Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Today's History Note takes a look back at the history of the Irish in Longmeadow in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
"Irish emigrants leaving home -- the priest's blessing" (1851)
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, that venerable feast day that celebrates the blessings of being born Irish, let’s look back at their earliest recorded years in Longmeadow. The best way to do that is by looking at the 1850 Federal Census and the 1855 Massachusetts State Census, both of which are the first to ask respondents to identify their place of birth. Through that, it is easy to see an increase in Longmeadow residents identifying Ireland as their place of birth.
In 1850, out of a town population of 1258, there were approximately 60 people who identified Ireland as their place of birth. Five years later in 1855, that number had doubled to 121 Irish-born residents. That is a huge jump for a small town. What brought them here to live in relative isolation away from their homeland and families? Those were among the most devastating years of the blight known as the Great Hunger or the Irish Potato Famine when scores of starving Irish boarded boats out of Ireland in hopes of a better chance at life abroad. Longmeadow’s Irish likely arrived in larger port cities of Boston and New York and for one reason or another made their way towards the Western part of Massachusetts.
1855 MA Census, "Michael O'Neil, 15, M, Laborer, Ireland"
What is clear to see from both the 1850 and 1855 censuses in Longmeadow, MA, is that the Irish here are young men and women of nearly equal proportion. In 1855, the average age of an Irish woman in Longmeadow was just 20 years old, and the Irish men were on average 24 years old. Mary O’Neil, who lived in the household of Daniel Burbank, was only 12 years old. James Holland, age 14, was a farm hand to Levi Eaton in the eastern part of town. Mostly the Irish lived in one’s and two’s in the households of their employers.
Anyone with Irish roots will find the names of those recent immigrants familiar. There are Ellens and Marys and Margarets and Catherines and Bridgets for the ladies; there were Johns and Thomas’ and Michaels and Patricks and Martins for the men. They came with the kind of last names that make genealogical research nearly impossible because they are so common: Quinn, Ryan, Burk, Connolly, O’Connell, and Carroll among them. Ever tried finding a John Ryan on Ancestry? You could get lost among them!
Unless they were working for the button factory in town or in the quarry in the eastern part of Longmeadow, they generally did not live with any other Irish-born soul. Instead, they were farm hands or house servants in the households bearing the names of Longmeadow’s oldest families like the Coltons, Fields, Cooleys, and Blisses.
1855 MA Census "Mary Connell, 18?, F, Ireland" "Martin Coleman, 16, M, Button Maker, Ireland"
A large number of the names disappear on the 1860 census, and while the number of Irish in town grows again, it is not a doubling as seen between 1850-55. In 1860, 136 people identified Ireland as the place they were born. A few do seem to remain and make a life for themselves in Longmeadow - Morris Manning and Patrick Davis, among them. In 1855, Manning was a 19-year-old laborer on the farm of Calvin Burt. Davis was 20, already married to another Irish immigrant, 20-year-old Bridget, and they lived and worked for farmer Alford Cooley. Civil War draft registration forms exist for both men, though it seems only Patrick Davis enlisted.
Per later censuses that included a literacy question, neither man could read or write. Perhaps they came from parts of Ireland where Irish was the first language, or perhaps they never received the kind of schooling in Ireland they needed to achieve literacy. Considering the number of phonetically spelled last names on the census (ex. Mary Neland in 1855 appears as Mary “Kneeland” in 1860, and the last name Donovan appears as both “Donevan” and “Donivan” for two separate people) perhaps many of the newly arrived Irish were also unable to read and write. By the time the 1900 census appeared, though, both Patrick Davis and his wife, Bridget, were able to answer “Yes” to “Can Read” though they still answered “No” for “Can Write.”
Patrick Davis House, 1909. Bliss Road Emerson Photo Collection
Davis lived in one house in Longmeadow for so long that it became known as “the Patrick Davis” house. Today the house still exists, having moved from Bliss Road to Fairfield Terrace, and it bears another name, “the Johnny Appleseed house.” Davis owned the home, along with sixteen acres of land around it, and he and his family lived there from 1875-1913.
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church Williams Street location
By 1868, the “Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary” was formed by a committee of five Irish men in town: Michael Quinn, Martin Hartigan, John Waters, Patrick Connors, and Peter Ward, all of whom appear on the 1855 census in Longmeadow as young laborers. They must have found enough community and success to choose to stay. They raised money to purchase an old school building and move it to a site on Williams Street across from the cemetery. The parishioners of the newly formed St. Mary’s contributed their own labor in preparing the land and renovating the building to suit them. It was dedicated in October 1870 and served the Catholic community of Longmeadow until the current St. Mary’s church opened in 1931.