Home     Digital Photographs     Genealogy Resources     Special Collections     Search
Lowell's Earliest Irish Community

When the British author, Charles Dickens, toured the United States in the 1840s, there was one site that particularly impressed him. Dickens, who had witnessed the miserable effects of the Industrial Revolution on the population and the city of London, was not prepared for what he was about to see.  Here, in place of filth, poverty, and disease, were libraries, shops, and boardinghouses alongside Lowell's cotton mills.. Dickens went on to describe the cleanliness of the city and its inhabitants.  Although much of America did not impress him, the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, made a favorable impact.

     There was another side of Lowell that the mill owners did not show Dickens.  Less than a quarter of a mile from the mills he toured was a place that might have looked familiar to him.  There the English author would have found things to remind him of
the negative effects of the Industrial Revolution.  The Patty Camps, called the Acre by many residents, was of the City's Irish population.  Located across the canal from the general Yankee population, the Irish were segregated from the Yankees.  This separation was not only a physical one, but also determined where one worked, the type of job one had, and where one attended school. 

     The Irish needed places like Lowell for jobs.  Yet Lowell also needed the Irish in order to build its thriving community.  The double standard of this so called utopian industrial community and the effect it had on one part of Lowell's population often resulted
in outbreaks of violence and prejudice against the Irish Community.

Early History

In the 1820s, an Irishman living in Charlestown, Massachusetts, Hugh Cummiskey, walked the twenty odd miles to the new city growing on the Merrimack River.  There he met Kirk Boott, an agent for the mill corporation.  An agreement was reached between the two that Cummiskey would bring 30 Irish laborers with him to dig and upkeep the canals that were to bring water power to the new textile mills.  The Irish soon became vital to the successful development of Lowell.  Without their skills and courage, for their jobs were laborious and hazardous, the City would have taken a different turn.

These laborers were not meant to become part of Lowell's permanent work force.  When specific jobs were completed or work was scarce, it was assumed the Irish would return to Boston.  Housing was not provided for the Irish workers as it was for their Yankee counterparts.  As time passed, return trips to Boston became fewer, and more Irish laborers came in

Top Of Page    Next Page