in the Taunton area, according to its president, Jeanne Campbell of 81 Scaddings Street. Mrs. Campbell's great-grandfather emigrated from Ireland to Taunton.
The society sponsors a corn beef and cabbage dinner every year on St. Patrick's Day and brings in speakers throughout the year.
For the Tricentennial Ethnic Heritage Festival Friday, July 5, the society will sponsor an Irish booth and tent from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Columbia Cultural Center in the Myles Standish Industrial Park.
Irish stew, corned beef sandwiches, and Irish bread will be served, a singer and Irish dancers will perform, and items from Ireland will be on display.